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Mitt Romney’s VP Pick a Historic Challenge

In picking a House Member as his running mate, Mitt Romney hopes to buck more than 80 years of history.

It has been that long since a Member was elected vice president directly from the House – and back then the Member in question was Speaker. In the decades since, only two have been nominated by major parties.

Walter Mondale tapped Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-N.Y.) in 1984, a selection that rightfully gained more attention for putting the first female on a major party ticket than for drawing from Congress. Before that, Barry Goldwater selected Rep. William Miller, a largely anonymous New York Republican, in 1964.

Joel K. Goldstein, the vice presidential scholar at Saint Louis University, wrote in a guest post at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia that Goldwater “chose Miller due to his proclivity at provoking Lyndon B. Johnson,” the president at the time.

Romney and his advisers hope neither Ferraro nor Miller serve as precedent for the 2012 election outcome. The Goldwater-Miller and Mondale-Ferraro tickets were walloped by incumbent presidents, losing two of the most lopsided races in American history.

There is little doubt that Romney’s choice, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), has a greater national profile than Miller ever did.

Many vice presidential picks served in the House at an earlier point in their careers, but they generally went on to have other government roles, often in the Senate or the Cabinet, before joining the national ticket.

“Sitting members of the House of Representatives are almost never selected as running mates, in part because they are perceived to have a stature deficit relative to senators, governors or members of the executive branch,” Goldstein wrote.

Gerald Ford was the last man to move directly from the House to the vice presidency, but Ford – the House Minority Leader – was appointed by President Richard Nixon to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Spiro Agnew.

The last elected vice president from the House came a few decades before Ford’s appointment.

Known as “Cactus Jack,” John Nance Garner was put on the ticket with Franklin Roosevelt in 1932. Garner, a Texas Democrat, served in the House for 30 years, rising to the role of Speaker when Democrats took the majority in 1931.

Roosevelt did not really choose Garner of his own volition. Garner was placing third on the presidential nominating ballot and, according to the Senate historical office, Roosevelt needed his delegate votes to achieve the two-thirds majority required for nomination.

Outside of party leaders, the better comparison to Ryan might be from before the ratification of the 17th amendment to the Constitution that provided for direct election of Senators. In 1908, voters elected Rep. James S. Sherman, a Republican from Utica, N.Y., as vice president. Sherman served two stints in the House from 1887 to 1909. Like Ryan, Sherman rose to a committee chairmanship, holding the gavel of the House Indian Affairs Committee for 14 years.

Sherman was an inside Washington choice whom very few knew outside the Capitol. Sherman served so often as the presiding officer of the chamber that Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge (R-Mass.) recognized that job function in eulogizing Sherman on the Senate floor.

The Senate historical office noted that Sherman probably had very little effect on the race. Sherman ran on the ticket led by Vice President William Howard Taft. Taft faced off against William Jennings Bryan, who had won the presidential nomination for the third time and for the third time would prove unsuccessful.

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