Mondale’s search for a mate
He has yet to secure the Democratic party’s nomination for president and his rivals have not yet bowed out. But former vice-president Walter Mondale is already grappling with what may be the most crucial decision of his campaign for the presidency: the selection of a vice-presidential running mate. Last week, in a replay of the process that made him Jimmy Carter’s choice in 1976, Mondale began receiving prominent Democrats at his $200,000 Minnesota home in exclusive, largely Republican North Oaks and turned a series of job interviews into a national story.
Two California mayors—San Francisco’s Dianne Feinstein and Los Angeles’ Tom Bradley—and Texas Senator Lloyd Bentsen were the first three hopefuls on a list that may expand to a dozen before the Democratic convention opens in San Francisco on July 16. The long conclaves with Mondale strengthened the impression that the nomination is virtually in his pocket, despite the dis-
avowals of his primary opponents, Colorado Senator Gary Hart and Rev. Jesse Jackson. And since Bradley, a former Los Angeles policeman, is black, Móndale can credibly claim to have delivered on his promise to interview women and minorities for the second spot on the ticket.
The interview process does more than buttress Mondale’s stature as the probable nominee. It adds drama during a lull in the campaign to his sojoufn at home and helps dispel his image as the consummate Washington “pol” by displaying him on U.S. television networks as a relaxed, casually dressed suburban gentleman. And for all its aura of imperiousness and supplication, the interview process gives Móndale a chance to stroke egos—and flat-
ter constituencies—all across his fractious party. Indeed, rival Jackson’s charge last week that the interviews were “a PR parade of personalities” seemed to spring either from naïveté or pique at not yet being invited.
Beyond the symbolism, the interviews also seemed designed as an attempt to recreate the relationship that Mondale recalls from his days as Carter’s deputy as intimate, if not without friction. And while Mondale talked, his staffers reviewed news reports, voting records and financial disclosure forms of potential running mates in an effort to avert any politically embarrassing “surprises.” Former Carter strategist Hamilton Jordan noted that the final choice, which will probably not be disclosed before the convention, is “the first time people get to see the candidate make a substantive decision.” Mondale termed it “the most important single act by a presidential candidate.”
Party unity, geographic clout, ideological balance and, for the first time, gender will all weigh on Mondale’s mind. The bitter nomination race has left deep wounds among Democrats, with Hart and Jackson vowing to take their fight to the convention floor. Reagan enjoys a wide lead in current polls and an almost insuperable edge in his far-West base. Mondale is almost universally perceived as a liberal’s liberal and may seek a balancing conservative influence in his vice-presidential candidate. Finally, a powerful undercurrent is sweeping the party in favor of naming a woman.
Mondale’s options and the strategies behind them include the following:
The dream ticket: Assuming that Mondale and Hart can wipe the blood off their hatchets, the Colorado senator might be an ideal choice. Hart would undoubtedly stiffen Mondale’s limp appeal to young, upwardly mobile professionals and as a westerner he might erode Reagan’s dominance in that region. A Gallup poll last month reported that 59 per cent of Democrats favor a Mondale-Hart reconciliation, compared to a mere 27 per cent who want any other running mate.
But the “dream ticket” may be an impossible feat. Hart continues to insist that he has “no interest, period” in being vice-president. For their part, Mondale’s aides view Hart as a sore loser whose attacks on Mondale will provide Reagan’s campaign with powerful ammunition.
Regional politics: Presidential elections are won or lost on the strength of stateby-state electoral votes. Nominees who can deliver their home states or regions have powerful appeal. Mondale already enjoys strong support in the Midwest and must decide whether to buttress that with a partner from the northeast or reach into the South and West in an attempt to break Reagan’s hold there.
Texas, with 26 of the 538 electoral votes needed to win, is a key crossroad between South and West, a fact that prompted Lloyd Bentsen’s invitation to North Oaks. A former bomber pilot who is fluent in Spanish and is a proven, potent vote-getter—he won re-election in 1982 with 59 per cent of the vote —Bentsen might well deliver his home state for Mondale. But they would make an odd couple. Bentsen is deeply conservative and supports Reagan’s MX missile and B-l bomber programs as well as U.S. intervention in Central America. As well, his voting record places him to the right of many liberal Republicans. Should Mondale decide that Texas is crucial, he might turn instead to the state’s popular two-year governor, Mark White, 44, or to Congressman Jim Wright, majority leader of the House of Representatives.
If Mondale wants to pursue a southern strategy, he could turn to Arkansas Senator Dale Bumpers, 58. A marine sergeant in the Second World War, Bumpers is a stem-winding orator who would add real flair to the stolid Móndale campaign. He also has the ability to translate liberal views—he opposed B-l and is critical of U.S. policy in El Salvador—into language that conservative, security-conscious southerners find appealing. Bumpers’ home state has only six electoral votes, but his presence on the ticket might enable Mondale to avoid a southern white backlash against any surge in black voter registration. It might also assure a tough contest in that region.
The feminist factor: Perhaps the trendiest choice, however, would be a woman. Not only would that signal a recognition that women are more critical of Reagan than men, but it would, Ohio Gov. Richard F. Celeste argues, “generate fresh excitement coming out of the convention.” Indeed, party sentiment is running so strongly in favor of choosing a woman that Mondale might risk trouble if he names a man such as Bentsen, whose political views are anathema to
female activists. Half of this year’s Democratic convention delegates will be female. “A woman overcomes the usual geographical arguments,” argued Rep. Barbara Boxer of California. “The essential ingredient here is that a woman will help the ticket win.”
Boxer’s contention has received powerful backing. In addition to House Speaker Thomas (Tip) O’Neill’s endorsement of New York Congresswo-
man Geraldine Ferraro for the vicepresidential post, Democratic state governors from Florida, New York, Ohio, New Mexico, Wisconsin and Massachusetts—all of them men—support the general idea of having a female on the ticket. Indeed, the risk of any “macho backlash” seems slight, if only because the Democrats are unlikely to fall much farther below the 36-per-cent support that Carter drew from white males
in 1980. Besides, advocates contend that selecting a woman is good long-term politics, even if Mondale loses. With Reagan opposed to the equal rights amendment and wedded this year to a male vice-president, proponents argue that naming a woman would be a historic break for the Democrats—one likely to assure strong female support for a generation.
Mondale acknowledged that sentiment in his talk with Feinstein. But selecting the Jewish mayor of a city that Middle America regards as Sodom by the Pacific might be too risky. A more prudent choice might be Ferraro, who is already riding a national boomlet of support. Ferraro, 48, might help Móndale win her home state’s 41 electoral votes and enhance his appeal to ItalianAmericans, a huge voting bloc. Her lack of executive experience may be a drawback, but Ferraro is a leading contender.
Mondale may, of course, reach well beyond the pundits’ favorite choices. New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, named last week to give the convention’s keynote address, is an oft-mentioned, if reluctant, prospect. Another is Chrysler Corp. chairman Lee Iacocca, a living symbol of industrial regeneration who could help tie down support in the “rust belt” steel and auto manufacturing states of the Midwest. But Iacocca says that he would not accept an offer to stand for nomination. The choice of Los Angeles’ Bradley would strike directly at Reagan’s California home base and lend the campaign the air of a civil rights crusade. Jackson, however, is almost surely out of the running. His antiSemitic remarks about New York “hymies” have shaken the Democrats’ crucial support among Jewish voters. Still, Mondale hopes that concessions on the party’s platform and its nominating rules will keep Jackson loyal and active.
Whoever Mondale picks will campaign for a post that has increased substantially in importance in recent years. While Harry Truman first learned of the existence of the atomic bomb when he succeeded Franklin Roosevelt in 1945 from the vice-presidency, Móndale and Bush have both enjoyed intimate access to their respective chiefs, and have been assigned the important role of roving presidential ambassador. Vice-presidents have always been, in the standard usage, “a heartbeat away from the presidency.” But the job’s growing clout has made choosing the occupant a much weightier decision than it was in the days when a running mate’s importance ended when he had delivered his political dowry on voting day. As a result, Mondale is unlikely to have cause to endorse the derisive verdict of Franklin Roosevelt’s first vice-president, John Nance Garner: that the job was not worth a “pitcher of warm spit.”