George Will

WASHINGTON -- Were it not for the 12th Amendment, ratified on June 15, 1804, presidential nominees could, and probably would prefer to, run alone, without being saddled with pesky vice presidential running mates, who can be embarrassments. Unfortunately, the presidential election of 1800 happened.

It was "a magnificent catastrophe" (that is the title of a splendid new book on it, by Edward J. Larson of Pepperdine University). As the two-party system, unanticipated by the Constitution's otherwise farsighted Framers, was crystallizing, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr each received the same number of electoral votes. This made a hash of the Framers' plan for electing presidents without having vice presidential candidates. Under their plan, which worked fine for three elections, the presidential candidate with the second highest number of electoral votes -- John Adams twice, then Jefferson -- became vice president.

It took the House of Representatives until Feb. 17, 1801, and 36 ballots, to break the Jefferson-Burr tie and make Jefferson president. Which is why, before the 1804 election, the 12th Amendment was written to require that electoral votes shall be cast "for president and vice president" with the expectation that the candidates would run on a party ticket and why Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton will need a running mate.

They both might need the same white man. Or perhaps Obama will need a different one. In any case, consider the probable logic of their choices.

Presidential politics, like football, is simple in objective but complex in execution. The game is Get to 270 -- electoral votes, that is. A person who captures a presidential nomination gives (sometimes perfunctory) thought to whether or not this or that potential running mate might make a crackerjack president (John Nance Garner? Henry Wallace? Alben Barkley? John Sparkman? Estes Kefauver? Bill Miller? Spiro Agnew?). Then the presidential nominee gives serious thought to whether this or that running mate might contribute a winning edge in a closely contested state with a significant number of electoral votes. So, speaking of Ohio. ...

In 2000, George W. Bush beat Al Gore 271-266 in electoral votes. Had Bush not carried Ohio, which he did with 50 percent of the popular vote, he would have lost. In 2004, he beat Kerry 286-251. Without Ohio's 20 electoral votes, which Bush won 51-49, Kerry would be president. By various scandals and ineptitudes, Ohio's Republican Party made such a mess that in 2006 Sherrod Brown, a congressman, defeated an incumbent Republican senator, Mike DeWine, and another congressman, Ted Strickland, became governor.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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