Among the ever-multiplying assessments of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s strengths and weaknesses as a vice presidential hopeful, few neglect to include one element — a sage analysis as to whether Pawlenty could help John McCain carry Minnesota.
Most often the prediction is that he can’t do it — that the state is too Democratic, and Pawlenty’s popularity here too limited, for him to able to deliver. And this lousy chance of moving Minnesota into McCain’s column is often counted as a strike against Pawlenty’s appeal as a running mate.
And yet, Pawlenty still seems in the running. What may be too rarely examined is the assumption that delivering one’s home state often or always ranks high among the things a veep selection is supposed to do. The theory seems to be that presidential candidates very frequently pick number-twos who can help them scratch out a victory in an important battleground state they might otherwise lose.
But does the historical record support the idea that this is how veepsters are actually chosen? Not very convincingly. At least in the modern era, as regional identity has lost some of its voltage, running mates seem more often to have been chosen because of their nationwide reputations, or some other kind of balance they brought to a ticket — ideology, experience, age, gender.
Here’s a quick review of the past 12 elections:
2004: John Kerry picks John Edwards of North Carolina, a state he has no chance of carrying with or without a native son running mate. Indeed, Kerry loses North Carolina by 13 percentage points, the same blowout margin by which Al Gore had lost it four years earlier, without the advantage of a North Carolinian on his ticket.
2000: George W. Bush chooses Dick Cheney of staunchly Republican Wyoming, while Al Gore selects Joe Lieberman of safely Democratic Connecticut. Neither running mate seems to have been picked for the uneeded help he might provide in his home state (to make the electoral votes bounce, perhaps).
1996: Bob Dole taps Jack Kemp, surely without the slightest expectation that the choice would lead to his carrying Kemp’s native New York.
1992: Bill Clinton chooses Al Gore of Tennessee, a state Clinton, from neighboring Arkansas, was almost sure to win without assistance.
1988: George H.W. Bush chooses Dan Quayle of Indiana, among the most solidly Republican bastions in the country. Mike Dukakis names Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas…
And here, 20 years ago, is the most recent example of a running mate choice arguably influenced by the hope that the veep choice could make the ticket more competitive in his home state. But it is not a strong argument. With Texan Bush I at the top of the GOP ticket, investing his running mate pick in an effort to win Texas would have been foolhardy for Dukakis (he lost there by 13 points). But, of course, he made many mistakes.