As Mitt Romney gets ready to announce his pick for vice president, we look back at five nominees in American history who really had voters talking—or scratching their heads—at their selection.
In the world of 2012 politics, vice presidential picks are carefully evaluated.
The practice of vetting picks began in earnest after the election of 1972, when Democratic candidate George McGovern selected Thomas Eagleton as his running mate—then found out that Eagleton struggled with severe mental health problems and had to ask him to resign his candidacy.
Still, candidates can never truly gauge the public’s reaction to a vice presidential running mate until Election Day. George Bush dealt with a backlash in 1988 when he selected Dan Qualye, and Walter Mondale had issues in 1984 with a media firestorm against Geraldine Ferraro, when her business connections were questioned.
Here is our list of five vice presidential picks who created a lot of buzz in their day, including one recent nominee.
John McCain caught the media off guard in 2008 when he announced that Alaska Governor Sarah Palin would be his running mate.
Palin was little known on the national scene but she had also been on some media lists as a potential candidate.
Palin made a big splash at the GOP convention, and the McCain-Palin ticket got a bump in the presidential polls. But the polling surge was brief.
Palin became the center of a media frenzy as more details came out about her lack of political experience. It didn’t help that the candidate had a disastrous interview with CBS news anchor Katie Couric, followed by piercing parodies by Tina Fey on SNL.
The extensive media coverage of Palin often overshadowed McCain, the presidential candidate, who lost to Barack Obama in the general election.
Lyndon B. Johnson
In 1960, Lyndon B. Johnson was the most powerful man in the U.S. Senate and the most powerful politician in Washington after the president.
He was also engaged in a bitter fight with Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Kennedy eventually edged out Johnson in the convention delegate count. Then, to everyone’s surprise, Kennedy offered Johnson, his bitter enemy, the slot as the vice presidential candidate.
In an equally big surprise, Johnson accepted the offer, giving up his powerful position as Senate majority leader.
Johnson soon came to regret his decision, as he was often left out of White House decisions.
Richard Nixon’s national political career almost ended as soon as it began, as he became embroiled in a political scandal soon after his selection to be Dwight Eisenhower’s running mate in 1952.
At the time, Nixon was thrust into the national spotlight as a young senator from California—and apparently a senator with a lot of political enemies.
They accused Nixon of maintaining a slush fund put together by his political supporters to pay for his political expenses.
In September 1952, Eisenhower considered dropping Nixon from the ticket as the media demanded an explanation about the funds, which weren’t illegal but contrasted with Nixon’s image as a political reformer.
In a landmark political moment, the Republican National Committee bought 30 minutes of national television time for Nixon.
The candidate made his famous “Checkers” speech, as Nixon said he wouldn’t return the family dog (a.k.a. Checkers) if it was determined the canine was a political gift.
That was enough to sway many Americans to call on the RNC to support Nixon, who stayed on the Eisenhower ticket.
John C. Calhoun
John C. Calhoun is one of the legendary figures in American for his two terms as vice president—and his firing by President Andrew Jackson.
In 1824, Calhoun was a political star, and there was an agreement among all the presidential candidates that no matter who won the presidential race, Calhoun would be the vice president.
But John Quincy Adams defeated Andrew Jackson in a contested election that was decided in the House of Representatives.
Than angered Calhoun, who dedicated much of his first term as vice president to undercutting President Adams.
By 1828, Calhoun was on the ticket as Andrew Jackson’s vice president when Jackson easily defeated Adams in a rematch of the 1824 election.
Calhoun kept his job as vice president but he soon turned on a second president, as Calhoun fought with Jackson over states’ rights and fiscal issues.
After Jackson decided to drop Calhoun from the 1832 ticket, Calhoun became first U.S. vice president to resign from office. He later became a pro-slavery leader in the Senate.
When it comes to American political controversy, it’s hard to leave Aaron Burr off any list.
Burr became vice president in 1801 after the contested election of 1800, during which he allowed a runoff election in the House that almost made him president—against the wishes of his own running mate, Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson was the presidential candidate in 1800 for the Democratic-Republican party, with Burr as his running mate from New York.
Jefferson’s rival was the president, John Adams, who ran for office with Charles Cotesworth Pinckney on the Federalist ticket. Pinckney was backed by Alexander Hamilton, who was feuding with Adams at the time.
In an interesting twist, Jefferson was serving as Adams’ vice president during the election.
Because of the voting process first outlined in the Constitution, Jefferson and Burr tied in the general election with 73 electoral votes. (One of the electors forgot to vote for a third candidate, to ensure that Jefferson was elected as president.)
Burr told Jefferson in a letter that he looked forward to serving in the Jefferson administration, but when Federalists in the House told Burr they would back him over Jefferson, Burr had a change of heart and contested the election in the House.
Jefferson won on the 36th ballot after getting support from another arch-enemy, Hamilton. He also never trusted Burr as his vice president.
In 1804, Vice President Burr and Hamilton settled their long—running feud in a fatal duel in Weehawken, New Jersey.