— Every presidential election cycle, once a party's nominee becomes clear, we focus on the veepstakes. Who will Mitt Romney choose? Will he play it safe with a traditional pick, such as Walter Mondale in 1976 or Jack Kemp in 1996? Or take a chance, as John McCain did with Sarah Palin in 2008? Either way, there is no evidence that a vice presidential nominee plays a great part in voters' decisions. But that doesn't stop us from overhyping the selection process.
1. Being the vice presidential nominee is a steppingstone to the presidency.
This is true — but only if your ticket wins. Fourteen vice presidents have become president. Five were elected in their own right, eight ascended to the office when the president died of natural causes or assassination, and one moved up when the president resigned. The odds of a vice president becoming president are about 1 in 3.
But the odds are far worse for the vice presidential nominee on a losing ticket. Only one, Franklin Roosevelt, who was James Cox's vice presidential choice in 1920, went on to be elected president — and that wasn't until 12 years later.
In fact, only one other losing vice presidential nominee later won his party's presidential nod: Bob Dole, Gerald Ford's running mate in 1976. And Dole did not become the Republican presidential nominee until his third try, when he lost to President Bill Clinton in 1996.
Being the losing vice presidential candidate can end a promising political career, though not all have such a comedown as Palin, who later resigned as governor, or John Edwards, who's been tarnished by a high-profile affair and a criminal trial. Still, the prospects for a losing vice presidential pick are glum enough that potential nominees might heed Daniel Webster, who declined the offer to run for vice president several times, saying: "I do not propose to be buried until I am dead."