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When to Choose: VP Pick Has Varied History

Gone are the days when Democrats and Republicans announced their running mates on the last day of their conventions. Since 1976, the parties have timed the announcements seemingly for strategic purposes, often within a week of the conventions. And this year was no different.

Jimmy Carter’s selection of Walter Mondale as his running mate in 1976 marked the last time Democrats chose their vice presidential candidate at the convention. Republicans hung onto the last-day tradition through two more election cycles, when Gerald Ford and Bob Dole ran in 1976, and during Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush’s first bid for office in 1980.

The GOP bucked tradition, however, when Bush ran for president in 1988, announcing Dan Quayle as his running mate on the second day of that year’s convention.

Democrats started declaring their vice presidential picks pre-convention in 1984, with presidential candidate Walter Mondale announcing Queens politician Geraldine Ferraro as his No. 2 four days before party officials and delegates gathered in San Francisco.

Since 1988, vice presidential candidates have typically been announced three to six days before the convention — a date that strategists have figured gives the candidates just enough pre-convention bounce without taxing the attention span of the American public.

A notable exception is Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s announcement of his pick: John Edwards, who had been a rival for the Democratic nomination. Kerry chose the North Carolina Senator on July 6, 20 days before the Democratic convention. According to a New York Times article about the campaign, the decision to unveil Kerry’s choice at that point was made “for maximum exposure.” Ultimately, of course, the strategy did not help the ticket at the polls.

With much being made of who this year’s vice presidential picks will be, it is worth noting that while some traditions have died, other themes have endured.

A New York Times article from 1976 calls attention to the themes of “hope” and “unity” in Carter’s campaign. After accepting the vice presidential nomination, Mondale reportedly praised Carter as a “remarkable and good man who’s brought so much hope and unity to this country” and who would have “one of the greatest presidencies in American history.”

The country heard calls for “party unity.” Presidential nominee Gerald Ford chose Bob Dole as his running mate, while still reaching out to passionate Reagan supporters who were sorely disappointed by their man’s loss of the nomination. The hurt was doubled when Reagan was not selected as Ford’s running mate.

According to the Times, Ford made his appeal for unity by telling the crowd, as he waved to Reagan, “it really feels good to have Ron Reagan on the same side of the line.”

Democrats seem to have made a similar appeal to Sen. Edward Kennedy (Mass.) in 1980, not unlike the one seen from Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) toward Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) and her supporters this year.

Carter praised Kennedy as a “tough competitor” and a “superb campaigner,” according to the Times.

“Ted, your party needs — and I need you,” Carter reportedly declared at that year’s convention.

Carter’s re-election bid was ultimately unsuccessful (he lost to Reagan that year), but even Reagan’s vice presidential announcement didn’t come without its troubles.

After a deal fell through with Ford that would have had secured him a spot on the ticket, Reagan chose Bush, despite the lack of a close working relationship between the two.

When the ticket was announced, Nancy Reagan reportedly could not conceal her disappointment.

“Her face told it all as she stood on the podium as Reagan announced Bush as his running mate,” the Washington Post reported. “She looked like a little girl who had just lost her favorite Raggedy Ann doll: sad, disappointed, almost crushed.”

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