BILL CLINTON said last week in California that he has begun "to think seriously about what sort of person ought to be vice president. . . someone who maybe has some knowledge that Bill Clinton doesn't have, some strengths that he may not have."
One advantage to wrapping up the nomination early is that the presidential nominee gets to think in advance about this important decision. For a generation, Democrats (and often Republicans) have made the decision in haste and weariness in mid-summer, often late at night, at the end of a long, hard struggle, without the help of disinterested experts like, say, me.
(Experts like me? Yep. I'm the biographer of three vice presidential nominees -- Spiro Agnew, 1972, 1968; Edmund Muskie, 1968; and Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1920.) (Of course, in the first two cases, I thought I was writing what would become presidential biographies.)
My advice, Governor Clinton, is (1) "Go West, Young Man" (see below) and (2) "California, Here I Come" (see this column next Thursday).
Everybody talks about the Democrats' need to crack the Old South to win the presidency. But the West is where Clinton's party has been losing the White House. The Republicans have been wooing and winning the region for years.
Many historians and geographers define the West as the 19 states lying wholly or in part west of the 100th meridian (imagine a line from roughly Bismarck, N.D., to San Antonio, Texas). In the past 40 years, Republicans have carried every Western state five times and at least 15 Western states four other times. Only in 1964 did the Democrats carry a majority of the West.
In that year, the party's presidential nominee was Lyndon Johnson. About a fourth of his Texas lies west of the 100th. It is a rare thing for a Westerner to get on the Democratic ticket. Since 1952, in only four elections did a Western Democrat make it, twice as presidential nominee, twice as vice presidential.
But the Republicans! There has been a Western Republican on the ticket in every election since 1952. In fact, there has been a Republican on the ticket in every election but one all the way back to 1928.
In fact, there were two Western Republicans on the ticket in 1928, 1932, 1952, 1956, 1980 and 1984.
In the 1930s and 1940s, only about one American in 10 lived west of the 100th meridian. Republicans' Western-oriented tickets did not help them much. From 1932 through 1948 Democrats won five straight presidential elections (in only two of which was a Westerner on their ticket).
But Republicans have won seven of the last 10 elections. (Two of the Democrats' three wins were in years in which a Western Democrat was on the ticket.)
The Republican ascendancy is related in large part to the population boom in the West. Today, more than one in 10 Americans live in California alone.
To be continued.