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November 27, 2014

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Names matter in presidential pairings

Sun Expanded Coverage

(The Sun has gone on the road to listen to voters and talk to political leaders around the West. Reporters will examine the economic, cultural and demographic forces re-shaping the region as they drive to Denver for the first of the two major party conventions the Sun will cover.)

Some of my favorite journalism has come out of presidential campaigns and political conventions, especially since 1960, with Theodore White's "The Making the President 1960." As we make our way to Denver and St. Paul, I beg your forgiveness for sharing some of my favorites.

As John McCain and Barack Obama prepare to announce their vice presidential nominees, let's listen to the late Norman Mailer, reporting from the infamous 1968 Democratic convention. Mailer isn't a conventional political journalist (ok, that's obvious.) But he's great at picking up the subterranean clues about what moves the polity. In this case, it's the simple power of names.

"There were arts to picking a Vice-President, and the first was the name. Your ticket became a company. Recognize that a man named Proctor running for President would look for Gamble to go along. McGovern had the best of good monikers for a liberal since thoughts of the Conquering Celt had to be aroused in many an illiterate and reactionary head. At the least, could Mick Govern fail to give promise to Irish home rule? There was a percentage of voters (10 percent, 20 or more) who came to the secrecy of the election booth without a political thought in their head -- they knew the name of the President and sometimes they knew the name of the man who ran against him. In the isolated terror of the booth, where voting was a religious act to inspire awe in the simple, God being closest to you when alone, the sound of the names on the ticket could be enough to catch your vote. The problem was the name to go with McGovern [Editor's note: McGovern was a Democratic candidate in 1968, but did not receive the nomination until 1972]...

McGovern and Woodcock was a name fit for a company which put out a special variety of Tabasco, manufactured a fine grade of bronze casket, or catered to the Queen's grounds with croquet equpipment. McGovern and Lucey was worse. McGovern and Shriver had a poor sound -- stationers, old pharmacists, something pinch-penny!....

Now, McGovern and Mills was a fine sound, management and manufacture well combined, an aura of industry and competence rose from the words....On the other hand, McGovern and Gilligan were Irish whiskey, McGovern and Bayh were depressing (too many millions would not know how to pronounce Bayh, and when they did, nothing was gained but subliminal thoughts of farewell.) [Editor's note: Evan Bayh, son of the Birch Bayh referenced by Mailer, is said to be on a list of contenders to be Obama's Vice Presidential nominee.]

There was McGovern and Nelson of course, but the Senator from Wisconsin had the first name of Gaylord -- Help! Eagleton had connotations of the American eagle, a stern virtue.... But the company of McGovern and Eagleton offered no particular ring -- camping equipment!"

That's just a taste of Mailer's observational powers and insights at the 1968 convention.

Now, Obama-Bayh. Obama-Kaine. Obama-Sebelius. Obama-Clinton. Obama-Webb. Obama-Biden.

McCain-Romney. McCain-Pawlenty. McCain-Jindal. McCain-Petreaus. McCain-Fiorina. McCain-Lieberman.

Who are we missing?

Which sounds like a presidential pair?

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