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Analyzing a Half-Century of VP Choices

An analysis of vice-presidential choices over the past 50yrs. reveals some lessons and trends. Let’s list the VP selections made from 1960 thru 2008.

  • 1960 John Kennedy chose Lyndon Johnson who served his state and country for 12 years in the United States Senate and previously served 12 years in the United States House of Representatives. Nixon chose Henry Cabot Lodge who served his state and country for 7 years in the United States Senate.
  • 1964 Lyndon Johnson chose Hubert Humphrey who served his state and country for 15 years in the United States Senate.
    Goldwater chose William E. Miller who served 12 years in the United States House of Representatives, and was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1961 to 1964.
  • 1968 Richard Nixon chose Spiro Agnew, Maryland’s Governor for almost 2 years. Hubert Humphrey chose Edward Muskie who had served his state and country for 9 years in the United States Senate.
  • 1972 George McGovern chose Sargent Shriver who had served as Director of the Peace Corps and United States Ambassador to France.
  • 1976 Jimmy Carter chose Walter Mondale who had served his state and country for 12 years in the United States Senate. Jerry Ford chose Robert Dole who had served his state and country for 7 years in the United States Senate and previously served 8 years in the United States House of Representatives.
  • 1980 Ronald Reagan chose George H.W. Bush who had served in the United States House of Representatives for 4 years and was chairman of the Republican National Committee from 1973 to 1975.
  • 1984 Walter Mondale chose Geraldine Ferraro who had served 6 years in the United States House of Representatives.
  • 1988 George H.W. Bush chose Dan Quayle who had served his state and country for 8 years in the United States Senate, and 4 years in the United States House of Representatives. Michael Dukakis chose Lloyd Bentsen who had served his state and country for 22 years in the United States Senate and previously served 7 years in the United States House of Representatives.
  • 1992 Bill Clinton chose Al Gore who had served his state and country for 8 years in the United States Senate and previously 8 years in the United States House of Representatives.
  • 1996 Bob Dole chose Jack Kemp who had served 16 years in the United States House of Representatives.
  • 2000 George W. Bush chose Dick Cheney who had served 10 years in the United States House of Representatives. Al Gore chose Joe Lieberman who had served his state and country for 12 years in the United States Senate.
  • 2004 John Kerry chose John Edwards who had served his state and country for 6 years in the United States Senate.
  • 2008 Barack Obama chose Joe Biden who had served his state and country for 36 years in the United States Senate. John McCain chose Sarah Palin, Alaska’s Governor for almost 2 years.

Some of the lessons to be gleaned:

  • There is no perfect candidate.
  • The vice-presidential candidate helps reinforce what the presidential candidate is emphasizing. But if the top banana on the ballot isn’t getting it done, the running mate won’t be able to on his or her own.
  • Choose the best person for the job. Leave the politics to the staff.

Some of the exceptions:

  • What worked for John Kennedy in 1960 didn’t work for Michael Dukakis in 1988.
  • What didn’t work for Barry Goldwater in 1964 worked for Ronald Reagan in 1980.
  • What worked for Richard Nixon in 1968 didn’t work for John McCain in 2008.

It didn’t work when a VP was chosen with the identity politics objective or winning a swing state strategy:

  • Richard Nixon selecting Henry Cabot Lodge, former US Senator from Massachusetts in 1960
  • Barry Goldwater selecting William E. Miller, US House member from New York in 1964.
  • George McGovern selecting Sargent Shriver, former Director of the Peace Corps in 1972.
  • Walter Mondale selecting Geraldine Ferraro in 1984.
  • Bob Dole selecting Jack Kemp, US House member from New York in 1996.
  • John Kerry selecting John Edwards, US Senator from North Carolina in 2004.
  • John McCain selecting Sarah Palin in 2008.

It did work when the VP selections were seasoned veterans from states that were safe for the political party:

  • Lyndon Johnson selecting Hubert Humphrey, US Senator from Minnesota in 1964.
  • Jimmy Carter selecting Walter Mondale, US Senator from Minnesota in 1976.
  • Ronald Reagan selecting George H.W.Bush from Texas in 1980.
  • George H.W.Bush selecting Dan Quayle, US Senator from Indiana in 1988.
  • George W.Bush selecting Dick Cheney from Wyoming in 2000.
  • Barack Obama selecting Joe Biden, US Senator from Delaware.

For Mitt Romney to choose the best person for the VP slot, he needs to ask these questions:

  • Do you have good judgment?
  • Can you be counted on to give your unvarnished opinion?
  • Are you loyal?
  • Can you reinforce what I am emphasizing?
  • Will the voters be trusting and confident you can govern if something happens to me?

Three people who fit the historical pattern for a winning ticket:

  • Don Nickles
  • Judd Gregg
  • Jeff Sessions

Don Nickles
He was born December 6, 1948.
He served his state and the country for 24 years in the United States Senate. For more than a decade, he was a key member of the Senate Republican Leadership serving as Chairman of the Republican Senatorial Committee, Chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, and as the Assistant Republican Leader. He was chairman of the Senate Budget Committee during his last two years in the Senate, and was a senior member of both the Senate Finance Committee and the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

Judd Gregg
He was born February 14, 1947
He served his state and the country for 18 years in the United States Senate. He held several important positions when Republicans controlled the Senate, including chairmanships of the Senate Budget Committee and the Health, Education and Labor Committee.


Jeff Sessions
He was born December 24, 1946
He has been serving his state and the country for the past 15 years in the United States Senate. He is the ranking Republican member on the Senate Budget Committee, a former ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee. He also serves on the Environment and Public Works Committee.

Cross-posted at Unified Patriots

A Table that compares ACU scores

Year Don Nickles Judd Gregg Jeff Sessions Dick Lugar
1981 100 100
1982 100 63
1983 96 44
1984 91 82
1985 87 74
1986 91 78
1987 100 72
1988 92 88
1989 96 75
1990 96 83
1991 95 76
1992 96 85
1993 96 92 72
1994 100 79 76
1995 100 79 77
1996 100 100 95
1997 96 76 100 64
1998 96 76 100 68
1999 96 91 100 88
2000 100 100 100 84
2001 96 88 96 92
2002 100 85 90 90
2003 95 80 85 75
2004 100 88 96 84
2005 72 100 88
2006 72 92 64
2007 72 83 60
2008 83 84 63
2009 81 96 68
2010 73 100 71
2011 90 75

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