Thursday, June 26, 2008

Yes, Virginia, VPs can win a state...and speaking of Virginia...

“to the extent they (presidential campaigns) have set about deliberately trying to add a state with a VP pick it has almost never worked.”

That's what savvy political observers are telling us everywhere we turn as names like MN's Pawlenty, VA's Webb or IN's Bayh get thrown against the wall. AND IT'S WRONG. These pundits provide as proof, MA's Cabot-Lodge in 60, MN's Humphrey and NY's Miller in 64, MD's Agnew in 68 and 72, MD's Shriver in 72, TX's Bush in 80 & 84, NY's Ferraro in 84, IN's Quayle in 88 & 92, NY's Kemp in 96, WY's Cheney in 00 & 04, and NC's Edwards in 04. But these examples have nothing to do with the answer to the questions: all had no chance to affect winning or losing in their home states and that was not why they were chosen.

Until 1980, Presidential candidates chose VPs primarily to unite ideologically and regionally diverse parties and swiping a state was low on the priority list. Uniting the party was urgent because that regional and ideological diversity was well represented on the convention floor where the decision would be announced. Moderate Eisenhower picked conservative western Nixon. Northern liberal Kennedy picked Southern conservative Johnson. Southern conservative Johnson picked Northern liberal Humphrey. Western Conservative Nixon picked Northern moderate Agnew (yes - Agnew had a progressive record in Md). Southern moderate Carter picked northern liberal Mondale. Northern moderate Ford picked conservative Dole. Western conservative Reagan picked moderate Bush. The attitude was “let me win this party nomination now and I’ll worry about winning a general later.”

Also nearly every election before 1960 was a rout so the concept of stealing a “swing state” would have been silly.

Things are different now. The parties are very homogeneous, regionally and ideologically, so uniting them is not as important. And since 1960, there have been only 4 complete routs out of 12 elections so the concept of significant swing states is very applicable.

Another argument that I now hear is that "No one who disagrees with a candidate on every issue would then vote for him because the VP was from his/her state. True enough, but again irrelevant. We're trying to win swing voters not hardcore supporters. And for those voters who haven't made up their minds in states like VA (Poll avg Obama 44.3 - McCain 43.8), OH (Obama 47 - McCain 42) or NM (Obama 48 - McCain 42), having a VP who they know and like seems likely to swing them.

In the instances where candidates tried to win states with a VP, they were QUITE SUCCESSFUL. Successful examples are Johnson’s TX in 60, Muskie’s ME in 68, Mondale’s MN in 76 and 80 (if there was ever an argument for VPs winning states, it's the map from 1980 where nearly the only islands of blue in the Electoral sea of red are Georgia and MN), Gore’s TN in 92 & 96 and Lieberman’s FL in 00. Bentsen’s TX in 1988 was a failure. Gore didn't carry his own state in 2000 because Monica played very poorly in the bible belt and Gore was seen by this time as a Northern liberal, even by his own state. But in 2000, Gore chose a jew - making a very direct play - not for CT but for Florida - which he actually won were it not for a few butterfly ballots for Buchanan. That’s a record of 7-1 in swing states.

New Mexico is the swingiest of states and it seems certain that Obama could put it away with the choice of its Governor - Bill Richardson - provided no scandals were uncovered. And if there is a “presidential” VP candidate who reinforces Obama’s strengths and bolsters his weaknesses from Ohio, Virginia, Colorado, Michigan or Florida, then the Obama campaign would be foolish to not heavily consider him or her.

I don’t know if Stabenow (MI), Brown (OH), or Salazar (CO) look presidential or have strengths that complement Obama, but choosing one of them in a close election could be the difference between winning and losing.


Eric said...

So would a Pawlenty VP pick ensure McCain would carry MN? That would be a very interesting scenario...

st paul sage said...

obama is leading by an average of 51-38 in MN, so it's probably too big of a spread.

if mccain is looking for the biggest bang for his buck in a swing state - Gov Crist of FL would be the guy (McCain +5), except for the fact that he's single and has that FL tan.