Running mate

For other uses, see Running mate (disambiguation).

A running mate is a person running together with another person on a joint ticket during an election. The term is most often used in reference to the person in the subordinate position (such as the vice presidential candidate running with a presidential candidate) but can also properly be used when referring to both candidates, such as by saying Barack Obama and Joe Biden were running mates in 2008 and 2012.

The term is usually used in the United States, in reference to a prospective Vice President. In some states, candidates for lieutenant governor run on a ticket with gubernatorial candidates, and are also known as running mates.

In United States politics

In the United States, "running mate" refers to a candidate for vice president (federal) or, in those states where the governor and lieutenant governor are elected together, to a candidate for lieutenant governor (state). Historically, running mates were chosen by political parties in consultation with the principal candidate (i.e., the person running for president or governor). In the late 1960s, it became the practice of the principal candidate in presidential elections to announce his or her preferred choice of running mate at his or her political party's national convention. The current practice is for the presumptive nominee of a political party to announce his or her choice for running mate before the national convention which, because of the extensive primary election and caucus system, is becoming increasingly irrelevant.

Some states (e.g., Michigan) exactly mirror the federal process above for their gubernatorial elections, while others continue to hold separate votes for gubernatorial and lieutenant gubernatorial candidates; and some states have abolished or never had the office of lieutenant governor.

Meanwhile, some states, like California and Texas, still elect the governor and lieutenant governor on separate tickets, and frequently from different political parties. This was the case when George W. Bush was Governor of Texas. His first lieutenant governor, Bob Bullock, was a Democrat. In cases like this, the governor and lieutenant governor are not considered running mates because they are not elected on the same ticket.

The practice of running candidates for president and vice president together evolved in the nineteenth century. Originally, electors cast two ballots for president and whoever took second place in the tabulation became vice president. Starting in 1804, the president and vice president were elected on separate ballots as specified in the Twelfth Amendment to the United States Constitution which was adopted in that year. As more and more states subsequently began to choose their electors by popular election instead of appointment (South Carolina being the last state to change, in 1860), candidates began to realize they could run together as a team for president and vice president instead of running completely separately for each office.

The practice of a presidential candidate having a running mate was solidified during the American Civil War. In 1864, in the interest of fostering national unity, Abraham Lincoln from the Republican Party (popular in the North) and Andrew Johnson of the Democratic Party (popular in the South), were co-endorsed and run together for President and Vice-President as candidates of the National Union Party. Notwithstanding this party disbanded after the war ended, with the result that Republican Lincoln was succeeded by Democrat Johnson; the states began to place candidates for President and Vice-President together on the same ballot ticket - thus making it impossible to vote for a presidential candidate from one party and a vice-presidential candidate from another party, as had previously been possible.

Running mates are typically chosen to balance the ticket geographically, ideologically, or personally, as when the staid New Englander John F. Kennedy was matched with the folksy Texan Lyndon B. Johnson in 1960. Or, in 1984, when male Walter Mondale was paired with female Geraldine Ferraro. The object is to create a more widespread appeal for the ticket.

Presidential candidates from smaller states sometimes choose a vice presidential running mate from a state with a large number of electoral votes - as when Walter Mondale of Minnesota (10 votes) selected Geraldine Ferraro of New York (then 36 votes). It is preferred, but not legally required, that the running mate be from a different state from the presidential nominee, because each elector can vote for no more than one candidate from his or her own state. Running mates can also be chosen from swing states in order to boost a candidate's chance of winning in the state.

A running mate can be useful to target a separate group of people from those who were initially being targeted, and therefore assist the running party in appealing to a larger basis of people. It can also have the detrimental effect of deterring voters who were initially inclined to vote for the running candidate but have been put off by the choice of the running mate. In 2008, John McCain selected Sarah Palin to be his running mate. It appeared that “conservatives’ perceptions of Palin had a strong effect on turn out and vote choice, while Palin seemed to have less influence on moderates’ decisions to turn out and vote”.[1] So while a running mate can benefit the party, the decision as to whom should be chosen, should be made wearily as it can also negatively influence the results of the election for that party.

In the 2016 presidential election, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton's nominee is Tim Kaine, senator from Virginia. On the other side, Republican nominee Donald Trump is Mike Pence, governor of Indiana.

In electing a subordinate officer the Electors will not require those qualifications requisite for supreme command. The office of the Vice President will be sinecure. It will be brought to market and exposed to sale to procure votes for the President.
William Cocke, December 2, 1803, Witcover 1992 cited by Sigelman and Wahlbeck 1997[2]


  1. "Central Authentication Service @ Indiana University" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-11-02.
  2. Lee Sigelman, Paul J. Wahlbeck (December 1997). "The "Veepstakes": Strategic Choice in Presidential Running Mate Selection". The American Political Science Review. 91 (4): 855–864. JSTOR 2952169.
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