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Vice Presidents Can Have A Major Impact


Usually, the debate between the Democratic and Republican Parties' Vice Presidential nominees is considered relatively insignificant. But, not in 2008. The Democratic Vice Presidential nominee is Senator Joe Biden. The Republican Vice Presidential nominee is Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Her presence has raised cheeers among some voters and concerns among others. VOA's Jeffrey Young reports on the vice presidency and its importance.

Americans have historically cast their ballots for the presidential candidates without much consideration for the vice presidential running mates. But, despite that, the Vice Presidential slot is still important for winning the White House. American University professor Candice Nelson explains why.

"Usually, a vice president pick is put on the ticket to contribute something to the ticket - - be it regional [or] ideological - something that corresponds to what the candidate for president has or has not a strength [in]."

Along with being female, the Republican Vice Presidential nominee Alaska Governor Sarah Palin is also strongly conservative and a fundamentalist Christian. Her presence on Republican Senator John McCain's ticket has boosted support from those groups.

But, while Palin's presence is positive in some ways, it has also raised concerns with certain voters. Johns Hopkins University professor Ben Ginsberg.

"Americans are very concerned with the question of who will be the Vice President because that official is, as is often said, 'a heartbeat away from the presidency,'" Ginsberg said.

Republican John McCain, if elected, would be the oldest person, at age 72, to enter the White House. He also has suffered from skin cancer. Ben Ginsberg says some Americans worry about Palin's proximity to the Oval Office.

"She is relatively inexperienced, unknown, [and] untried," said Ginsber. "And, there is some concern about what would happen if John McCain became disabled or died."

By comparison, the Democatic VP nominee, Senator Joe Biden, is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, with 26 years of Senate experience.

The concern about Palin is not hypothetical. In 1945, during World War Two, Vice President Harry Truman was thrust into the White House after the sudden death of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Truman was instantly saddled with critical responsibilities, as George Mason University Professor Robert Dudley notes.

"He did not know about the atomic bomb. One would think that in the midst of a war, that a major weapons development, that the Vice President, had he been close to the president at all would have known about it."

But despite this initial shortcoming, Truman made the decision to use the atom bomb on Japan and ended the war. Then he made more history. So did Lyndon Johnson, a later vice president who assumed the presidency in 1963 after the assassination of John F. Kennedy.

"Harry Truman, who succeeded to the presidency [after Franklin D. Roosevelt's death] helped to shape America's post war [World War II] economic and security policy," added Ginsberg. "Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded to the presidency, was the architect of America's civil rights revolution during the 1960s, and unfortunately, of America's Vietnam War."

Along with being the successor upon the president's death or disablement, the U.S. Constitution says the Vice President also presides over the Senate and casts a tie-breaking vote if needed. Candice Nelson explains that the current Vice President, Dick Cheney, has used his Senate role strategically.

"Following the 2000 election, there were equal numbers of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate," Nelson said. "Because the Vice President sits as President of the Senate, and the Vice President [Dick Cheney] was Republican, the Republicans claimed that they were the majority party in the Senate. And, they organized the [Senate] committees. They [Republicans] chaired the committees."

The next Vice President, whether Governor Palin or Senator Biden, could be a strong administrator as Dick Cheney has been. Or once again just someone who attends ribbon-cuttings and funerals for dignitaries.