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Lewyn Addresses America

A little politics, a little urbanism- I also blog 100 percent on urbanism at and

If there was ever a case where a Vice Presidential candidate swung a state to his party’s nominee, it was Texas in 1960- won* narrowly by the Kennedy-Johnson ticket. (And for those of you less literate than I, Johnson was a longtime Senator from Texas).

So does this disprove my last post’s suggestion that a vice presidential choice (such as Paul Ryan) cannot do much to carry his home state?

Not at all.  First of all, let’s look at the numbers (see USAElectionatlas).

In 1956, the Democratic ticket got about 44 percent of the Texas vote.  In 1960, with Johnson on the ballot, it got 50.5 percent- a 6.5 point swing.  Looks pretty good, right?

Until you compare it to the national Democratic showing.  In 1956, Democratic nominee Stevenson got 42 percent nationally.  In 1960, Kennedy got 49.7 percent nationally- a 7.7 point swing.

In other words, if you assume that with another running mate Kennedy gains as much in Texas as he does nationally, Johnson only gave him an extra 1.2 points.

To be sure, this extra 1.2 points put Kennedy over the top.  But this was under the most favorable possible circumstances- a Senator who had represented Texas for decades and was the Senate’s Democratic floor leader.  So if LBJ had just been one of ten or twenty Texas Congresspeople (a la Paul Ryan) he would probably have added far less than 1.2 percent.

Furthermore, even if you assume Texas in 1960 was typical, it means that a Vice-President helps only in a true swing state – one that would have been decided, absent a running mate from that state, by a point or two.

I don’t think Wisconsin is likely to be such a state; if the election is 50-50 nationally there are lots of states that are likely to be closer than Wisconsin.  Why not?  First of all, today, out of ten Obama-leaning states listed by as “competitive”, all but one are closer than Wisconsin (according to the average of all polls).    Second, in 2008 eleven pro-Obama states were closer than Wisconsin. (Of course, if it isn’t 50-50 nationally Romney wins big but then he doesn’t need Wisconsin anyhow, any more than Obama needed it when he won big in 2008).

So if Romney was pursuing a swing state strategy, it would make sense for him to pick someone from one of those states (especially Colorado or Virginia, the two states where Obama’s 2008 vote share was within one point of his national vote share).

But I don’t think that was Romney’s goal at all (assuming he is as politically literate as I am, which I don’t think is such a high standard).  If it was, I think he would have picked Gov. McDonnell of Virginia or former Gov. Owens of Colorado.

Instead, I suspect he was focused on some mix of (1) Ryan’s articulateness (and thus likelihood of prevailing in a VP debate), (2) conservatism (conservative enough to unify the Republican Party but hopefully not so far Right as to scare off swing voters) and (3) personal rapport with Ryan.

*I realize some people think Texas was stolen but for the purposes of this blog post let’s just assume otherwise.  If Kennedy really lost Texas my argument is of course stronger.


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