One of the first comments we heard within days of Sarah Palin being selected as the Republican Vice Presidential nominee was that she was chosen solely to attract the Hillary Clinton vote. Many men and mostly women under the Lamppost were appalled, I think with a bit of oh-my-gosh help from journalists, that McCain would think women stupid enough to fall for such a political trick. We never do mind the outrage. After all, political ideology is an outgrowth of our social, religious, economic, and sometimes conditioned beliefs. What was interesting was the inference that choosing Palin was an unprecedented political strategy never attempted in American politics.
To repeat, as we have many times previously, the Lamppost is chock full of baby-boomers and is bipartisan in a sort of Lars Larsen-like way (did you see his measured responses on Larry King Live wrapups after each Convention this summer amidst the partisan demagogues?). The words of those under the Lamppost might be skewed one way or the other but our Commentary is not. We sift through the opinions and outrages and dish just the facts, or in this case, political precedents.
There is no doubt that one strong reason, if not the main reason, Sarah Palin was chosen to accompany John McCain on the Republican Presidential ticket was to steal Hillary Clinton votes from the Democrats. Sentiment was strong against Obama amongst Clinton supporters after Hillary grudgingly handed over her delegates to unify the Democratic Party. Some interviewed parties and bloggers threatened to never vote for Obama, that he was too green (Hillary called him “too inexperienced”) and did not represent their ideology. They even threatened to either not vote at all – thus holding back their delegate vote if they had one – or cross the aisle and vote for McCain. McCain supporters took note.
The Name of the Political Game is to get Elected
In 1952, two elections prior to Kennedy’s win in 1960, Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson won only 9 states against Republican Dwight Eisenhower. Stevenson’s wins came mostly in the Bible Belt of America: Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kentucky and West Virginia. He did not even win his home state of Illinois where he was the sitting Governor.
In 1956, the election prior to Kennedy’s win in 1960, Adlai Stevenson again ran against Eisenhower, now the incumbent President. Again, Stevenson faired poorly winning only 7 states and all coming again from the Bible Belt: Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Missouri, and Arkansas. This time, Louisiana, Kentucky and West Virginia voted the other way and yet again, his home state of Illinois, failed to support him.
Fast forward to the 1960 election for Kennedy – an uphill climb for Democrats at best considering historical trends. Kennedy, a Catholic from Massachusetts, needed a running mate to help attract votes outside of the Bible Belt and the northeast. He needed to appeal to conservative southern voters. Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri was favored by Kennedy’s family and advisors. Kennedy liked Symington but the Democrats had won in Missouri in 1956. Kennedy needed broader appeal and he also had to face down the issues of the day including the sagging economy, Cuba, the Soviet’s perceived space and missile advantage over the United States and, of course, his Catholicism. So, Kennedy chose Senator Lyndon Johnson of Texas, the reigning Senate Majority Leader.
As we all know, Kennedy, with a bit of help from television and his father, Joe Kennedy, won the election in 1960 to become the 35th president of the United States. He did win the Bible Belt and he did win the northeastern states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
But, because of Johnson, he also won Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, Minnesota, and Michigan. He won Adlai Stevenson’s state of Illinois, a state Stevenson himself couldn’t win in two tries. And he got back West Virginia.
How important was Lyndon Johnson to Kennedy? Kennedy won the popular vote by 119,450 votes. He won the electoral vote by a wider margin: 303-219. However, take away Texas’ 24 electoral votes, New Mexico’s 4 electoral votes and Louisiana’s 10 electoral votes, and Kennedy does not win.
Without Lyndon Johnson, Kennedy does not win. Without a running mate leveraged for political advantage, Richard Nixon is elected President in 1960, not in 1969.
Oh, and by the way…
Here’s the kicker: there was no one on the face of the earth that Kennedy disliked more than Lyndon Johnson.
The name of the political game is to get elected.