Five vice presidents have hailed from Indiana, more than any other state except New York. Make that six if Donald Trump and running mate Mike Pence prevail in November.
In the following interview, the last Hoosier to hold (and run for) the office considers why politicians from Indiana are popular VP picks, and why the job, despite its high profile, can be, well, pretty thankless.
What do you think Indiana’s politicians are known for among politicians from other states around the country?
I think Indiana nationally is known for the great people that we have. You hear the term “Midwest nice.” What great people. You hear that all the time. And I think that’s really one of the strong attributes that our state has, the values of our people. We’re very family-oriented, we’re neighborhood-centric, we help each other, and we have good manners, by and large.
Indiana is a cradle of vice presidents. What makes politicians from the state good VP candidates?
That’s a fascinating question, and it’s very interesting that Indiana has had five vice presidents. Hopefully, we’ll have many more. I don’t know if there’s any one answer to it, but I’d say when you’re looking for a vice president, obviously you’re looking for somebody who’s qualified and has experience. But collegiality is very important. You’ve really got to be able to work with the president and the president’s cabinet. And you have to understand that it is the president’s cabinet. And I think that trait that people from Indiana have is, you know, good values and strong principles, but also very collegial, and able to work with a lot of different people.
What strengths did you bring to the ticket when George H.W. Bush tapped you in ’88?
There was a number of things. Clearly, it was generational. I was the first Baby Boomer elected to national office, to be followed by Clinton and Gore in ’92. Secondly, my work on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and also my service on the Labor and Human Resources Committee. I was the author of the Job Training Partnership Act, which I know Vice President Bush thought was a rather remarkable achievement to get through, because they had a Democrat House—to get though not only the Senate but the House. It was probably the most substantive domestic legislation during the first administration of Reagan.
And I had known George Bush for, gosh, over 10 years when he selected me, so I had worked with him and campaigned with him, and knew his family. And it also helped coming from the Midwest. I actually thought John Glenn was going to be selected by Dukakis, coming from Ohio, but Dukakis went to Texas [to pick Lloyd Bentsen], and I think that somewhat opened the door. So that was a factor, but not a major one.
Generally speaking, how does having a VP candidate from the Midwest help a presidential campaign?
It all comes down to the individual. I think in my case, I was considered conservative. George Bush was considered conservative, but more of a moderate conservative. That helped cement the coalition in the party, because you want your base to be firmly established and excited to go to the general election. The general election is about turnout. You’ve got to have turnout.
But the Midwest is a battleground, and it’s going to be a battleground this time. You look at Indiana, which voted for Obama in ’08. Ohio is always a battleground state. Pennsylvania can be. Michigan, Wisconsin. They’re all fairly close. Even Indiana. Illinois is a little less so, but it could be in play this time.
How do you feel about the way the media treated you? I think some people in Indiana felt like one of their own was getting picked on.
I can understand that. But you have to realize, when you’re at the national level, the media is going to pound you no matter what. They normally have to pick on one of you, whether it’s the president or the vice president, and for the first three and half years, I was the target. Unfortunately, for the last six months George Bush was the target. I wish they would have stayed on me. We might have won the election.
But it sort of goes with the territory. It really does. Vice president’s an awkward office. You’re president of the Senate. You’re not even officially part of the executive branch—you’re part of the legislative branch. You’re paid by the Senate, not by the executive branch. And it’s the president’s agenda. It’s not your agenda. You’re going to disagree from time to time, but you salute and carry out the orders the best you can.
It’s not the easiest job in the world. I was very blessed to have George Bush, one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met. Plus, he was vice president for eight years, so he knew what the job was.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.