Rebel With a Cause

Paul Goldman


Warner for VEEP?


Virginia pundits and Warner advisors said the governor would be the hot VEEP candidate once his taxes passed. But the bubble burst. Why?


An honest commentator has to say it: The ego strokers and apple polishers were telling Gov. Mark R. Warner he would be the new, hot VEEP choice as the Southern Governor Who Raised Taxes. At the time, I wrote this was a crazy notion, as governors simply are not VP players. 


This is a political circumstance some of us have been discussing for years. Since the beginning of the modern TV age of politics, only one sitting governor has been chosen for the second spot: Spiro Agnew, then in his second year as the chief executive of Maryland. 


The aversion to governors as vice president has always seemed curious to me given that state chief executives have proven to be very viable presidential contenders. In the TV age, two sitting governors - Clinton of Arkansas and Bush of Texas - have been elected. Two former governors - Carter of Georgia and Reagan of California - also have won the White House.


But facts are facts. More current or former governors have been elected president than United States senators over this period. Yet governors have become non-persons in the Veep sweepstakes.


At the same time, five current or former members of Congress - Bill Miller, Geraldine Ferraro, and Jack Kemp, all from New York State, George Bush the elder from Texas and Dick Cheney from Wyoming - have been chosen for a second spot on a major party national ticket. It seems inexplicable that members of the House of Representatives -- for sure, Bush Cheney and Kemp had far more extensive resumes, two even had run for president, before being selected -- elected from 1/435th of the nation, would be seen as better national ticket material than governors, all of whom represent larger constituencies and, moreover, have a far better background in executive politics. But the record speaks for itself. 


On the other hand, a U.S. senator has a good chance to be chosen for the second spot, as was the case with Lyndon Johnson in 1960, Hubert Humphrey in 1964, Edmund Muskie in 1968, Tom Eagleton in 1972, Bob Dole and Walter Mondale in 1976, Dan Quayle and Lloyd Bentsen in 1988, Al Gore in 1992, and Joe Lieberman in 2000. And, of course, John Edwards in 2004. Interesting, only one - Muskie of Maine - had previously been a governor, while six others had formerly served in the House.


What did Edwards have that Warner didn't have in terms of VEEP qualifications? He'd run for president and done remarkably well in the Democratic primaries. In terms of a political record, both men were only in their first terms, Edwards having decided to run after but four years in the Senate. 


But Edwards' selection followed the reigning pattern in our presidential election politics.


Al Gore ran a credible race for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988. Walter Mondale ran for nomination in the 1976 cycle as one of the early favorites before dropping out, saying he didn't like living in motels. Hubert Humphrey had run for President in 1960, along with Lyndon Johnson. 


Thus, all the successful Democratic vice presidential candidates in the modern age first ran a losing race for the party's presidential nomination: Johnson, Humphrey, Mondale, and Gore.


This is why Senator Kerry picked Senator Edwards, and rightfully so. The North Carolinian had showed he could play at the national level. The national press had been through his dirty laundry and didn't find anything to start a "gotcha frenzy".


In sum, Edwards was the right guy at the right time with the right historical resume. He will shortly become the fifth consecutive Democrat in the modern age to be elected vice president after losing a primary fight. 


Ironically, governors are well-regarded as presidential hopefuls. The last governor to become a presidential contender solely on the basis of his achievements was the legendary Al Smith, the first Irish-Catholic Governor of New York and considered to be the most forward-looking chief executive of his time. 


When Franklin Delano Roosevelt ran for president, he was only in his third year as governor, still living off the Smith legacy. Former Gov. Jimmy Carter served one forgettable term as Georgia's chief executive, his legacy being one of hanging a picture of the Rev. Martin Luther King in the state capitol a few days before leaving office. Former Gov. Ronald Reagan got elected on the Iranian hostage crisis and double-digit inflation, two issues he had not faced as California's chief executive. Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton was not elected based on his record in Little Rock anymore than George Bush won the White House based on his record in Austin.


The truth is, voters in the other 49 states have no fool-proof way of judging whether a governor's record is good or bad, since each state is different in terms of the particulars of the issues. Indeed, the key problems differ widely from state to state. The only governor to actually run on his record in modern times was Mike Dukakis, whose staff dubbed him the creator of the "Massachusetts miracle." He was a miracle worker all right, blowing an 18 point lead, the biggest debacle since Dewey blew a smaller lead in the 1948 lose to Truman.


Take former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean this year. His big issue was the Iraq War, not his domestic record.


Being governor gives you the ante to the big presidential poker game. Unless your record is pitiful, you can play. The days are gone when party leaders came to your front-porch and beg you to run, as, say, in 1896 during the first of Ohio Gov. William McKinley's wins for the top spot.


As Carter, indeed FDR, showed, it doesn't matter how long you have served. In 1884, first term New York Gov. Grover Cleveland ran and won the presidency. In 1912, first term New Jersey Gov. Woodrow Wilson got himself elected to the Oval Office.


As they say about the lottery: You have to be in it to win it.


In the modern age of presidential politics, we have had the following successful vice presidential candidates: Johnson, Humphrey, Agnew, Mondale, Bush, Quayle, Gore, and Cheney. Five had previously run for president, and all of them got high marks for service in the second spot. Three did not run for president before getting elected: Agnew, Quayle, and Cheney.


Agnew is the only vice president to resign in order to avoid pinstripes: and no, I am not talking about his missing out on wearing a New York Yankee uniform. Mr. Quayle was the most unpopular second banana since Agnew, although the latest polls suggest that Dick "I am so friggin' good as vice president" Cheney is almost ready to claim Dannye boy's position.


Thus, having previously run for president has proven to be a good indicator of success as vice president in recent years.


Those putting out Warner's name for vice president exposed a whole lot to those of us who know the game. Governors run for president, not vice president, and they can and do win if they hit the anti-Washington mood just right. Carter did it, so did Reagan, Clinton and even Bush in his own way. For the longest time, Howard Dean had the ball teed up perfectly for another anti-Washington run.


Former Gov. Mark Warner will make a strong and credible candidate for president at some point if the timing is right. If he gets elected to the U.S. Senate, his options will change, perhaps for the better, perhaps for the worse, all depending on the timing, the great unknown variable.


Virginia is one of the 10 largest states. We are no longer Professor Key's "Museum piece." Virginia has more electoral votes than Arkansas and Vermont combined. We have more electoral votes than McCain's Arizona, and almost as many as North Carolina. Massachusetts is smaller than Virginia.


Virginia's top people are as capable as those of other states. So, the time has come for Virginian's to stop hoping that maybe, just maybe, someone will notice one of us as a vice presidential pick.


Moreover, the time has come for the state's political reporters and pundits to stop acting like nerds, hoping the cheerleader will give you a smile. They have such an inferiority complex.


In national politics, the prize goes to the people who go out and take it from the other players.


Of the Democratic presidential nominees in the modern age - Kennedy, Johnson, Humphrey, McGovern, Carter, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton, Gore and Kerry - eight out of 10 come from states smaller than Virginia. That's right: 80 percent. Georgia is not much bigger and Texas is not likely to be sending too many Democrats to a presidential primary anytime soon.


In other states, the press promotes their players and sizes them up against the other contestants. But not in Virginia. As I say, this may trace to an inferiority complex in our press core.


Sure, big dreams can mean big belly flops. But in life, it isn't how many times you fail, it is how many times you succeed.


It is easy not to fail: Never try.


-- July 12, 2004











































Paul Goldman, the Rebel With a Cause, was chief political strategist for the past two winning Democratic governors in Virginia and was credited with leading a "revolution in American politics" by The New York Times for his role in breaking America's 300-year-old color barrier in national politics.


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