When Selecting a Vice-Presidential Candidate Became a SpectacleRoundup
tags: Joe Biden, election 2020, Vice Presidency
Amber Roessner is an associate professor in the University of Tennessee’s School of Journalism & Electronic Media and author of Jimmy Carter and the Birth of the Marathon Media Campaign, forthcoming from LSU Press in spring 2020.
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, is vetting potential running mates, all women, far more publicly than has been the case in the past. While most recent candidates have gone to great lengths to keep the process secretive, Biden has held open, virtual events with some of the top contenders.
This seems likely to be designed to attract publicity as the novel coronavirus keeps Biden off the road. It is a tried and true tactic that began with a folksy peanut farmer from Plains, Ga., during the 1970s. Amid the electoral reforms of the era, front-line reporters became key political power brokers, and presidential candidates, like Jimmy Carter, attempted to drive the media narrative with enhanced showbiz-inspired techniques.
Carter’s campaign staff recognized that the vice presidency had garnered tremendous attention during the 1970s, and not in a good way.
In the summer of 1972, Democratic nominee George McGovern’s running mate, Sen. Thomas Eagleton (D-Mo.), lasted all of 18 days on the Democratic ticket after evidence emerged that he suffered from severe bouts of depression that had prompted three past hospitalizations and two rounds of electroshock therapy. The following year, Republican Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned after being charged with felony tax evasion tied to his time as Maryland governor.
Carter’s oldest adviser, Charles Kirbo, wanted to avoid these debacles, so he concentrated on establishing a first-of-its-kind vice-presidential selection committee and vetting process.
This was not just a concern inside the campaign. In June 1976, for instance, the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government had released its “Report of the Study Group on Vice-Presidential Selection,” and Carter’s issues staff mulled over this document to inform their own vice-presidential selection process.