But the Eagleton nomination was a nightmare for the Democrats, who may not have been able to beat Nixon that year regardless of whom McGovern chose. The episode proved that the failure to thoroughly examine a potential running mate's past could have devastating consequences — as the Republicans almost witnessed with Dan Quayle in 1988.
In 1972, as in 1968, the Vietnam War consumed the nation, as well as the Democratic Party. Today, it's Iraq, as the first of this week's questions shows:
Q: Thanks for your list [Feb. 8 column] that showed how every Democrat in the Senate voted in 2002 on going to war in Iraq. If I recall correctly, Paul Wellstone (D-MN) was the only incumbent Democrat who voted "no" on the war who was up for re-election that November. Which brings me to my question: Which Democrats in the House voted against the war authorization resolution, and did any of them lose their bids for re-election that fall? — David Nelson, New York, N.Y.
A: Wellstone wasn't the only Democratic senator up in 2002 who voted against the war. Dick Durbin (IL), Carl Levin (MI) and Jack Reed (RI) also all voted no that year. But Wellstone was the only one to do so who was in a competitive race; he was in a nip and tuck contest against Republican Norm Coleman. Wellstone, of course, died in a plane crash on Oct. 25, 2002.
As for the House Democrats, 126 voted no. Only one of them, Jim Maloney of Connecticut, was defeated for re-election in November.
Q: Regarding your Feb. 21 column about the Chicago mayoral race, do you think another reason that Reps. Luis Gutierrez and Jesse Jackson Jr. decided not to take on Mayor Richard Daley was the strong possibility of a Democratic majority in the House? — Lenny Kleinfeld, Los Angeles, Calif.
A: Perhaps, but I think the real reason was that Daley just seemed unbeatable. I think that if and when Daley ever leaves City Hall, at least one of these congressmen will run for mayor. Remember: Even though Democrats control the House, two members — Chaka Fattah and Bob Brady — are running for mayor of Philadelphia this year in the May 15 primary. And I suspect that Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), who sought the mayoralty in New York City in 2005, will try again in 2009, when incumbent Republican Michael Bloomberg is ineligible to seek a third term. Serving in the House majority is certainly more rewarding than being in the minority, but I suspect either would pale in comparison to heading up a major U.S. city.
TRIVIA QUESTION: Who was the last member of Congress to become mayor of New York? (Answer below)
MAYOR CULPA: Last week's column listed the mayors and ex-mayors who have run for president, but there's one I forgot. Democratic pollster Harrison Hickman goes back to the distant past for one I left off the list: Tom Vilsack, who was first elected mayor of Mount Pleasant, Iowa, in 1987. Vilsack, as you may remember, sought the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination.
EARLY WIN: The Feb. 21 column talked about presidential hopefuls who announced their candidacies two calendar years in advance, notably then-Rep. Phil Crane (R-IL) in 1978, who, I wrote, was the first to do so. Not so, says Carl Leubsdorf of The Dallas Morning News, who reminds us that Jimmy Carter, elected in 1976, announced on Dec. 12, 1974.
FROM THE E-MAILBAG: Bonnie Andrews of Redmond, Wash., in response to last week's column, wants to know "why the Democratic candidates need to apologize to the majority of Americans who were in favor of the invasion of Iraq in the first place. The real apology needs to come from the American people who voted for Bush a second time. The damage to Iraq, and to our country, will take a long time to heal."
There was a hypothetical question from Stephen Dennis in the Jan. 10 column about what would have happened if Gerald Ford defeated Jimmy Carter in 1976. Dennis wanted to know if a Ford administration (which included such men as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld) "would have been more effective than the Carter administration in dealing with the Iran hostage crisis." Alex McDonnell of Wynnewood, Pa., suggests that Dennis "should ask George W. Bush: How have Cheney and Rumsfeld performed in Iraq?"
And for Mike Moore of Kent, Wash., the issue is "whom would I most like to have a beer with? For me, that would be Barack Obama or Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani strikes me as ebullient and outgoing, and Obama is capable of what I'd expect of any good company — thoughtful conversation, intelligent, and a great sense of humor. Too many of the other candidates are overly concerned with saying the right thing to the right crowd and trying to avoid saying the wrong thing ... so overly concerned, that conversation and company would be more of a chore than it ought to be."
AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH: The "Political Junkie" segment on Talk of the Nation, NPR's call-in show, continues to run every Wednesday on NPR at 2:40 p.m. Check local listings to see if your NPR station carries TOTN. If not, you can listen to the program on the Web at npr.org. This week: The passing of Tom Eagleton, the mouth of Ann Coulter, and the sudden unemployment of several U.S. attorneys. Special guest: Peter Brown, the assistant director for the Quinnipiac University Poll, which has begun a series of surveys in the key swing states of Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
PODCAST UPDATE: Last week's plug for our "It's All Politics" podcast discussed the appropriateness of the "humor" we present each week. Not to worry, writes Brook Soltvedt of Madison, Wisc.: "May I say that the dreadful puns, the silly giggling, and other general goofiness are exactly what I love about the podcast. It may not be humor, strictly speaking, but it does appeal to the nerdly funny bone. Or, should I say, MY nerdly funny bone."
Wait. It's not humor?
Anyway, on to this week's podcast. Should Scooter have testified? And why does he no longer call Yankee baseball games? These and other pointless topics may very well come up in this week's episode. Check out the new edition every Thursday afternoon.
TRIVIA ANSWER: The last member of Congress to be elected mayor of New York was Democrat Ed Koch; he was elected for the first of his three terms in 1977.
Don't Forget: If you are sending in a question to be used in this column, please don't forget to include your city and state.
This Day in Campaign History: The big news out of New Hampshire is not that Sen. Edmund Muskie of Maine won the Democratic presidential primary — that was long expected. The surprise is that he receives only 47 percent of the vote, compared to the 38 percent won by Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota, who was barely known in the state only a few months earlier. Finishing third is Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty, lagging well behind with just 6 percent of the vote. On the Republican side, President Richard Nixon coasts to a 68 percent victory, topping Congressmen Pete McCloskey of California, who captures 20 percent, and John Ashbrook of Ohio, who wins nearly 10 percent (March 7, 1972).
Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: email@example.com