On what basis should presidential nominees pick their running mates? Theories abound, but there’s scant proof that vice presidential candidates ever change electoral outcomes. It’s still an important choice that says much about a nominee’s political psychology and needs. But selecting a veep, like pairing wines with food, is more art than science.
There used to be a premium on balancing the ticket geographically. John Kennedy picked Lyndon Johnson in 1960 to hold Texas and the Solid South for Democrats. The suave Bostonian and earthy Texan made a fascinatingly odd couple, but political scientists find little evidence that the pick helped JFK win. And by the time Michael Dukakis tried to reprise the Boston-Austin axis by tapping Lloyd Bentsen in 1988, the entire South was largely lost to Democrats.
Ronald Reagan, running an insurgent campaign against Gerald Ford in 1976, opted instead for ideological balance. To soften his right-wing image, he tapped the blandly moderate Sen. Richard Schweiker of Pennsylvania. Four years later, Reagan did it again, picking primary rival and GOP establishment favorite George H.W. Bush with an eye toward uniting his party for the fall showdown with incumbent President Jimmy Carter.
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