Nation & World

Veep pick doesn't matter come Election Day

WASHINGTON — Barack Obama's choice of a running mate is either the most important political news story of the summer or a bit of boardwalk cotton candy that soon will melt away to nothingness.

The view here is that it means nothing.

Like gardeners, journalists have hardy perennials, stories that crop up predictably every season, like daffodils, produce momentary oohs and aahs at the first sign of color, then die.

The selection of a running mate is just such a perennial, er, quadrennial. The news media find the guessing game tantalizing. It fills so much airtime. But vice-presidential selections don't matter when it comes to who wins the election.

Consider some recent history:

  • Dan Quayle. The media thought it was a HUGE story when Republican George H.W. Bush picked the obscure Quayle as his running mate in 1988.

First, Quayle looked as if he'd dodged the draft by going into the Indiana National Guard rather than to Vietnam. Moreover, Quayle seemed soooo young and inexperienced. Finally, Quayle was demolished in his debate with his Democratic counterpart, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas.

Did it matter in November? Nope. Bush-Quayle won Quayle's home state of Indiana and Bentsen's home state of Texas. And they won the election.

  • John Edwards. The first-term senator from North Carolina was supposed to balance the ticket for Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. Edwards was young, handsome and a smooth-talking former trial lawyer who could take on Vice President Dick Cheney in debate. And he could help the Northern Kerry make inroads in the South.
  • Hah.

    Turned out Edwards wasn't all that popular. He'd won just one primary. He probably couldn't have won re-election as a senator in his home state had he tried. And he couldn't deliver his home state to the ticket in the fall. He also went on to lose every primary he entered this year, dropped out and eventually had to admit to an extramarital affair.

  • Executive action. Pundits will call today's choice Obama's first executive decision. Rubbish.
  • His first executive decision was hiring skilled people such as campaign manager David Plouffe, strategist David Axelrod and communications man Robert Gibbs.

    Together, they built a smart campaign that raised tons of money, spent it much more wisely than rival Hillary Clinton, shrewdly saw how to outflank her in caucuses and ultimately outmaneuvered the one-time front-runner and her ex-president husband. That was executive decision-making.

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