Category: Politics

Is the Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee Already Running?

2020 is shaping up to be a big year for the two things I love writing most about at The Postrider: the United States Senate, and the vice presidency. And we’re going to have a swath of content featuring both of these items unveiled over the course of the coming election year. We’ve held off a little bit this year to give you some sense of relief from the seemingly endless campaign, so it might shock you to know that we’re jumping the gun to start looking – in broad terms – at who the Democratic vice presidential nominee might be.

There’s scant evidence to suggest that a vice presidential running mate makes a difference in the general election. They may provide a slim bump in the polls if they’re from a certain state, but notable “swing state” picks like Paul Ryan (Wisconsin), John Edwards (North Carolina), Lloyd Bentsten (Texas), and Geraldine Ferraro (New York) all lost their home state; in fact, Tim Kaine (Virginia) and Al Gore (Tennessee) are the only two running mates from swing states since 1976 to have won their home states.1We’re using the same standard as this NPR article, which describes a swing state as any state that had a margin of <5% between the two candidates in any of the four elections chronologically closest (before or after) a particular election year, as well as the election itself. Mike Pence (Indiana), for example, is not a swing state pick, even though there was one election (2008) in which it was won by a margin of less than five percent. Yes, I too find it humorous to think of a time that Tennessee, Texas, and New York were all once swing states, but rejoice in the fluidity of the American electoral system.  Picking someone from a different region and with different political experience than the presidential nominee seems to be a consistent choice by campaigns, though it’s unclear whether or not this actually matters come election day. Nonetheless, for those following campaigns and politics at large, considering potential running mates is high entertainment.

We’ll be unveiling a VP tracker in the next few months to put metrics and actual hard evidence into our analysis of who is likely to be a VP pick for each potential presidential nominee. Over the course of background research for that tracker, I had to face a key question: have we already met the VP candidate? By this I mean, did they run – or are they still running – for president? The Democratic field has had 27 “major” candidates,2We’re relying on the New York Times definition of “major”. with a possible 28th soon to come, a massive number that’s unprecedented in modern presidential campaigns. Many of these names came and went, despite having held prominent offices, and it begs the question if we’ll see one of them eventually resurface as the running mate of an eventual candidate Warren, Biden, Sanders or whoever you believe will grace the DNC stage that fateful night in July.

The easiest way to do this was just to look back at the historical record. I looked at every primary since 1976 that had no incumbent president on the ticket, compared the total number of candidates (this time using FiveThirtyEight’s metric for “noteworthy” candidate, which errs towards over-inclusivity), and looked at how many races featured a running mate who also ran in the primary:

Year – Party Nominee Vice Presidential Nominee Number of Candidates VP Ran in Primary?
2016 – D Hillary Clinton Tim Kaine 5 No
2016 – R Donald Trump Mike Pence 17 No
2012 – R Mitt Romney Paul Ryan 12 No
2008 – D Barack Obama Joe Biden 10 Yes
2008 – R John McCain Sarah Palin 12 No
2004 – D John Kerry John Edwards 10 Yes
2000 – D Al Gore Joe Lieberman 2 No
2000 – R George W. Bush Dick Cheney 12 No
1996 – R Bob Dole Jack Kemp 12 No
1992 – D Bill Clinton Al Gore 8 No
1988 – D Michael Dukakis Lloyd Bentsen 11 No
1988 – R George H. W. Bush Dan Quayle 7 No
1984 – D Walter Mondale Geraldine Ferraro 8 No
1980 – R Ronald Reagan George H.W. Bush 9 Yes
1976 – D Jimmy Carter Walter Mondale 16 No

 This is a very small dataset, not enough to do any real statistical analysis, but there are a couple of takeaways that illustrate what to expect of the soon-to-be-nominee picking a running mate in mid-2020:

Choosing a “has-ran” is not as common as you’d think

Considering the media attention you earn by launching a presidential run and the intense focus on the dynamics between candidates, debates, and policies throughout the primary, it’s actually surprisingly rare for the running mate to be chosen from amongst those who ran in the primary. It’s only happened in three of these 15 primaries since 1976. The reason for this is likely tied to political baggage. It’s probably easier to start fresh once you’re the nominee and reset the campaign cycle entirely with someone who has not had attack ad after attack ad run against them. You don’t want the contrasts and contradictions that emerged during the primary between you and your running mate to be focused on or unpacked; projecting unity and a compelling ticket needs to be the emphasis.

It appears to peak in a mid-sized primary

Primaries that are smaller than the average (10.07 candidates) and primaries that are larger than the average do not historically lead to an also-ran candidate being selected as a running mate. That makes sense for primaries that are small, because it means there are fewer candidates who could potentially be considered, but is interesting for famously large fields (like the 1976 Democratic primary or the 2012 or 2016 Republican primaries). In fact it only appears in this sample that those at almost exactly the average (around nine to eleven candidates) saw a running mate selected from the primary field.

Gold years depict those in which the vice presidential candidate also ran in the primary

Initially I thought this might have something to do with the competitiveness of the primary, how those with more than eleven candidates appear to be less competitive, and those with a small slate would also be less competitive, but the data was inconsistent. The average “competitiveness” (which I took in a loose measure to be the distance between the percentage of the vote that the most-vote-receiving candidate and the second-most-vote-receiving candidate received) was the winning candidate ahead by over 27%. However, both the 2004 Democratic primary and 1980 Republican primary (both in which a running mate was chosen from the other candidates in the primary) were 42% and 36% respectively. Only the 2008 primary, in which Barack Obama chose Joe Biden as his running mate, was the competitiveness extremely high (actually negative 0.7%, as Hillary Clinton received more votes overall). Of all the primaries where a running mate had not also run, they were across the board in terms of levels of competitiveness, ranging from the 2000 Democratic primary, where Al Gore was ahead of second-place Bill Bradley by more than 54% but chose Joe Lieberman (who did not run in the primary) to the 1984 Democratic primary where Walter Mondale beat out Gary Hart by just 2.4% but selected Geraldine Ferraro (who also did not run in the primary). 

Competitiveness does not seem to be the determining factor, the reason it has only happened in mid-sized fields is probably a statistical fluke. As noted, there are not enough samples to justify making a conclusion.   

The current field may be too big to warrant historical comparison

This being said, the current Democratic primary field has had 26 candidates so far, across a fairly wide spectrum of positions, ideologies, and demographics. The argument for things being a bit different this time is that at some point you’re running out of great picks elsewhere if every up and coming politician is already in the field. Granted, 27 candidates is not that point; I would estimate that the “long list” for any potential Democratic nominee would include around 50 candidates, and that there’s probably a fairly large amount of overlap in those picks between the candidates still in the running for the nomination. There are plenty of Democratic senators, representatives, governors, military leaders, former cabinet secretaries, and other notable party figures or celebrities that are likely to be considered. But the truth is that of those 50 or so, roughly 20 of them have probably already jumped in the presidential race.

If I were to venture a guess, I would still surmise that the eventual Democratic nominee will choose someone who was not in the Democratic primary; as that historically happens about 80% of the time, and this primary has already had some vitriolic moments between the candidates. Even those candidates who we might assume to be angling for the VP slot on a future ticket if they do not win the nomination have gone out of their way to attack the frontrunners. Picking someone without a history of attacking you on the campaign trail and with a solid complementary record seems to be the right move in such a crowded year.

Steve Bullock Has an Opportunity to Come Out Swinging

Image Credit: New York Times/The Postrider Illustration

The next two Democratic debates will take place on July 30 and July 31 with largely the same cast of characters from the first two in June, save for one loss and one addition: with California Congressman Eric Swalwell out, Montana Governor Steve Bullock is in. Bullock will be the only newcomer to the debates from the last go-around, which makes him the only candidate with an opening to make a first impression, as well as a unique opportunity to seize it by playing up his characteristic style that has been relatively absent in the primary thus far.

Bullock joined the race a bit late, on May 14th, which put him behind the curve in terms of  fundraising and polling, precluding him from qualifying for the first round of debates. He has stood by his decision to enter the race late due to his commitments as governor, which included working with the Montana legislature up until their session ended at the end of April. This allowed him to focus on expanding Medicaid in Montana with bipartisan support, no easy feat in a state where only 36% of voters went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, as well as securing rules blocking foreign governments from spending money in state elections, a college tuition freeze, and infrastructure spending. This late entry tracks with his governing ideology and how he has been pitching himself to voters ever since: as a moderate Democrat, a dedicated public servant, and, considering that he’s the only one of the current 2020 hopefuls who won a statewide race in a state that Trump also carried in 2016, an electorally-viable candidate. Bullock has proven himself able to appeal to and win rural voters while standing steadfast by marriage equality, Medicaid expansion, net neutrality, campaign finance reform, abortion rights, energy consciousness, and gun control in a very Republican-leaning state. As of the second quarter of 2019, Morning Consult has him at a 54% approval rating in Montana, which makes him the 15th most popular sitting governor in the United States.

Bullock has positioned himself in a manner similar to that of South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg: in line with the moderate Democratic mainstream and able to reach out and win voters in rural districts that threw Trump the election three years ago. But despite the fact that, unlike Buttigieg, Bullock has held a major statewide office, Buttigieg is the one with momentum. With his entrance into the debates, Bullock has a small opening to set off a spark for his campaign, and the lineup could not be more perfectly suited for him to do so.

On July 30, Bullock will be joined by (bear with me here…) Buttigieg, former Maryland Congressman John Delaney, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and author Marianne Williamson. The major candidates in this debate are Warren and Sanders, both of whom are on the left end of the Democratic Party, in stark opposition to where Bullock stands. Unlike the almost identically-minded and similarly-placed (though quite a bit nerdier) Hickenlooper, who was overshadowed by Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and instant Internet sensation Williamson in his first debate, Bullock can make Hickenlooper’s exact point — that he was the “one person up here who’s actually done the big progressive things everyone else is talking about,” let alone in a purple state — while being the only fresh face. And that was a valid point, if one left to a relatively uncharismatic campaigner who was stuck between the eye-grabbing Williamson and outright confusing Andrew Yang.

But Bullock has the chance to take that argument and champion it. He is one of the few state executives in the race, and Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Hickenlooper are struggling to even scrape the bottom of the barrel of support needed to carry on. And as the only newcomer on stage, Bullock may get just the eye draw from audiences he needs. At this point Williamson is, as they say, a “stale meme,” and the exciting rematch of the Biden-Harris showdown will take place during debate night two. Bullock is arguably the most experienced and accomplished candidate and executive who will be on stage on July 30 (other than Hickenlooper, who was in all fairness a two-term governor of a state over five times bigger than Bullock’s), and he has more credibility than anyone else that night to explain why he favors a pragmatic and moderate approach to policy and on how to appeal to independent flyover state voters. Bullock has an opportunity to come out swinging on that point and come across as the new and surprising adult in the room with that homey, down-to-earth, paper route-riding charm that has made his story so inspirational. 

If he is able to rise above the technicalities that Warren and Sanders will be arguing about, and above the Millennial and wonk-charming of Buttigieg and O’Rourke, Bullock has a chance to go from the odd man out to a household name – and make a compelling argument for why he is a candidate who can win a national election the rest of them could not.

Which Avenger is Each 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate?

Image Credit: Marvel

There are now 23 major candidates running for the Democratic nomination for president, and one or two more that seem likely to run or have expressed interest in doing so. That’s a lot of people to keep track of. Some are big names who have been around a while, and some are small names you probably will never hear from again. But they all got me thinking: in this, the year of 2019, there is really only one other newsmaking phenomenon that has the same star power, intrigue, cultural ubiquity, and overwhelmingly-large cast of characters: the Avengers.

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What if Pence Was Dropped from the Ticket in 2020?

In the summer of 2016, Indiana governor Mike Pence was selected as Donald Trump’s running mate. This choice was not to be made lightly, but reporting in June highlighted the struggles then-candidate Trump was facing in selecting a vice presidential candidate. Mainstream moderate Republicans had still refused to endorse him, a simmering consensus emerged that it was not an election Republicans were likely to win in November, and with the 2016 Senate race still in play, pulling candidates away from other key races was potential political suicide. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions (all early backers of Trump compared to most members of the party) were among the last names left on the shortlist, and the aim of the Trump campaign was clear. It would need someone who would “balance his brash populist persona with a political profile that includes deep experience in Washington or ties to the party establishment”, according to The Washington Post. We don’t really know whether Christie or Gingrich were ever made an offer to be on the ticket, or if they outright declined because they thought he would lose, or even whether Tom Cotton or eventually-to-be-sentenced Michael Flynn were ready to go on as vice president until Trump changed his mind at the last minute. However it played out, Mike Pence was selected, Donald Trump was elected, and we now live in a world where Pence is a heartbeat away from the presidency.

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How Game Theory Dooms the Challenger in Presidential Elections

Assuming the incumbent president runs for reelection, roughly every eight years there is an election in the United States that pits an incumbent president against the other party. In the upcoming 2020 election, that other party will be the Democrats, who are seeking to unseat President Donald Trump. Donald Trump is a historically unpopular president and the economy may be lessthanstellar come 2020, two factors that should indicate a competitive race. But there’s a problem – there could be around 15-20 candidates competing for the Democratic nomination to run against the incumbent president.1For the sake of this exercise, we are ignoring Bill Weld’s Republican primary challenge against Donald Trump, which seems unlikely to turn into much. An incumbent president has not lost renomination since Chester A. Arthur lost to James G. Blaine in 1884, but incumbent presidents have faced significant primary challenges that may have lead to their downfall, which I’ll discuss later.

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Sherrod Brown Could’ve Been the Perfect Democrat for 2020, But He Waited Too Long to Make a Move

(Photo Credit: Tony Dejak / AP)

Sherrod Brown will not be running for president. The Ohio Senator announced yesterday through surrogates that he was content with his role in the Senate and lacks the “consuming drive” to seek the highest office in the land. This announcement came as a shock on a number of levels. Brown hadn’t formally launched an exploratory committee, but he was engaged on a listening tour that took him through the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, where he extolled his trademark “dignity of work” concept, a New Deal-esque mantra that sounds more like a slogan that would be taped to the side of Woody Guthrie’s guitar than headlining the campaign of a legislator with over forty years of government experience. But Brown was considered a serious 2020 contender even before he embarked on this journey, and many observers viewed his status as a Midwestern Democrat with labor union bona fides as the perfect antidote to Donald Trump’s populist appeal.

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