A Weak Democratic Bench For Vice-President?

Who do the Democrats have to take Joe Biden's place?

Biden Sunglasses

Jonathan Bernstein argues at Bloomberg that the Democratic Party has a dearth of potential Vice-Presidential choices in 2016:

When it comes to the second spot on the ticket, there’s one clear division: it’s safe to pick someone who has been vetted by running a national campaign, and it’s risky to pick anyone else. Every one of the bad postwar picks was in that latter category: Richard Nixon in 1952, Spiro Agnew in 1968, Tom Eagleton in 1972, Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, Dan Quayle in 1988 and Sarah Palin in 2008.1 Not a single VP candidate who had previously run for president got into any serious trouble; the closest would be John Edwards, who got into trouble long after the campaign.

What’s unusual about the Democrats in 2016 is how few of these safe candidates will be available if, as seems possible, Hillary Clinton wins the nomination with minimal or no opposition.

There aren’t many Democrats who have run for president and lost and remained viable national candidates. Let’s say they have to have at least made it to Iowa, be younger than 70 in 2016, avoided scandal, and have been in office or government at least somewhat recently. There’s really no one from 2008 (well, almost no one). From 2004? There’s maybe one, Howard Dean. No one from 2000, or any farther back.


It’s possible to choose a good VP candidate who hasn’t previously run for national office. Paul Ryan didn’t hurt Mitt Romney in 2012. But it’s risky. And it does look as if it’s a risk the Democrats may have to take in 2016.

It seems to me that Bernstein is creating a problem where none really exists, at least not at the moment. He is correct that Vice-Presidential picks that come from the ranks of people who have previously run for President have generally gone far smoother than those that have come from the ranks of non-Presidential candidates, but I think that may largely be a case of correlation that doesn’t necessarily demonstrate causation. When Bill Clinton picked Al Gore in 1992, for example, the Senator from Tennessee was still trying to live down the memories of a 1988 Presidential campaign that had gone horribly wrong largely because of Gore’s own mistakes and his lack of experience on the national campaign trail. Some people considered Clinton’s pick a risky one at the time, and argued that he should have gone for a more seasoned Democrat such as Sam Nunn in order to counterbalance his own lack of national political experience. And yet, Gore turned out to be a good running mate and a decent Vice-President. Similarly, of the examples of “bad” Vice-Presidential picks that Berntein cites, only two of them — Eagleton and Palin — could arguably have been said to have caused any real damage to the tickets that they were placed on, and even in those cases it’s likely the case that the ticket would have lost anyway. The others — Nixon, Agnew, and Quayle didn’t cause any appreciable damage to their tickets at all, and indeed all three of them ended up becoming Vice-President. So, I’m not sure that Bernstein’s theory that Veep candidates with Presidential campaign experience are somehow superior really has any merit when you look at the evidence from elections going all the way back to 1952.

As far as the question of the Democratic Vice-Presidential bench goes, and assuming that Hillary Clinton is indeed the nominee, it strikes me that there are plenty of viable Vice-Presidential running mates out there. In the Senate, there are people like Mark Warner, Kristen Gillibrand, and of course Elizabeth Warren. In the ranks of the Governor’s there are people like Martin O’Malley, who may run for President himself, Deval Patrick, and Andrew Cuomo, although it is unlikely that Clinton would choose Cuomo as her running mate due to the Constitutional bar on members of the Electoral College from voting on a Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidate from the same state. If Clinton wanted to pick someone younger, she could go with newly appointed HUD Secretary Julian Castro, although that seems unlikely. Although he’s ruled out running for President in 2016, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker is likely to be a name that comes up in the summer of 2016 as well. The Republican side will also have plenty of solid potential Vice-Presidential picks, especially considering the fact that there’s likely to be a crowded field for the Presidential nomination to begin with.

On some level, of course, Bernstein concerns about the Democratic Veep bench seem incredibly overblown. With minor exceptions, there’s little evidence that Vice-Presidential running mates have all that much of an impact on the fate of their ticket. There is, of course, the possibility that they could become President in the event of a tragedy, and it remains the case that Vice-Presidents are more likely to become President, via either succession or election, than the holder of any other office. However, there have been plenty of mediocre Vice-Presidents in American history, some of whom have even become President themselves, and we’ve managed to survive quite nicely. Somehow, I think the fact that we have no idea who Hillary’s running mate might be at this point in time isn’t really that big a deal

FILED UNDER: 2016 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Rob in CT says:

    Call me crazy, but it’s not like the next Dem VP is going to struggle to fill Joe Biden’s shoes.

    It’s the VP. Sure, you don’t want a total disaster like a Palin in there, but you don’t need a “deep bench” of candidates for VP.

  2. al-Ameda says:

    A lot of handwringing over nothing. It’s not as if Joe Biden is anything special. Nor was Dan Quayle.

    The fact is we just do know how any of this will turn out. We’d like to think that the choice for VP is a thoughtful, sensible and practical one, and one that gives us a worthy successor should the president die in office.

    However, VPs are selected as much for practical political calculations (Spiro Agnew) as for apparent credentials (GHW Bush). John McCain didn’t take his selection for vice president seriously and neither did GHW Bush. Gore and Biden? To me both are very pedestrian and non-controversial. Most people regarded Dick Cheney as a strong selection based on his decades of experience in Washington, and he turned out to be, arguably, the most powerful and unpopular VP in American history. Reagan selected GHW Bush, a textbook example of hiring for experience. I think that history judged that selection favorably.

  3. Gustopher says:

    Well, there is one solution — more Joe Biden! There’s no constitutional term limit for VP.

  4. Tillman says:

    @Gustopher: Poor Joe Biden — always a VP, never a P.

  5. humanoid.panda says:

    Obama’s leapfrogging a whole generation of Democratic politicians and then the 2010 slaughter really did thin the bench for Democrats. Let’s hope the Clinton administration gives it time to recover…

  6. Ron Beasley says:

    I think this is pure BS. There are plenty of strong VP candidates out there.

  7. pylon says:

    I guess one school of thought is that, with a relatively young or (arguably) inexperienced presidential candidate (Obama/W) you go with a very experienced VP candidate (Biden/Cheney). If you are a very experienced (GHWB/McCain) you can go with a young VP candidate.

    I myself don’t buy that because every time a younger/inexperienced VP candidate was chosen it either didn’t help or actually hurt the ticket.

  8. pylon says:

    Maybe Kerry?

  9. pylon says:

    Or Bill!

  10. John425 says:

    A weak Democrat bench for VP? Well, there’s always the orangutan in this week’s Caption Contest.

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    Not a problem. I can think of a half dozen good candidates right off the top of my head. Starting with Cory Booker.

  12. Tano says:

    “… due to the Constitutional bar on members of the Electoral College from voting on a Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidate from the same state.”

    Actually, it is only a ban on voting for both a P and VP from YOUR OWN state.

    “The Electors shall meet in their respective states, and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; ”

    So, if she chose Cuomo, it would only mean that the electors from NY could not vote for both of them.

    If she wins by more than 29, it would make no difference. If it were closer, then NY electors could either not vote at all for VP, or vote for Bozo the Clown – and so nobody would get a majority in the Electoral College, and the VP would be chosen by the Senate. It would be hard to imagine even a GOP Senate refusing to select the Dem VP to serve with the winning Dem president.

  13. Tyrell says:

    Ventura. McMahon.Turner. Powell. Gates. Gates (Bill), Brown, Petraus, Schwarzenegger, Favre, Judd, Redford, King (Larry).
    They sound pretty impressive to me. That is just for starters.

  14. Matt Bernius says:


    King (Larry) (for VP)

    Dude. Whether you are honestly posting this crap or you are a well constructed persona, this is in my top 10 comments of all time.

  15. gVOR08 says:


    It would be hard to imagine even a GOP Senate refusing to select the Dem VP to serve with the winning Dem president.

    All things considered, sadly no, I don’t find that at all hard to imagine. After all, Hillary will have stolen the election, at least in their minds.

  16. Ted Craig says:

    So, she’s barred from Cuomo, but not Kristen Gillibrand?