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Obama's VP Search: Avoiding Party's Past Mistakes

Members of Barack Obama's vice presidential search committee have been busy. This week, they sat down with Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, who said they were throwing out some names: "We discussed 15 to 20 people who are possibilities." Clearly, Obama's list is still long, and he hasn't offered any hints.

"The next time you hear from me about the vice presidential selection process will be when I have selected a vice president," he has said.

Journalists have continued to hound Obama, especially about whether he'll choose Hillary Clinton. But so far, all he has said about choosing Clinton is this: "Obviously, she'd be on anybody's short list."

As Obama thinks about all the names on his list, one of his goals is to avoid 1972. That's when Democratic nominee George McGovern called on Tom Eagleton. Unfortunately for the party, it came out after he was named to the ticket that Eagleton had for years undergone electroshock therapy to treat depression. Two weeks later, Eagleton announced that he was withdrawing his candidacy.

Then there was 1984, when Geraldine Ferraro was the first woman to run on a major party ticket. What the party didn't know until later is that her husband had some dubious business dealings.

Interestingly, the person who vetted Ferraro for Walter Mondale that year was Jim Johnson. He was doing the same job for Barack Obama — until this week, when he resigned amid reports about his own financial affairs.

Back in 2000, Ron Klaine helped do the VP vetting for Al Gore. Klaine says there's too much focus on a running mate helping a candidate win states or make up for weaknesses.

"People think about this ticket-balancing thing a lot more than the candidates do," he said. "I think candidates are really looking for someone who could help their overall cause in the campaign, who could be a good partner in governing and who could be a good president if they had to step up and do that job."

Whatever Obama is thinking about, he doesn't have that much time, since his primary race lasted so long.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.