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The Eighteen-Day Running Mate

With the Paul Ryan announcement, writer Joshua M. Glasser's book is timely as well as impeccably researched.

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The Eighteen-Day Running Mate
By Joshua M. Glasser
Yale University Press
392 pp.

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By Adam Kirsch, for The Barnes and Noble Review

According to one senator who has been through the process, being vetted as a vice presidential nominee is like having a colonoscopy using the Hubble Telescope. Certainly it's a safe bet that before Mitt Romney announced Paul Ryan as his running mate, his team checked out every aspect of Ryan's life – personal, professional, financial – that could potentially embarrass the campaign. What Romney didn't want – what every presidential candidate in the last forty years has worked hard to avoid – was to tie himself publicly to Paul Ryan, only to find that Ryan had some terrible secret that would necessitate dropping him from the ticket. In short, he didn't want to end up with a Thomas Eagleton problem.

Eagleton is the tragic figure at the center of The Eighteen-Day Running Mate, the timely and impeccably researched new history by Joshua M. Glasser. In 1972, Eagleton was a forty-two-year-old rising star in the Democratic Party – a senator from Missouri with good looks, energy, charisma, and strong liberal principles. George McGovern, the senator from South Dakota who was that year's Democratic nominee, knew that Eagleton desperately wanted to be on the ticket.

But as Glasser shows, drawing on a wealth of memoirs, interviews, and documents, Eagleton was far from McGovern's first choice. That was Ted Kennedy, who polls showed was the only vice presidential pick that could substantially improve McGovern's  prospects. On the Wednesday of that year's Democratic Convention, having just fended off a technical challenge and won the nomination, McGovern called Kennedy and begged him to accept the number two spot. Kennedy refused, as did several other of McGovern's top picks. Finally, with just minutes to go before the 4 p.m. deadline for submitting a nominee to the convention, McGovern called up Eagleton, who enthusiastically accepted.

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