By Megan Rule | Staff Writer
There’s another name on the ballot when voting for president, and that is the name of the vice presidential candidate, a role that sometimes gets overlooked.
“There are two principle reasons why the role of the vice president is important,” said Congressman William Flores, United States Representative for Texas’ District 17. “The first is that the vice president is a heartbeat away from being president, and the second reason is because of the constitution, the vice president is the president of the Senate. So, if you have a situation where the senate is tied, then you need to have somebody that you trust to be the deciding vote on almost every contesting matter.”
Going through history, there have been nine times where the vice president has become president due to either death of the sitting president or a resignation. According to the United States Senate website, “Holding the least understood, most ridiculed, and most often ignored constitutional office in the federal government, American vice presidents have included some remarkable individuals.”
Vice presidents are next-in-line for the position of commander in chief should anything happen to the president. Flores said that, while there are over a dozen positions listen in the line of in the line of succession, but the chances of going below the elected vice president are rare.
David Nichols, associate professor of political science at Baylor University said President Ford was one example where the line of succession came more into play because he was elected neither president nor vice president. President Ford was speaker of the house, then moved his way up with the resignations of then-Vice President Spiro Agnew and then-President Richard Nixon. Nichols said citizens should watch the vice presidential debate because the general public tends to know less about those candidates.
“Formal powers are relatively limited,” said David Nichols, associate professor of political science at Baylor University. “But the office is important because a lot of vice presidents become president.”
Vice presidents play an important role in the campaign of the president as well. Nichols said that, for a while, vice presidential candidates were selected for geographical advantages. For example, if a presidential candidate was struggling to gain support in an area of the country, they might select a vice president who has a strong presence in that area. Vice presidents can also serve as behind-the-scenes attack dogs, according to Flores and Nichols.
“It depends on the ticket, but most of the time the vice president is the attack dog, the person who goes out and attacks the other presidential candidate,” Flores said. “In this case, on the democratic side, Kaine has been serving that role, and in the case of the Republicans, Pence has been the measuring voice. He has attacked sometimes but been more of a policy person. It varies by ticket.”
Flores said that he thinks the selection of a certain vice president has the potential to help or hinder a campaign. Thinking of this year, the selection of Pence was important for Trump because by having Pence, a member of Congress, on the ticket, people feel more comfortable in knowing that Trump would know how to work with Congress, Flores said.
“It’s hard to think of a situation where a vice presidential candidate has cost the president the election,” Nichols said. “And I think that’s because when push comes to shove, most people would say, ‘Yeah it’s important, but a lot has to happen for it to be.'”
As Flores said, after a ticket gets elected as president and vice president and are sworn into office, the role of the vice president can be fairly fluid depending on what the president would like him or her to do in addition to their constitutional responsibilities. Nichols emphasized the fact that a major constitutional responsibility of the vice president is the ability to break a tie in terms of approving nominations and ordinary legislation.
“In a really good presidential and vice presidential team, a president can leverage the skills of the vice president to do other important things in office,” Flores said.