COMMENTARY | As a political science professor, I get a lot of questions about the 2012 election. Other than who will win the 2012 election, and who will be the Republican nominee, the question I get the most is whether or not President Barack Obama will replace Joe Biden with Hillary Clinton as his vice-presidential running mate.
Such a strategy has been mentioned before on the Internet. Some versions even have Clinton and Biden changing jobs. But it is a strategy that hasn’t been tried all that often. Some folks are old enough to remember 1976 when President Gerald Ford chose not to run again with former New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Instead, he went with Kansas Senator Bob Dole, who went on to narrowly lose to Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter and Minnesota Senator Walter Mondale.
But even though it’s only happened once since the end of World War II, running with a new running mate is nothing new in American politics. In fact, it’s happened eight times since the 12th. Amendment was passed, abandoning the practice of the second-place finisher in the presidential election becoming the vice president.
Thomas Jefferson was the first to adopt this tactic in 1804, replacing the unlikable Aaron Burr with George Clinton (a New York politician, not the master of funk), and was re-elected. John Quincy Adams was the next to try this, choosing Richard Rush for his unsuccessful re-election bid instead of Vice President John C. Calhoun. The same thing happened to Calhoun in 1832, as Andrew Jackson jettisoned him from the ticket in favor of Martin Van Buren, and a successful bid for a second term in office.
In the most famous case of such a vice-presidential switch, Abraham Lincoln, who eschewed Vice President Hannibal Hamlin in favor of Andrew Johnson from Tennessee, as a way to bring healing to the expected post-Civil War era. A few years later, Ulysses S. Grant similarly dumped Schuyler Colfax from the ticket in 1872 because Colfax was accused of being part of a scandal. Ironically, Colfax’s replacement Henry Wilson was also linked to the same scandal, but it didn’t hurt Grant’s re-election attempt that year.
Franklin D. Roosevelt is most famous for his four presidential election victories, but did you know that he replaced his vice president not once but twice? The first time came in 1940 when Hank Wallace was chosen instead of VP John Garner as the running mate. FDR did the same four years later when Harry Truman was installed as the new vice president, eventually assuming the top post, as Johnson did upon the death of the chief executive.
So, including these cases, including the 1976 Ford-Dole ticket brings us to a grand total of eight cases, where six of these switches led to a successful re-election for an incumbent. The fact that it hasn’t happened in years is bound to come up, but the track record for these cases is pretty good.