THE BLOG

When Vice Presidents Run for President

03/17/2014 07:13 pm ET | Updated May 17, 2014

I write this blog in reaction to a recent CNN blog titled, "Why Biden Won't Win." The article's main thesis is that vice presidents have a low success rate of winning an election, historically speaking. While true, this is a misleading statement, because of two important facts. First, the vice presidency has evolved over time. Secondly, every major political position, except for incumbent president, has a low success rate.

The Evolution of the Vice Presidency

Of all the vice presidents considered for office in all previous presidential elections, all but a few ran for election during a time when the vice presidency hadn't any power except those powers that are stated explicitly in the Constitution. This constitutional handicap obviously diminished the prestige of the title, as the candidates had only proof of having done virtually nothing for the four to eight years of their vice presidencies; whereas, a governor, senator or even mayor could tout recent accomplishments. Eisenhower changed things when he assigned Vice President Richard Nixon a wide range of responsibilities. Following Nixon's vice presidency, all future vice presidents did more than wait for a president to die. In short, there is little resemblance between the vice presidential powers of Richard Mentor Johnson and Dick Cheney.

When Modern Vice Presidents Run for Office: 1960-present

Thus, starting with Nixon, in 1960, we have seven modern vice presidents (four of them sitting vice presidents and three are former vice presidents) running for office. These seven vice-presidential presidential hopefuls were Nixon, Humphrey, Nixon (again), Mondale, Bush, Quayle, Gore. Of these, Nixon and Bush won, officially. I should also point out that Gore and Quayle were in the same election together and Humphrey and Nixon were in the same election together. Therefore, it can be said, that in the five elections since 1960 that have had at least one vice president, a vice president has won the election 40 percent of the time and a vice president has been nominated 100 percent of the time in these five elections. These figures do not take into account the close and controversial Gore (2000) and Nixon (1960) elections, which would put the electoral win percentage more than 50 percent.

The Nomination Success of Modern Vice Presidents vs. Major Politicians

Vice Presidents: 100% (5 for 5)
A vice president has been nominated in every election involving a vice president, sitting or former. This figure does not take into account Hubert Humphrey's 1972 failed run, as the former vice president was then in the Senate.

Presidents: 90% (9 for 10)
Incumbent presidents have been nominated in all but one election involving an incumbent president since 1960. LBJ withdrew early in the primaries of the 1968 election after barely winning the New Hampshire primary.

Governors: 46% (6 of 13)
Governors have the highest nomination rate out of those politicians without experience in the White House.

Senators: 43% (6 of 14)
Senators are the only major office to be represented in all fourteen presidential campaigns from 1960 to 2012.

Representatives: 0% (0 of 10)
We have not had a US representative nominated in the era of the modern vice president.

Cabinet Secretary: 0% (0 of 3)
Cabinet Secretaries rarely come with the star power that former secretary Hillary Clinton will bring in 2016, if she runs.

The Electoral Success of Modern Vice Presidents vs. Major Politicians

Presidents: 60% (6 of 10)
Incumbent presidents are the only candidates that have a good shot in presidential elections in the era of the modern vice presidency. Only LBJ, Ford, Carter and the first Bush have failed to get reelected since 1960.

Vice Presidents: 40% (2 of 5)

A vice president has emerged successful close to half the time in all elections involving at least one vice president.

Governors: 31% (4 of 13)

Governors have not done well compared to vice presidents. The winners have been Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Senators: 14% (2 of 14)

This low percentage makes the 2008 election, which pitted two senators against each other (Obama and McCain), even more impressive in hindsight. You have to go back to JFK in 1960 to find the other senator who won in the era of the modern vice presidency.

Representatives: 0% (0 of 10)

This makes one wonder why they even try. In fact, two of our assassinated presidents, Abraham Lincoln and James Garfield, are the only US reps to become president.

Cabinet Secretary: 0% (0 of 3)

Only three elections have involved a cabinet secretary and none were of the stature of a Hillary Clinton. Before the era of the modern vice presidency, cabinet secretaries had some success. James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, William Howard Taft and Herbert Hoover were all secretaries before going into office.

Factors in 2016

These statistics reveal that Joe Biden, statistically and historically speaking, has a more considerable chance of success than all other political offices in the 2016 election. Additionally, as he is the sitting vice president, President Barack Obama would likely be compelled to support him. Hillary Clinton's star power, coupled with Bill Clinton's support, makes her the most powerful cabinet member to run for election since Hoover in 1928. Lastly, governors (Christie, Bush, Huckabee) have higher historical chance of success than senators (Cruz, Warren, Paul) and representatives (Ryan and Grayson).

*Notes to this blog: All candidates mentioned in this article will represent their last political office when running for president (Example, Hillary Clinton is Secretary Clinton and not Senator Clinton). Lastly, the statistics are based off of elections involving at least one candidate of that political office. Therefore, the success rate for a political office will be based on the most successful candidate of that office in an election. If the blog had rated each candidate individually, the success rate for governors, senators and representatives would have been minuscule when compared to the vice presidency, as numerous candidates of these offices generally run in about every election, unlike the vice president which is much rarer.