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A lot riding on Romney's VP selection

Apr 25, 2012 - By Joshua Spivak, MCT News Service

With Mitt Romney all but officially anointed the Republican presidential nominee, the national political narrative now turns to the "Veepstakes": who Romney will choose for his running mate. From a policy point of view, this is arguably the most important decision Romney will make in his race.

The importance of the vice president is not for electoral reasons -- even the most disastrous choices have been found to have a negligible impact on the electorates' voting decision.

These are changes from the historical norm. From 1836 until 1960, when Richard Nixon broke the streak, only vice presidents who moved up due to the death of a president were able to later claim their party's nomination for the presidency.

Most of the recent VP candidates have been prominent political figures. In fact, every first-choice Democratic vice presidential nominee since 1940, with the exception of Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, was a sitting U.S. senator.

This has resulted in much higher name recognition for vice presidents, which helps with getting voter support.

There are other reasons that the choice of a vice president is particularly important today. Vice presidents have increasingly become players in politics and governing. The vice president's office has grown greatly in power over the past 50 years.

In that vein, the vice president is one of the only executive officials in the administration whom the president cannot get rid of during an initial term.

Pundits will carefully examine the candidates for political benefits and drawbacks, focusing on whether the running mate can help pick off a swing state and what momentum boost he or she can provide to the ticket.

Few will mention that the only vice presidential choice in modern history believed to have made an electoral difference was Lyndon Johnson more than half a century ago.

Romney's pick will be gone over with a fine-tooth comb for these electoral benefits. But voters should treat this choice as more than some overblown and temporary strategy. If Romney is elected, the choice of the vice president is the single campaign move most likely to shape both his and the next presidency.

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Editor's note: Joshua Spivak is a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College. He wrote this first for the Los Angeles Times.

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