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Vice Presidential Picks Part of US Election Strategies

When U.S. voters choose a presidential candidate, they get a vice president as part of the package. In this segment of "How America Elects," VOA's Jeffrey Young examines the factors that go into picking a vice presidential candidate in hopes of the ticket winning the White House.

Political conventions are filled with confetti, balloons, and cheers for the presidential candidate chosen to carry the party's banner to Election Day. But in the shadows of that attention is the party's vice presidential nominee.

For more than 200 years, U.S. voters have marked their November election ballots for two people running together on a party's White House ticket: one for president, the other, for vice president.

One scholar who has studied these vice presidential candidates in depth is George Mason University's Robert Dudley. Dudley explains the purpose of the vice president's nominiation. "What is the nomination of a vice president for? It's to boost election chances, where even a small advantage you might get could translate into a lot of electoral votes."

Perhaps the most significant pattern in the past 30 or so years can be termed 'outsider-insider.' Since Democrat Jimmy Carter won the White House in 1976, a number of politicians have campaigned for the presidency with the theme of an outsider coming to a so-called broken Washington to fix it. Mr. Carter's running mate, however, was veteran U.S. Senator Walter Mondale, who intimately knew the mechanisms of the federal government.

In 1980, when Republican outsider Ronald Reagan was elected to change Washington, he chose a very experienced Washingtonian, former ambassador and CIA Director George Herbert Walker Bush. In 1992, Democrat Bill Clinton came to Washington from Arkansas with an insider, Senator Al Gore. Eight years later, Republican Texas Governor George W. Bush picked former Defense Secretary and Ford administration Chief of Staff Dick Cheney as his vice president.

The vice presidential slot has also been used to bridge generations, or to transition between them. When the senior George Bush was vice president and ran for the Oval Office in 1988, he chose a very youngish Senator Dan Quayle as his running mate to appeal to the so-called "baby boom" generation born after the end of World War II. And in 1992, the Democratic Clinton-Gore ticket was not only outsider-insider, but was also the first ticket with two "baby boomer" candidates.

The 1984 team of Democrats Senator Walter Mondale and Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro was the first time a woman had ever been nominated by a major party. She thanked her supporters at the party's convention. "My fellow citizens, I proudly accept your nomination for Vice President of the United States," she said.

While White House tickets are designed for the widest possible voter appeal, the role of the vice president goes far beyond Election Day. As the old adage goes, the vice president is only a heartbeat away from the Oval Office.