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Sarah Palin’s place in history

Sarah Palin’s place in history
By Eric Black

The headline above is a shameless come-on. So far, former Gov. Sarah Palin enters history mostly as the first Alaskan and only the second woman ever on the presidential ticket of major party. Her ultimate place in history will be determined by where she goes from her current spot as the darling of the Tea Party movement and potential candidate for president in 2012. Her recent statements on Fox News certainly left the door wide open to a presidential candidacy, and given the fact that she has assembled the bones of a campaign staff and is doing at least one of the main things that pre-presidential candidates do (running around the country giving speeches), she should probably considered a candidate, although at a less certain stage of candidateness than our Guv, Tim Pawlenty.

The place in history gag is this: Over recent history, almost every single vice presidential nominee from the losing ticket in the previous election has run for or seriously explored running for president in the next cycle. It’s almost automatic. Being number two on the ticket makes you famous and almost inevitably apparently, makes you think that if you had been number one, you could really have done something.

So I made a little list and here’s the bottom line: In the last 10 presidential cycles, the losing running mate from the previous cycle has announced a presidential candidacy in the next cycle six times. Of the four who didn’t get as far as announcing, three engaged in serious explorations of running (and one of them ran the next time around). Only one of the 10, Geraldine Ferraro, never gave a presidential candidacy much consideration, and that could be that before the next cycle, her husband had been indicted (although Ferraro did make a subsequent bid for the U.S. Senate). I’ll recap the list below.

In short, it is not at all remarkable that Palin is thinking about running and would be far more remarkable if she wasn’t.

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On the other hand, history does not suggest that the route to the presidency — nor even to the nomination — runs through the second spot on the previous losing ticket. Only one of the previous 10 actually was nominated in the net cycle. Another of them was nominated in a later cycle. And only one of the 44 presidents had previous experience as running mate on a losing ticket.

Triple trivia question alert

That case, makes an excellent question for political history trivia buffs. In fact, before I divulge all below, feel free to test yourself against these questions.

  1. Who was the only person every to go from vice presidential candidate, losing ticket (hereafter VPCLT) the presidential nominee in the very next cycle?
  2. Who was the other person, in the past 50 years, to go from VPCLT to presidential nominee (although not in the succeeding cycle).
  3. The big one: Who is the only person to go from VPCLT to President (not in the succeeding cycle)?

Okay, the list of the last 10 VPCLTs (which includes the answers to two of the three questions, so don’t peek if you want full credit).

  • 1968: VPCLT was Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie. Ran for prez in 1972 and started out at frontrunner for Dem nomination. Faltered early. (Yes, the famous weepy New Hampshire incident, but the impact of that has been overblown.
  • 1972: VPCLT was Sargent Shriver (that’s a trivia question all by itself, he took over after the McGovern-Eagleton disaster). Yes, you’ve surely forgotten this one, but Shriver, who never held elective office, announced as a presidential candidate in 1976. finished 5th in New Hampshire primary. Downhill from there.
  • 1976: VPCLT was Bob Dole. Dole did seek the 1980 Repub nomination. Finished 6th in New Hampshire with 0.3 percent. But Dole recovered to run a much stronger race for the nomination in 1988 (he was the main challenger to eventual nominee George H.W. Bush) and, on his third try, became the Repub nominee in 1996. Which makes him the answer to trivia question #2 above.
  • 1980: VPCLT was Minnesota’s own Walter Mondale. This is a bit of curve, since Mondale had already served a term as the actual veep when the Carter-Mondale ticket went down in 1980 to Ronald Reagan. By 1982 (this is hard to imagine but important to recall) Reagan looked very vulnerable to losing for reelection. Mondale declared early, withstood a strong challenge from Gary Hart, and won the nomination. This makes him the answer to #1 above. But he (euphemism alert) did not fare well in the general election, which means he is not the answer to question #3.
  • 1984: VPCLT was Mondale’s running-mate, Geraldine Ferraro who, as mentioned above, is the only one of the last 10 VPCLT’s never to launch even an exploratory bid for president.
  • 1988: Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen was the VPCLT (Michael Dukakis’ running mate). He explored in 1992, but never announced.
  • 1992: Dan Quayle was the VPCLT (after Clinton-Gore defeated Bush-Quayle). given the image problems he acquired as vice president, he wasn’t considered top presidential timber. But he nonetheless explored 1996 (when he decided not to run, he attributed it to health problems) and did announce a (short-lived and very unsuccessful) presidential candidacy in 2000.
  • 1996: Former U.S. Rep. (and football hall of famer) Jack Kemp was Dole’s running mate and was widely considered a leading contender for 2000. He explored, but after stumbling badly in the very early positioning, pulled the plug and endorsed eventual nominee George W. Bush.
  • 2000: Sen. Joe Lieberman was the VPCLT (it was Gore-Lieberman, remember?) and committed early to run for the top spot in 2004. You probably don’t remember this, but Lieberman was leader in polls in the earliest stages of the 2004 Dem nomination campaign. This is one of the points of the modern VPCLT — it gets you name recognition, which is one of the entry points to being taken seriously as a presidential candidate. But Lieberman never achieved any of the other entry points, bombed in Iowa and New Hampshire, and dropped out.
  • 2004: Former Sen. John Edwards was the VPCLT (having been the runner-up to John Kerry in the race for the Dem nomination itself). He never stopped running, and during the early 2008 fight was considered to be in the top three. But while the other two of those three (Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton) went on and on, Edwards left the race and (euphemism alert) his political future has been clouded by personal problems.
  • 2008: Sarah Palin will write the next chapter in the history of the VPCLT. If she did nothing more than she’s already done, she would join the ranks of VPCLTs who have been considered serious contenders for their party’s next nomination.

Oh yeah: Trivia question #3. A fact that escapes the memory of many trivia buffs. In 1920, Republican nominee Warren G. Harding won what was, by some measures, the biggst landslide in presidential history over the hapless Dem nominee, Ohio Gov. James Middleton Cox. Cox’s running (and therefore an official VPCLT) was an affable, and still ambulatory, assistant secretary of the Navy named Franklin Delano Roosevelt.