Monday, July 6, 2009

Novice Running Mates

Robert McNamara was a significant figure in America's 20th-century history. He was perhaps the only person to hold what is still the relatively young title of secretary of defense, who was more controversial than Donald Rumsfeld.

So leave it to me to ignore all that, and zero in on a quotation in McNamara's New York Times obituary that can serve as a springboard for a point of political trivia.

McNamara is quoted as saying that he turned down an offer to be Lyndon Johnson's running mate in 1964 by telling the president “You shouldn’t start your elective career running for the vice presidency.” That sparked a series of questions in my mind.

Who was the most recent vice president who had not previously run for elective office? Henry Wallace. Franklin Roosevelt appointed Wallace secretary of agriculture in 1933. But, when Roosevelt made Wallace his vice-presidential nominee for his unprecedented run for a third term in 1940, that was Wallace's first time running for office (he and Roosevelt won). Wallace later ran for president on a third-party ticket, as I described here.

Who was the most recent person to lose the vice presidency in his first run for elective office? Sargent Shriver. George McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential nominee, was seeing his already long-shot candidacy fall further down hill, when his first choice as running mate, Thomas Eagleton, withdrew from the race after disclosing that he had been treated for depression. Several big names were reluctant to take Eagleton's place. Finally, Shriver agreed to run with McGovern. They lost to Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew in a massive landslide. As was the case with Wallace, Shriver later sought the presidency; he failed to win the Democratic nomination in 1976.

Who was the most recent Republican running mate in this category? Frank Knox. He was another landslide loser. Knox was running mate to Alfred Landon, the Republican presidential nominee in 1936, when Franklin Roosevelt won his second term, with the largest margin of victory of any of his four wins. There's a connection with McNamara. Knox went on to serve as secretary of the navy under Roosevelt. That position was later combined with that of secretary of war, to form the office of secretary of defense.

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