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A governor for veep? It’s been a long time

For some reason that I can’t quite fathom, only one governor has been chosen as a vice presidential running mate in the last 50 years. I’ll give you a minute to see if you can think of who it was (hint: it was a white male). And I’ll tuck the answer into the middle of this post then ask another guvs-as-veeps question.

We’re in the veepstakes silly season when reporters compete to handicap the race — well, it’s not really a race is it, more of a what? A beauty pageant? — for the running-mate-ships on the major party tickets.

Seasoned observers know that the choice of a running mate seldom has much effect on the outcome of the election. By consensus, the last really big political impact was 1960 when JFK chose LBJ who very likely captured (and possibly stole) Texas for the Dem ticket in a very close national election.

Yesterday, the silly season silliness was up a couple of notches because an unnamed McCain campaign official leaked to conservative insider Bob Novak the idea that John McCain would introduce his running mate on Tuesday (yesterday), perhaps to steal a bit of news attention from the Barack Obama world tour.

(The Wall Street Journal’s esteemed “Washington Wire” wrote about the matter and revealed that when a pack of media jackals breached the curtain that separates the press section of McCain’s campaign plane from the candidate’s section to inquire about the Novak rumor, he greeted them with: “What do you want, you little jerks?” I wasn’t there, but I’m pretty sure this was said in jest.)

Novak used?
Novak publicly expressed a suspicion that he had been used to generate some buzz, which, if true, he said, would be “reprehensible.” Oh my goodness, what will those blaggards sink to? I don’t believe Novak denounced the sources who leaked Valerie Plame’s CIA connection to him.

In any event, Tuesday passed with no political nuptials and we’re back to gassing about the same two lists of possible winners.

I had a nice exchange of e-mails last week with a bona fide expert on the vice presidency, Joel Goldstein of St. Louis University, who I met earlier this year at a conference on picking running mates.

(Goldstein, by the way, was the one who happened to point out the rarity of governors as running mates. Which reminds me, the answer to the trivia question: Spiro Agnew was governor of Maryland when Richard Nixon put him on the ticket in 1968. No guv has held the second spot any ticket since.)

Now if you’re my age and follow politics, that may have been a gettable question for you, although you deserve a trivial point if you got it without looking it up. But here’s a really tough one with a surprising answer. The hint here is that answer is someone you have heard of, but someone you don’t think of a vice presidential candidate.

Here’s the question: Before Agnew, who was the last previous sitting governor to be nominated by a major party for vice president?

Jimmy Carter’s decision
But I interrupted myself before sharing with you Goldstein’s wisdom. Like any idiot reporter, I asked Goldstein if he had any insights into the likely winners of this year’s double veepstakes. He replied:

“I speculate, along with everyone else, certainly more than most people, but there is something sort of futile in the speculation. It wouldn’t surprise me if McCain and Obama have changed their thinking in the last month or so and will probably change it some more.

“Jimmy Carter has told people that he changed his mind several times before deciding on Walter Mondale (from Frank Church to John Glenn to Edmund Muskie to Mondale) and I suspect that’s not uncommon, depending in part on how well the presidential candidate knows those in the field and how he goes about making decisions.

” If I’m right that McCain and Obama don’t know who they are going to pick, how can an outsider know? Moreover, there is so much information that those outside the process don’t have regarding the prospective candidates and how the presidential candidate feels about them.”

That all rang so true and seemed so mature that I took a pledge to cut down by at least 50 percent the amount of time I waste every week reading fervid speculation on who’s ahead in McCain and Obama’s latest thinking.

By the way, backing up Goldstein’s example, here’s how Jimmy Carter, in his memoir, “Keeping Faith,” described the process from the point of view of one who actually knew what was going on in one year’s veepstakes:

“I deliberately withheld a decision until all the interviews and investigations were completed, and I must admit that I changed my mind three or four times. Several people claimed they knew in advance whom I had chosen, and went to the news reporters with their ‘inside’ information. There was a flood of stories by journalists, each claiming to have found the one person who knew my secret choice! But no one could have known, because I did not know myself.”

Goldstein, as I mentioned, was the one who pointed out that although there many governors on the list of mentionables, governors have seldom won the veepstakes in recent history. It’s odd, because governors have won the presidency far more than senators over recent years. I theorized that perhaps the explanation for the pattern was that the governor candidates at the top of the ticket felt they needed someone with Washington experience for balance. (But when senators are on top of the ticket, they don’t pick governors either.)

Goldstein said perhaps nominees who are guvs believe they need a running mate with experience in foreign policy, which most governors lack.

He said (and the others at that conference back in March agreed) that the final and most important key to a good veep pick is that the person be qualified to be president. Anyone disagree?

OK, lastly, the answer to second trivia question. Go here to get the answer — and be very impressed with yourself if you got it right.

Wait, I take it all back. We’ve got breaking news. CNN is reporting that an unnamed Republican who attended a small private meeting with McCain in New Hampshire yesterday said McCain said “you’re really going to like Tim Pawlenty.”

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 07/23/2008 - 12:20 pm.

    Speaking of female Governors, I’d love McCain to choose Sarah Palin of Alaska.

  2. Submitted by Eric Caron on 07/23/2008 - 10:53 am.

    I think one of the strongest reasons that we haven’t seen a Governor on the VP ticket is that a Governor is much more transparent to his populace regarding their political choices (cutting school funding, ignoring transportation issues) whereas a Senator has the benefit of being hundreds of miles a way and less worthy of front page news.

    It takes a really special political climate for a Governor to be able to vote in such a way that can’t be used against him when he’s on the VP ticket, yet doesn’t alienate himself from re-election possibilities as Governor. That, or a Governor who simply has no respect for his constituents and has been seeking a VP-nod since day one, are the only ways I could imagine a Governor being politically suitable to sit on a party’s ticket.

    In no way am I hinting that a Governor is more/less qualified than a Senator, simply that their votes are broadcasted on different pages. And its probably that trend of being increasingly picky of a Governor’s performance and increasingly lax on a Senator’s that’s contributed to the trend of the latter making the cut for VP.

    (Yes, a female Governor would certainly also stand to make a good candidate – I just couldn’t write this in a gender-nuetral manner that was easy to read.)

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