The real reason running mates matter
Of the past 11 VPs, 7 went on to become their party's presidential nominee.
We're already hearing plenty of chatter about possible vice presidential choices. But as pundits and politicians debate who will provide party tickets with the most electoral bang, the one thing we won't hear is why the VP selection is important.
It is important, though not for electoral reasons. Studies have found that vice presidents have a negligible impact on the electorates' voting decision. Still, the choice is arguably the biggest decision the candidates will make through the entire campaign period.
The reason goes largely unstated, but whoever the president-to-be names as VP is also most likely to be his successor. And not just in case of death or resignation, but in another more important way.
Barring unforeseen circumstances, the person who is elected the vice president in November will become the prohibitive favorite for his or her party's nomination for the presidency in 2016.
Recent history shows the way. Since 1952, seven of the past 11 vice presidents have gained their parties' presidential nomination. This was a reversal of a historic norm that has still not fully been processed by the electorate. From 1836 until 1960, when Richard Nixon broke the streak, only vice presidents who moved up due to the death of a president were able to claim their parties' nomination for the presidency.
But since then, all but the disgraced Spiro Agnew, the deceased Nelson Rockefeller, the ridiculed Dan Quayle, and Dick Cheney (who has suffered heart trouble), were chosen to serve as standard-bearers for their party in a presidential race.
There is little reason to believe this will change. People, including presidents, may view vice presidential succession as the equivalent of voter ratification of their presidential term.
There are other reasons that this choice of vice presidents is particularly important. Vice presidents have increasingly become players in politics and governing.