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WHEN THE GOAL IS TO BE SECOND BEST

How do presidential nominees choose their running mates? What combination of personal chemistry, political calculation and policy competence comes into play? The following accounts of choosing and prepping vice presidential candidates over the past 40 years offer some unusual answers. They're taken from interviews with senior campaign officials conducted by the Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia's Miller Center of Public Affairs, provided by program chairman Russell L. Riley. The full texts may be found on the center's Web site at www.millercenter.org.

Spiro Agnew, lines in the sand

Richard V. Allen on tutoring Spiro Agnew as Richard Nixon's running mate in 1968:

I had the joy of providing (Agnew) with his first foreign policy briefing, which was a hoot. ... We sat in beach chairs out on the beach, with a map of the world on the ground and four stones holding the map down, and I with a pointer and Agnew in the chair wearing shorts, very casual.

Before I started the briefing, he said, "You know, I want to tell you something, Dick. I've never been out of the country before, except to go to Greece, and I came straight back."

And I said, "Well, that's going to complicate things a little bit, so I'm going to take you through the world, a tour d'horizon, and I'm going to tell you what our policy is in each area...." I got down to South Africa, I had my pointer, I said, "Okay, now we come down here." He said, "Don't tell me. I think I know this one. ... That's a black government, right?" Well, it surely wasn't a black government in 1968. And so we had to walk back from that one.

Ronald Reagan, running mate

Martin Anderson on Gerald Ford contemplating Reagan as his running mate in 1976:

A call came from Dick Cheney, Ford's chief of staff. (John) Sears took the call, and basically Ford wanted to meet with Reagan. "No ... he's going to ask me to be vice president, and I don't want to be vice president. And I don't want to tell him no, so I'm not going to meet with him."Cheney called back and said, "Look, Ford promises he will not ask him to be vice president." So Sears tells Reagan, and Reagan said, "He promises? ... Okay, I'll meet with him." ... So then, the next night, Ford picked (Bob) Dole. ...

I went to Reagan: "The other night, when you ... sat down with Ford, what would have happened if, when you got in the room, the door shut, and there was just the two of you, and Ford had said, 'Now look, I don't give a damn what I promised, but what the polls are showing clearly is that if you go on the ticket with me, we beat Jimmy Carter. And if you don't go on the ticket, Jimmy Carter may win, and it's your damn fault.'" Reagan said, "Well, I would have gone on the ticket."

Humphrey to Mondale: absolutely

Richard Moe on Walter Mondale's decision to become Jimmy Carter's running mate in 1976:

One day Mondale, (Hubert) Humphrey and I had coffee in the Senate dining room, and Mondale asked Humphrey right out, "Is this something I really should be interested in? You've been through all this, and what do you think?"

And Humphrey, without hesitating, said, "Absolutely. The vice presidency is the greatest experience I've ever had in my life. For all the suffering that Lyndon Johnson put me through, and believe me there was a lot of it, and all the humiliation, this is the most rewarding experience you can have. You'll learn more about this country and about this world and you'll have a greater impact on public policy than you ever can in the United States Senate . ..."

Mondale ultimately did it because he knew that, No. 1, it would be a great education for him, and, No. 2, that it gave him a potential opportunity to impact on public policy, which is what he really cares about.

Reagan: none of the above

Lyn Nofziger on Reagan's 1980 choice of George H.W. Bush:

(Dick Wirthlin) had done some polling, and he said, "My polls show that there are three people who can help you: Gerald Ford, George Bush, Howard Baker." (Shown at right, top to bottom.)

Reagan didn't like any of them. He thought George Bush was a wimp, and he was still mad at Howard Baker for opposing him on the Panama Canal. Of course, he was still mad at Gerald Ford because he thought Ford had chiseled him out of the presidency four years earlier.

Wirthlin said the polls showed that Ford could help us the most. So we sat down and talked with the Ford people. ... (They) were proposing that if Ford became the vice presidential nominee and the vice president, he would, in effect, become the president. They would be nice and let Reagan go to the funerals, and he - Ford - would pick the secretary of state and the secretary of defense. Anybody who wanted to see the president would have to go through him.

Ed Meese came down from one of the meetings and showed it to me, and I said, "Ed, this guy wants to be president." He said, "Yes, but he ain't gonna be." ...

Reagan was finally saying, "Well, I don't think it can be Ford." At the same time, Ford was saying, "This is a mistake." They both separately came to the agreement ... that this really wouldn't work. ... I always thank God for that.

Quayle, 'a problem'

Stuart Spencer on George H.W. Bush's selection of Dan Quayle in 1988:

Somewhere along the line, (Bush) was going to go with Quayle. He didn't tell (James A.) Baker that. ... He didn't tell anybody that. I have no argument with his choice, but if you're going to pick a young, totally unknown senator from a state like Indiana, you'd better use the political process to see how it's going to work. ... (He) should have made sure that Quayle's name was leaked so that it could be bounced around, so that the press could go do their vetting. ... The first vetting Quayle gets is New Orleans (site of the Republican National Convention), where there are 5,000 animals who don't know who he is and are mad because they hadn't guessed who it could be. ...

I go to Baker and Bush, and I say, "What do you want me to do with this guy?" By this time, they're in a state of shock. ... I don't get any good answers. The answers were sort of a shrug: "Do what you want to do."

I looked at them and said, "Okay, I'm going to go out and bury the son of a b----. We've got 90 days, and all they can do is harm you. He's going to every burg in America. He's not going to any high press level towns. He's going to do nothing." They didn't say no. ... After about 10 to 15 days of that, Quayle figured out what I was doing. ... I don't lie very much, so when Dan asked me, I told him, "...You got off to a bum start, and it's not your fault. But you can't save George Bush. You can't win for George Bush. You can't do anything but be a problem for George Bush unless we do this right."

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