Vice presidential candidates debated

Walter Mondale joined other scholars for a debate about possible running mates for both parties.

The Democratic presidential race rages on, and Republican heir-apparent John McCain continues his campaign, but who the vice presidential picks will be is still anyone’s guess.

Speculation of a so-called Democratic “dream ticket” of candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and rumors of a possible nod to Gov. Tim Pawlenty as McCain’s running mate fueled debate Monday as scholars and former Vice President Walter Mondale gathered at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

The intricacies of choosing vice presidential candidates and how the role has changed both during elections and while in office took center stage at the conference.

In the past, running mates were chosen to balance the presidential ticket or rectify rifts within the party, assistant political science professor at Boston University Douglas Kriner said.

But the 1970 McGovern-Fraser reforms brought an end to smoke-filled rooms deciding nominations and ushered in an era of representative primaries, Kriner said, and candidates are now free to choose a like-minded running mate.

“You don’t see tickets like Clinton-Gore in pre-reform elections,” Kriner said.

Before the reforms, regional balance and the size of the vice presidential candidates’ home states were deciding factors, Kriner said, but now government experience has moved to the forefront.

With the pre-reform criteria, former President Lyndon Johnson was 90 percent likely to be vice president, Kriner said.

But had Johnson come from a state the size of Massachusetts, instead of Texas, that percentage would fall to 10 percent, Kriner said.

Similarly, with Vice President Dick Cheney’s experience he was 63 percent likely to be chosen as a running mate, Kriner said, but with an average amount of experience, that number would be just 13 percent.

What this means for the 2008 race is McCain doesn’t have to focus on balancing his ticket to appease the party brass, as he secured the nomination months before the convention, Kriner said.

“If this were in 1968, I think (Mike) Huckabee would look very golden,” he said. “In 2008, not so much.”

Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas and former Republican presidential candidate, is widely regarded as more conservative than McCain.

The Democratic race, which Kriner called “a mess,” is more reminiscent of pre-reform races, in which appeasing superdelegates increases the need to balance the ticket.

The need to discuss vice presidents has grown exponentially, as has their role in administrations, the panelists said. The choice of a running mate is one of the most important issues of the 2008 presidential campaign, Larry Jacobs, director of the Humphrey Institute, said.

With the freedom to choose an agreeable vice president increasing, so is the need for experience and compatibility, assistant University political science professor Kathryn Pearson said.

Mondale said compatibility between the president and vice president is the “crucial question” in any choice.

The choice of a running mate has political repercussions and can affect how votes are cast, Joel Goldstein, a St. Louis University law professor, said.

“If somebody puts up someone who is a clown, I’d say, ‘look out this time,’ ” he said.

At the conference, an attendee asked Mondale about a possible McCain-Pawlenty ticket.

Mondale said he’s unsure Pawlenty is qualified if McCain is looking for national and international experience.

As for the Democrats, Mondale said he supports Clinton, but would like to see both candidates on the same ticket, saying the fight has gone on long enough.

Jake Grovum is a senior staff reporter.