Sabato's Crystal Ball

The Outrage of Early Vice Presidential Speculation

Larry J. Sabato, Director, U.Va. Center for Politics March 29th, 2007

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If there is one thing that we at the Crystal Ball cannot countenance, it is early conjecture about possible vice presidential running-mates for the 2008 major-party tickets.

The presidential nominees are a year away from being chosen, and we are already facing the longest formal campaign for President in American history, due mainly to the lemming-like frontloading of caucuses and primaries by the states next January and February. The wild rumor-mongering about VP nominees makes the situation worse, not better–turning the voters off to politics even faster than might have occurred otherwise.

Therefore, we have decided to do something about this degrading practice. In this article we will attempt to exhaust the gossip, guesswork, and hearsay about Veeps–rendering further tittle-tattle unnecessary, and short-circuiting this destructive past-time for months to come. Please don’t thank us. We sense just how grateful you already are–and our mission is to serve you and your political needs.

Let’s start by asking the most important question. Ideally, what does a presidential candidate need in a VP ticket-mate? Here are the important elements, and a second-banana nominee ought to meet most of these criteria:

Well, that little list ought to narrow the possibilities considerably! Clearly, no single vice presidential pick could possibly meet all these standards, yet the wise presidential nominee will want to find the person who comes closest to completing the checklist.

All right, down to brass tacks–and a few brassy, tacky realities. In some year in the future, a House member or a business person with no governmental experience will be chosen for VP. But we doubt it will be in 2008. Yes, that exclusion includes Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump, and if the House Speaker and the most successful business executive in history (in his own mind) are off the list, then all the others are, too. The only other major source of VP nominees in the past has been the Cabinet. There’s Condoleeza Rice, and then there’s…nobody–at least no one who is credible as a Veep for the GOP in ’08.

Occasionally, the presidential nominee decides to take the second-place finisher in his/her party’s primaries for the second spot on the ticket. It’s logical (Reagan-Bush 1980), it’s useful since other presidential contenders have (supposedly) been vetted by the press, but it’s still rare (jealousy, hard feelings, and all that). Since no one knows the order of finish next year, it is pointless to speculate about this category of potential Veeps. However, if Barack Obama is in second place on the Democratic side, it will be fascinating to see how, if at all, the presidential nominee can keep him off the ticket. Other presidential candidates, such as Bill Richardson, would make a perfect VP for almost anyone in the party. But Richardson plans to have his own Veep, so we’ll see.

Still another group of presidential candidates would be highly unlikely to take a VP offer, or be offered the post at all. We include in this number Hillary Clinton (the palace intrigue would be suffocating and soon tiresome), John Edwards (one strike and you’re out), John McCain (at his age, why would he take it?), Rudy Giuliani (VP with his ego?–he remembers Nelson Rockefeller’s misery as VP, and there’s more money to be made in private life), Newt Gingrich (too much baggage, plus a solar personality that would burn the top man), and Mitt Romney (he couldn’t win either Massachusetts or Michigan in November, and then there’s that Mormon problem). As we said, a close second-place finish could wipe out the negatives for some of these pols in the Veep-stakes. Maybe the party pooh-bahs or the convention delegates would insist on their addition to the ticket.

Thus, with Condoleeza Rice’s exception, and maybe the unknown runner-up in the primaries, we are left with Governors and members of the Senate, and only a handful of them qualify in each party. A closer inspection shows that most of the potential VPs mentioned later only fit with one or two presidential candidates. For example, the more liberal Republicans are not going to end up on a ticket headed by Rudy Giuliani; he will need a solid conservative from the South or West to balance his ticket. John McCain, by contrast, would almost certainly go North or South, but not West, for VP. And will the Republicans really nominate two white males as their standard-bearers if the Democratic ticket contains a woman, a black, or a Hispanic? (The GOP diversity pickings are slim, but there are some.) On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is not going to select another woman for Veep, and John Edwards is unlikely to pick another white male in the Year of Democratic Diversity. And on it goes, with each presidential nominee having special requirements for the running-mate.

You want to see THE LIST? Well, if you insist, although we have tried to make it crystal clear just how we feel about this sordid practice.

The Republican Veep-Maybes

Possible Nominee Advantages Disadvantages
Gov. Haley Barbour of MS Solid Southern conservative, sharp strategist, national reputation as ex-RNC Chair, understands the media Adds nothing electorally, may be too conservative for country, has mission to complete in post-Katrina MS
Ex-FL Gov. Jeb Bush Strong record as Governor, critical swing state, 100 percent name ID His last name is tarnished for a generation
Sen. Susan Collins of ME Moderate-liberal, woman with centrist appeal, could put ME into play Social views would cause consternation among GOP conservatives
Sen. Elizabeth Dole of NC Stellar “brand name” in GOP, solid conservative, woman, wouldn’t be controversial Adds little electorally, unexciting candidate
Sen. Lindsay Graham of SC McCain favorite, some centrist appeal, long legislative experience Adds nothing electorally, has irritated many conservatives yet totally pro-Iraq War, brings back Clinton impeachment issue
Sen. Chuck Hagel of NE If Iraq is a total disaster, Hagel is a way for GOP nominee to separate himself from Bush Adds nothing electorally, would split party, strong personality would overshadow presidential candidate
Ex-Gov. Mike Huckabee of AR Moderate conservative, long executive record, weight loss twist Tax-cutting wing doesn’t like him. Offers little or nothing electorally
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of TX Solid conservative except on abortion, woman, long political experience, appeal in South plus West Adds little electorally. Only Texan who could be on the ticket in ’08 (sorry, Rick Perry and John Cornyn), but is the Bush-whacked Lone Star State out of the running totally this time?
Sen. Joe Lieberman of CT Technically a Democrat-Fusion ticket, long Senate and foreign policy experience, hawk, could put CT in play Liberal views on economic and social issues would be anathema to GOP
Gov. Tim Pawlenty of MN Conservative with a Midwest twist, executive experience, swing state, McCain favorite Questionable whether he could carry MN after weak 2006 performance
Gov. Sonny Perdue of GA Solid conservative, Southern base, executive experience Perhaps too conservative for the country, adds nothing electorally
Gov. Jodi Rell of CT Liberal on social issues, woman, puts her state in play So liberal a GOP convention walk-out might occur
Gov. Bob Riley of AL Solid conservative, congressional and executive experience Gains the GOP nothing electorally. No foreign policy experience
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice Black, female, impressive mind, 100 percent name ID Iraq, Iraq, Iraq: She owns it too. Bush III when almost no one wants that
Gov. Mark Sanford of SC Solid Southern conservative, executive and legislative experience, 2000 McCain backer Adds nothing electorally, mixed record in Pametto State
Sen. Gordon Smith of OR Centrist appeal, could make OR competitive Too liberal for most in GOP, likely loss of his GOP Senate seat (up in 2008)
Sen. Olympia Snowe of ME Liberal who appeals to center, woman, long legislative experience, could put ME into play Too liberal for most in GOP, possible convention walk-out
Ex-Sen. Fred Thompson of TN/Hollywood/DC Solid conservative, McCain supporter–at least until he got the White House bug recently, Reaganesque, great on TV Time may have passed, adds little electorally
Sen. David Vitter of LA Endorsed Rudy, possible Southern VP for him, good media image, could crusade for Katrina relief–separating the ticket from Bush Relatively unknown and inexperienced, adds nothing electorally, hasn’t been vetted
Sen. George Voinovich of OH Long executive and legislative experience, could be the only way for GOP to save the key swing state of Ohio Nationally unknown, somewhat quirky in Senate

The Democratic Veep-Maybes

Possible Nominee Advantages Disadvantages
Sen. Evan Bayh of IN Centrist Democrat who could put IN and OH in play simultaneously, good family and media image, broad executive and legislative experience Cannot guarantee IN, not a strong public speaker, low-wattage personality
Gov. Phil Bredesen of TN Executive experience at state and local levels, puts TN in play, moderate Southern/Border Democrat, personal wealth No foreign policy experience, bland personality
Sen. Bob Casey of PA Moderate Democrat, giant-killer of Santorum in ’06, guarantees PA
Gov. Jon Corzine of NJ Executive and legislative experience, strong business credentials, personal wealth Adds nothing electorally, perception that NJ=corruption and Corzine has had more than his personal share of it, another liberal Democrat from the Northeast
Gov. Mike Easley of NC Executive experience, good match for northern liberal, puts NC in play Dull persona, no foreign policy experience
Sen. Russ Feingold of WI Broad legislative experience, strong netroots backing, highly intelligent, clean as a hound’s tooth Very liberal Democrat, twice divorced, something of a gadfly, unable to be controlled by nominee or, eventually, the White House
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of MN Keeps MN in D column, woman, good counter-move to Pawlenty, some legislative and law enforcement experience MN already likely to be D, liberal record, minimal elected office experience, no foreign policy background
Sen. Mary Landrieu of LA Centrist Southern Democrat, woman, may possibly be able to put LA in play, long legislative experience, could make Bush Katrina response a big issue By no means can she guarantee LA, much less any other electoral votes
Sen. Blanche Lincoln of AR Moderate Democrat, Southern, woman, considerable legislative experience, puts AR in play AR not guaranteed, and not many electoral votes besides, bland persona
Gov. Joe Manchin of WV Executive experience, moderate Democrat, puts WV in play WV is a tough sell nationally, no electoral votes outside WV guaranteed, no foreign policy experience
Gov. Janet Napolitano of AZ Western executive, woman, puts AZ in play No national security experience, unknown nationally
Sen. Bill Nelson of FL Only Democrat who can probably deliver FL and thus the White House, long legislative experience, moderate Southern D FL not guaranteed even with Nelson, not a strong persona
Sen. Mark Pryor of AR Moderate Democrat, Southern, good political instincts, puts AR in play Little foreign policy or executive experience, bland persona
Gov. Ed Rendell of PA Strong executive experience at state and local levels, key state that GOP always targets Relatively little national security background, PA ought to be Blue anyway
Gov. Bill Richardson of NM He’s got it all: The resume of the year, executive and legislative credentials, the only Governor with a credible foreign policy, Hispanic, Western Are the personal womanizing rumors true? We don’t know but Richardson has to deal with them so the nominee–if not Richardson–doesn’t have to
Gov. Bill Ritter of CO Western executive, puts CO in play Relatively inexperienced, problems with labor unions, too
Sen. Ken Salazar of CO Key Western state, probably puts CO in D column, Hispanic No foreign policy experience, relatively new, bland persona
Gov. Brian Schweitzer of MT Executive experience, Western, ebullient personality, may put MT in play Adds little electorally, no foreign policy experience
Gov. Kathleen Sebelius of KS Executive experience, woman, Midwest, possibly could put KS in play Unknown nationally, in deep Red territory that perhaps cannot be moved, no foreign policy experience
Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio Executive and legislative experience, moderate Democrat used to running in rural areas, puts the key swing state of OH in play or more Depends on achievements as Governor by ’08, low voltage personality, little foreign policy experience
Ex-Gov. Mark Warner of VA Successful executive and businessman, puts VA and WV in play, unusually energetic, personal wealth Only one-term in office, no foreign policy experience
Sen. Jim Webb of VA Moderate Democrat and former Reagan Republican, might put VA in play, giant-killer of George Allen in ’06 that switched Senate to D column, netroots favorite, would pound away at Iraq, national security and military experience New to Senate and elective office, might be loose cannon, certainly impossible to control, doesn’t guarantee VA

These twenty Republicans and twenty-two Democrats do not exhaust the list of Veep-maybe’s–but they come close, especially when combined with the also-ran presidential candidates. There’s a pretty good chance the two VP candidates in ’08 are on this list.

Dear friends, consider this Crystal Ball to be VP-olitical methadone. We can quit any time we want to, of course, but let’s cautiously start the process of going cold turkey–after just one more binge…