The role of a running mate: understanding the vice presidency


With the impending election in November, the names Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are often brought up in conversation. However, their running mates — the candidates running for vice president — receive much less public attention. 

Eighty-four million people watched the first presidential debate Sept. 26, according to CNN, but only 37.2 million tuned in to the vice presidential debate Oct. 4, which featured Republican candidate Mike Pence, the governor of Indiana, and Democratic candidate Tim Kaine, the former governor of Virginia.

Anthony DiMaggio, an assistant professor of political science, said in general, the role of the vice president is largely a ceremonial one. The vice president takes on many important jobs, such as carrying out the duties of the president if he or she can no longer serve, or working as the tie-breaking vote in a split Senate decision.

Democratic Vice Presidential Nominee Tim Kaine (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Tim Kaine (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

The vice president also serves as a symbolic figure. He or she helps support the president, whether it be on the campaign or during the presidency, DiMaggio said. It is common to see a vice president on the campaign trail or giving speeches throughout the country to connect with U.S. citizens.

Vice presidents are chosen strategically to complement their respective presidential candidates. For example, Kaine is much more moderate than Clinton, said Jigar Patel, the president of Lehigh’s College Democrats.

“Not all of his policies are aligned with Clinton’s beliefs, so that gives a good balance for that platform in general,” Patel said. “It’s more bridging the gap between Republicans and Democrats. Instead of bipartisan, we want a more of nonpartisan approach to a lot of the issues in this country.”

Pence is often believed to balance out Trump’s personality.

“He has a calm collective manner, and acts more like a politician,” said Bryce Pandolfo, the vice president of Lehigh’s College Republicans.

Pence also balances Trump with political knowledge, as he was a governor whereas Trump is not a career politician.

“It’s a good idea to pick someone who is in more of the establishment for Trump,” said Ryan Judge, the treasurer of Lehigh’s College Republicans. “It unites the entire Republican party behind him, it gives him more legitimacy.”

Republic Vice Presidential Nominee Mike Pence (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Republic Vice Presidential nominee Mike Pence (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Patel said the vice president must also work to uphold the presidential platform. Kaine’s moderate political stance will help create a balance in the Democratic party, as he better understands problems of both parties.

“(Pence) is definitely a thumbs up from the establishment,” Judge said.

Pandolfo said some Republicans have even suggested that Pence take the lead and run for president, but that this is a stretch.

“Three-hundred sixty-four days of the year, (the role of the vice president is) a secondary importance,” DiMaggio said. “But there are those moments when you talk about presidential succession or if a president resigns when they become incredibly important.”

Educational reform is a prevalent issue for both candidates. As governor, Kaine was known to have expanded Virginia’s education system at the K-12 level. It is because of his expansion of education that in 2007, during his run as governor, Education Week named Virginia the best place to raise a child. Kaine also stands behind Clinton in creating a more affordable college education for students by taxing the rich.

Pence also made significant changes in the education system of Indiana by increasing funding for pre-K education, ultimately allowing working-class families to enroll their children in schools. Pence is against Common Core curriculum and Indiana was the first state to abandon these standards. Pence has not yet offered his stance on dealing with student loans.

Although the vice presidents do play an important role, DiMaggio said they will not make much of an impact on undecided voters. He said when the debates begin, most Americans have already made a decision about which presidential candidate they are going to vote for, despite the vice presidents running with them. If vice presidents were to meet American citizens earlier in the election, he said, they might actually make an impact on undecided voters.

Low media coverage of vice presidents could also be a factor in the public’s lack of knowledge. Patel said if the American public was more exposed to the vice presidents in the media, then they could actually have an impact on the election.

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