"The vice president really only has two duties. One is to cast a tie-breaking vote in the case of a tied vote in the Senate. And the other is to inquire daily as to the health of the president."
– Senator John McCain
The Framers of the United States Constitution thought so little of the office of vice president that the document spends no more than one line describing its function. Certainly, there is some discussion as to how the vice president gets elected or impeached, or what is to be done if the poor forgotten fellow fails to show up for work, but it has been left to history to define the role.
Since John Adams became the first vice president in 1789, holders of the office have often found it to be a tedious waiting room to history. For voters, the candidates for vice president have rarely affected their party choices. That is, until this year.
With the Republicans set to nominate a man who would be the oldest first-term president America has ever seen (Senator John McCain), and the Democrats fixing to put forward the most inexperienced, unknown candidate since at least the 19th century (Senator Barack Obama), the office of the vice president will carry uncommon weight. To achieve electoral success, and for the good of the nation, both McCain and Obama must choose their running mates wisely.
Conventional wisdom holds that 1960 was the last election year in which a nominee for vice president made the difference, when Lyndon Johnson handed Texas, and the presidency, to John F. Kennedy. In 2008, McCain and Obama must consider candidates who may not only bring them a vote-rich state, but who will also offset their shortcomings.
Pundits have paired McCain with any number of potential running mates, from Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. The most compelling candidate, however, is former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.
While it is unlikely that Romney could convince Massachusetts to vote Republican in the presidential election, he may help to sway another important state. George Romney, Mitt’s dad, was governor of Michigan and ran for president himself in 1968. The Romney brand remains strong in that state, evinced by Mitt’s convincing win there during the Republican primaries. Considering that Michigan has been inching toward voting Republican for the last couple of presidential cycles, Mitt could make the difference.
Founder of Bain Capital, saviour of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics and a self-made gazillionaire, Romney also brings economic bona fides to the ticket. Moreover, as a former Governor, Romney adds executive experience to McCain’s lifetime as a legislator.
Even if he wins the general election, McCain may end up as a vulnerable, 76-year-old incumbent in 2012. Romney will be 65 in 2012 and, as runner-up to McCain in the 2008 Republican primaries, would be considered a favourite for the GOP nomination next time. By putting Romney on the ticket this year, Republicans would install a media-savvy, electable heir apparent, in case McCain falters in the next four years.
Obama, meanwhile, has his own bevy of suitors, from New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson to his unyielding opponent for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton. As in the 2004 presidential election, however, the road to the White House runs through Ohio.
Polls show a consistent but narrow lead for McCain over Obama in this pivotal state. If Obama were to add 66-year-old Ohio Governor Ted Strickland (pictured below) to his team, however, this deficit could quickly be erased. A former Methodist minister, psychologist and six-term Member of Congress, Strickland answers every persistent question voters have about Obama — from his lack of experience to his ecumenical connections.
An Obama-Strickland ticket is something for which the Republicans may have no answer. McCain-Romney, meanwhile, may just be the GOP’s best bet in what looks to be a Democratic year. In either case, voters will be looking past the top of the ticket.