With voter approval rates for Hillary Clinton averaging a negative 10.9 percentage points and those for Donald Trump at a negative 28.6 percentage points, it’s conceivable that their vice presidential choices will tip the scales for undecided voters in November.
The press and commentators analyzing both parties (except for some die-hard Bernard Sanders acolytes) generally agree that popular Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia is Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s ideal running mate — a well-mannered, modulated moderate from a key swing state.
The press and political sages have called Mike Pence the perfect ticket mate for Mr. Trump because he has stood firmly on the right in the U.S. House and in his current role as Indiana governor.
But what if Mr. Kaine is not the perfect model of a modern political moderate and Mr. Pence is not the Barry Goldwater of the modern conservative movement? By one measure, Mr. Kaine is not the moderate Democrat his backers suggest he is.
“The fact that Hillary Clinton selected as her running mate the most liberal elected official in all of Congress tells a lot about her real agenda,” said Dan Schneider, executive director of the American Conservative Union, which compiles a widely cited scorecard of legislators’ votes.
Going all the way back to 1964, when Lyndon B. Johnson selected Hubert H. Humphrey as his running mate, no vice presidential nominee has earned a perfect zero on the ACU rating system — not Humphrey on the Democratic ticket, not 1972 Democratic nominee Edmund Muskie (or “Crying Ed,” as Mr. Trump might have referred to him), not George McGovern’s running mate, Tom Eagleton (or “Crazy Tom,” as Mr. Trump might have called him), not President Carter’s vice president, Walter F. Mondale, nor Geraldine Ferraro, who was Mr. Mondale’s running mate when he was the 1984 Democratic presidential nominee.
The four most recent Democratic vice presidential nominees — Al Gore, Joe Lieberman, John Edwards and Joseph R. Biden — are in double digits on the ACU scorecard, voting conservative at least some of the time while serving in Congress.
Was there ever a centrist on a Democratic ticket? You bet, said Mr. Schneider. “And the name will surprise you: Michael Dukakis’ running mate, Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas, earned an ACU lifetime rating of 40.5 percent.”
“Lloyd Bentsen was a true centrist,” the ACU executive director said. “His ACU rating is actually closer to [George H.W. Bush Vice President] Dan Quayle’s than it is to Tim Kaine’s.”
Mr. Kaine, who rates a rock-bottom zero from the ACU based on his Senate voting record since his election in 2012, is clearly no Lloyd Bentsen, at least with ACU calibrations.
The scales of ideological interest groups like the ACU’s and its liberal counterparts are not the same, however. GovTrack also ranks legislative voting records but says it is nonideological and nonpartisan.
Mr. Kaine “ranks as the 11th most conservative of the 46 Democratic senators, according to GovTrack’s ideology analysis,” wrote GovTrack Insider’s Jesse Rifkin. “He was also further to the right of every other Democratic senator considered a possibility to become Clinton’s running mate, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.”
Mr. Rifkin gave Mr. Schneider and the ACU their due, noting that the Democratic vice presidential candidate is “still further to the left than every Republican” now serving in the Senate.
The GovTrack writers also note that Mr. Kaine voted with Democrats 96 percent of the time in the last Congress. “That’s more than any Republican did in their own party.”
Is Mr. Pence the liberal nemesis he is cracked up to be?
The liberal American Civil Liberties Union slapped him with a measly 7 percent rating, and the NAACP gave him a mere 22 percent.
Like Mr. Kaine, Mr. Pence gets a legislative score of zero — but from NARAL Pro-Choice America, a leading pro-choice group.