How important is the VP pick in a presidential election?


In a divisive campaign season, Donald Trump may have figured out a way to unite Democrats and Republicans: Select Mike Pence for vice president.

The presumptive Republican Party nominee, Donald Trump, ended days of speculation Friday by making official his selection of Gov. Mike Pence as his running mate before Monday's start of the Republican National Convention.

But, does it matter?

Northampton-based Politico Magazine Contributing Editor Bill Scher said even a sound vice presidential selection isn't likely to have much of an impact on individual voters.

"Generally speaking, (Joe) Biden didn't seal it for Obama. (Dick) Cheney didn't seal it for Bush," he said.

In the current campaign, some politically active Berkshire residents believe Pence could seal the deal for either party.

One person who is, "delighted," by Pence's selection as Trump's running mate is former executive director of the Berkshire County Republican Association, Peter Giftos.

Giftos said he considers Pence a "governmental CEO" who will complement Trump's lack of hands-on governmental experience.

Giftos described Pence as, "one of the best governors the country has had in a long time."

"He'll be a good right arm for (Trump)."

Giftos also praised others that were rumored to be on Trump's "short list" of potential running mates including former speaker Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Giftos characterized Gingrich as a brilliant politician and a political scientist but that, "He's had his run, he's had his time," and would be more suited to a cabinet post such as secretary of state or chief of staff.

Giftos felt Christie had too much political baggage to be a viable vice president, but said he would likely make a "good, strong team member," in some capacity.

The Republican National Committee echoed Giftos's support of Pence.

"Governor Mike Pence is a strong addition to the ticket," said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus. "Governor Pence is an experienced public servant and a solid conservative whose policies have led to the longest period of uninterrupted job growth in Indiana's history. This is a job-creating, America First ticket, whose wealth of knowledge and experience will get middle-class families thriving again."

Requests for comment from the Massachusetts Republican Party about the selection were not returned by press time.

At least some Democrats are happy with Trump's choice as well, but only in the sense that they believe he'd help spur a Hillary Clinton victory.

"For Democrats, he was a great choice," said former chair of the Berkshire Brigades and current member of the Democratic State Committee, Lee Harrison.

"I've seen him described as Sarah Palin without the charisma," Harrison said.

Harrison cited specific criticisms of Pence including his stance on climate change — he's referred to it as a "myth" — his authoring of a piece in 1998 claiming "smoking doesn't kill," and his record on abortion access and LGBT issues.

Harrison theorized that Pence's selection, along with almost any vice presidential pick, will energize the base in the short-term, but those gains are often short-lived and don't necessarily translate into a victory.

He used the example of the 1988 election between former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis and then incumbent Ronald Reagan Vice President George H.W. Bush.

Dukakis ran with Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen — whom Harrison called a "solid choice" — and Bush ran with Dan Quayle, whose political career was dogged by public flubs and missteps.

"There couldn't have been a starker contrast," Harrison said, but noted that Bush went on to win by a landslide.

But who would he want to see join Hillary Clinton's ticket?

"My heart's with (Massachusetts Senator) Elizabeth Warren," he said. "But, my head says don't choose her, because we don't want another special election (to replace her).

"In the end, it's not the vice president that wins or loses the election," Harrison said. "It all comes down to who's on top of the ticket."

As the country anticipates the formal announcements during this week's Republican National Convention and the Democratic National Convention the following week, spectators should also be reminded how a poor vice presidential candidate choice can damage a campaign to the point it may not be able to recover.

Scher noted Republican Sen. John McCain's 2008 running mate pick, Alaska incumbent Gov. Sarah Palin, and in 1972, South Dakota Democrat Sen. George McGovern's selection of Sen. Thomas Eagleton from Missouri, as two of those examples.

Following a surge in popularity immediately following the 2008 GOP convention, Palin came under fire for a perceived lack of experience and her social and political views.

Eagleton was forced to quit the race after it was learned he had been hospitalized several times for bouts of depression including having undergone electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), a fact which had been kept from the public.

If there were lingering concerns about McGovern's judgement even after he replaced Eagleton with Sargent Shriver, they apparently didn't affect Massachusetts voters.

Massachusetts was the only state which gave an electoral victory to McGovern against incumbent Richard Nixon, who won reelection in a landslide.

By Friday afternoon and throughout the weekend, stories about some of Pence's positions being at odds with policies espoused by Trump began making the rounds, including his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership — which Trump opposes — and his description of a ban on Muslims entering the U.S. — which Trump proposed — as "offensive," and "unconstitutional."

Pence also supported one-time Trump rival Sen. Ted Cruz until Cruz dropped out of the race earlier this year.

Ultimately, a vice presidential pick may not affect how Massachusetts voters lean at all, if history is any indication.

Since 1972, Massachusetts has only voted in favor of Republican Party presidential candidates twice.

Contact Bob Dunn 413-496-6249.


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