We recently had an illuminating conversation with Joel Goldstein, a professor at St. Louis University School of Law. He is the author of “The Modern American Vice Presidency:The Transformation of a Political Institution” (Princeton University Press 1982) and has written widely on the vice presidency, has consulted on vice presidential selection and is frequently interviewed on the subject. He is currently writing a new book on the vice presidency as it has developed over the past 30 years.
You get the picture. The guy knows the vice presidency.
As the vetting process continues and Minnesota, in particular, remains focused on whether Gov. Tim Pawlenty might be named as Republican John McCain’s running mate, Goldstein’s thoughts are worth exploring:
-Republicans tend to operate a little more below the radar screen than the Democrats when it comes to whom and when they vet. Seven people were openly interviewed in 1976 by Democratic presidential nominee Jimmy Carter, with a press conference following the interviews. In 1984, Democratic presidential nominee Walter Mondale invited potential running mates to his home.
-Prospective veep candidates are asked to box up years of tax returns, medical records, and campaign reports.
-In 1984, then-San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, who was Mondale’s first choice for running mate, and her husband had a complicated financial picture. Toward the end, the Mondale campaign switched and vetted Geraldine Ferraro and her husband. Ironically, questions about Ferraro’s husband’s real estate dealings dogged her throughout the campaign.
-In 1992, Al Gore pulled together reams of documents and sent them to Bill Clinton’s people. Gore met Clinton’s people in Washington and Nashville.
-If the McCain people are really interested in Pawlenty, at some point they will want to talk to his accountant. They’d also want to know if there are any health issues. In Mondaleâ€™s case, operatives for Carter actually talked to Mondaleâ€™s doctor because Mondale was taking medication for high blood pressure.
-With a senator or U.S. representative, you are likely to look at voting records. With a governor you are more likely to look at things that have gone wrong. In Pawlenty’s case, that might include the I-35W bridge disaster. These are “potential Willie Horton issues,” as Goldstein called them.
-Timing will be interesting, particularly since the Republican National Convention will be held after the Democrats convene; second, since both conventions will be relatively late; and because the Summer Olympics in China will be occupying much of the public’s attention
“From McCainâ€™s standpoint,” said Goldstein, “heâ€™s got so many different directions that he could go in, so many different needs to address. Does he need to make a play for the base? If [Democratic candidate Barack] Obama picks somebody and it looks like the womenâ€™s vote isnâ€™t coming around to him, does McCain think about a demographic play? Does he try and emphasize the fact that heâ€™s a maverick? Does he try and emphasize the fact that heâ€™s a conservative? I don’t see that there is any one person out there that is that much more of a compelling pick than anyone else.”
-Excluding incumbent veeps who were asked to run again (Mondale, Bush, Quayle, Gore, Cheney), the earliest a nominee picked a running mate was when John Kerry picked John Edwards 20 days before the 2004 Democratic convention.
-Governors aren’t often picked as running mates these days. In the past 60 years, Maryland’s Spiro Agnew (Richard Nixon) and California’s Earl Warren (Thomas Dewey) have been the only two governors chosen to run as vice president.
“It’s usually people who have some sort of plausible presidential background,” said Goldstein. “If they ask him who is the prime minister of Portugal is he going to know?”
The answer, of course, is Jose Socrates.