At National Journal today, the estimable Charlie Cook offers some thoughts on the chattering-class obsession with handicapping the vice presidential options of Barack Obama and John McCain. He notes that Washington “insiders” don’t have a great record of getting this stuff right in the past, unless the choice was fairly obvious:
Ronald Reagan’s 1980 selection of George H. W. Bush was not a shocker, nor was Michael Dukakis’ 1988 selection of Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, D-Texas, nor the 2004 selection of Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. But none were foregone conclusions, either.
But the 1988 selection of Sen. Dan Quayle, R-Ind., was a total surprise, as was the 2000 selection of Dick Cheney.
Bill Clinton’s 1992 pick of Tennessee Sen. Al Gore was a bit unusual — similar age, adjacent states, similar ideology, no prior personal relationship — and not many thought that Gore would choose Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., either.
For that matter, Rep. Geraldine Ferraro’s selection by Walter Mondale in 1984 was a big surprise, too.
In short, the political community has a sorry track record of picking running mates.
Not being completely inured to the temptations of veep-speculation, Cook goes on to suggest what ought to be the main criteria for both candidates:
For what it’s worth, my view this year is that a choice that looks overtly political, a crude attempt to curry favor with the voters of one state or demographic group would be seen as just that, political, and that is not good in this environment.
This is a time when picking someone enormously qualified for the job is the primary factor. Picking someone who might be of some help in securing 270 electoral votes is secondary, but still of significant concern. That is, in fact, the right politics.
We’ll soon know if Charlie has any better idea than the rest of us about the choice to be made by Obama and McCain.