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Editor's note: Mitt Romney picked Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his vice presidential running mate. It was a bold pick and time will tell whether it was the right one.

ROBB AUSTIN'S TURN

Vice Presidential Choices Matter

August 8, 2012

All political eyes are on Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney this week as he readies to announce the name of his vice presidential running mate.

It’s an important decision and voters will take the measure of the man from it because it provides a glimpse into his decision making process and his judgement.

Some say the vice presidential nominee doesn’t matter; that people ultimately make up their minds about for whom to vote based on the top of the ticket.

Such vision is a little short sighted because the choice can make a huge difference, and in some cases it has meant the difference between winning and losing in a close election.

Historians often point to the election of John F. Kennedy, and say without U.S. Senator Lyndon B. Johnson on the ticket, Republican Richard M. Nixon would have carried Texas and defeated Kennedy for President in 1960.

There are similar examples where a vice presidential pick made the difference between winning and losing although not necessarily in bringing a specific state into the nominee's column.

The 1968 election comes to mind. While many snickered at Nixon’s selection of little known Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew, it was actually a brilliant pick. Voters in the Deep South were suspicious of Nixon’s conservative credentials, and southern voters were leaning toward the Independent candidacy of Alabama Governor George Wallace.

While Wallace ultimately carried five southern states in the 1968 General Election, Nixon was able to pick off enough conservative support in the South to defeat Hubert Humphrey, and it was primarily due to the fact that the Agnew selection appeased southerners.

Jimmy Carter’s 1976 vice president selection of Senator Walter Mondale (D-MN) brought Washington experience to the ticket; enough to give Carter credibility and defeat incumbent President Gerald Ford.  Mondale was also from a large industrial northern state and that comforted many midwest and northern voters who were distrustful of voting for a presidential candidate from the South.

In 1984, Democrat presidential nominee Mondale broke new ground with his selection of the first women on a national ticket, New Jersey Congresswomen Geraldine Ferraro. In the end, the Ferraro selection did not help him much with the electorate, albeit his opponent was the popular and iconic incumbent President Ronald Reagan.

In more recent times, Bill Clinton’s pick of U.S. Senator Al Gore from Tennessee was a masterful choice. It symbolized a new-generation ticket which contrasted nicely against the incumbent President George H. W. Bush, who many voters liked, but also saw as representing politics from a day-gone-by.

The most famous vice presidential pick in recent history must be that of former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. It was a bold pick from Republican nominee John McCain, and a good one, on paper. The fact that she didn’t handle herself well in the aftermath of the selection will be debated for years to come.

We’ll know shortly who Governor Romney has in mind to be his vice presidential running mate. There are plenty of good names out there, and no doubt it will have a major impact on the race. It should be a safe choice, but then again, Romney could surprise us with a name that shocks everyone.

But I would not look for that to happen.