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Top 5 Worst Vice Presidential Picks

By Edited Jun 7, 2015 1 0

Previously we examined #10 - # 6 of the worst vice-presidential picks of all time. Who are the top 5? Who didn't make the list but still come in as honorable mentions? Read on and see.

Vice President's Seal

5. John Edwards

Once thought of as a future president, John Edwards spent the last several years in court fighting six felony for violating campaign finance laws. He was found not guilty on one count and a mistrial was declared on the other five. It was a long fall from grace for the man who was once the hope of the Democratic party.

John Edwards was a celebrated attorney before going on to serve in the U.S. Senate between 1999 - 2005. Senator Edwards was a passionate speaker and prolific fundraiser. He was well liked and seen as a rising star. In 2004, he announced he was not running for re-election in the Senate and that his wife Elizabeth had been diagnosed with breast cancer. During this time he was active in many causes including homeless shelters, job training centers and raising the minimum wage. Edwards positioned himself as an everyman looking out for the poor and disadvantaged.

John Edwards
He ran for president in 2004 but was trounced by John Kerry. On July 6, 2004, Senator Kerry introduced John Edwards as his running mate. People were excited about the possibility of a Kerry/Edwards ticket but John Edwards was a massive disappointment on the campaign trail. Time Magazine later reported that Kerry wished he had never picked Edwards.

John Edwards bounced back and ran for president again in 2008. He was running third behind Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and eventually dropped out. Obama had Edwards on his shortlist to be the vice-presidential nominee again but in the end decided on Joe Biden.

In 2010, John Edwards admitted he had fathered a child with his girlfriend while his wife Elizabeth battled terminal cancer. Elizabeth Edwards legally separated from him and was intending to file for divorce before she died on December 7, 2010.

4. Aaron Burr

Aaron Burr(108731)
Aaron Burr was vice president under Thomas Jefferson. Burr served during the Revolutionary War and later was a U.S. Senator from New York. In 1801, he became the third Vice President of the United States. Burr helped Jefferson and James Madison in the 1800 campaign and ran on the Democratic-Republican ticket with Jefferson. At the time the vice president was whomever came in second in the electoral college. Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr actually tied and the responsibility for choosing the president and vice president went to the House of Representatives. Thomas Jefferson is known as one of the greatest presidents today but he almost never became president. The House voted 36 times before Jefferson has enough votes to win.

As vice president, Aaron Burr is best known for killing founding father Alexander Hamilton in a duel. The two were longtime political enemies and the feud culminated in Burr challenging Hamilton to a duel in 1804. Dueling was illegal although still common at the time. Hamilton's shot missed while Burr's shot struck a fatal blow in Hamilton's abdomen. Alexander Hamilton died the following day. Burr was charged with murder by New York and New Jersey but fled and was never tried. He instead returned to Washington D.C. to finish his term as vice president.

In his later years, Burr was charged with treason for a plot in Louisiana to take advantage of the possible coming war with Spain and steal land. He was tried in 1807, and acquitted.

3. Thomas Eagleton

Thomas Eagleton
The story of Thomas Eagleton is a sad one. He was a three term senator from Missouri. Highly respected on matters of foreign policy and defense, George McGovern began looking at him as a running mate in 1972. Richard Nixon was the incumbent president and looked unbeatable. Several high-profile names had refused run on the ticket including Edward Kennedy. Finally Thomas Eagleton was chosen. Deep background checks were not done like they are today and the McGovern campaign was unaware that Eagleton had been treated for several years for a nervous condition and depression. Twice he had received electroshock treatment. When this came out it caused headlines. The public was upset and although McGovern said he would back Eagleton "1000 percent" he had second thoughts himself. After consulting with doctors and talking with Eagleton, on August 1, Thomas Eagleton withdrew from the campaign. Sargent Shriver became the vice presidential nominee and the McGovern/Shriver campaign suffered one of the worst defeats ever. Senator Eagleton continued to serve in the U.S. Senate until 1987.

2. Spiro Agnew

Spiro Agnew
Spiro Agnew served as vice president under Richard Nixon between January 20, 1969 and October 10, 1963. He was the former governor of Maryland and had first ran for political office six years before becoming Vice President of the United States. Nixon and Agnew were re-elected in 1972 in one of the biggest blowouts ever against George McGovern and Sargent Shriver. In 1973, Agnew's world began to fall apart. The U.S. Attorney for Baltimore began investigating him on corruption charges. Several months later he was charged with accepting over $100,000 in bribes during his tenures as Baltimore County Executive, Governor of Maryland and Vice President of the United States. Several days later, Spiro Agnew resigned the vice presidency and pleaded no contest to the charges against him. As part of a negotiated deal he received no jail time but was disbarred and fined for his actions.

The Watergate scandal was brewing at the same time and President Nixon eventually selected Gerald Ford of Michigan as his new vice president. Ford was confirmed by Congress and on August 9, 1974 became President of the United States upon the resignation of Richard Nixon.

1. Sarah Palin

Never has a vice presidential nominee caused as much controversy as Senator John McCain's pick in 2008. Sarah Palin was a first term governor from Alaska. Her only other political experience was as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska. She was young, attractive and seen by many as an up and comer. Unfortunately for McCain, she was completely out of her depth on a national stage.

The McCain campaign's biggest criticism against Democratic nominee Senator Barack Obama was his inexperience. People were shocked when McCain picked someone with even less experience than Obama to be his running mate. Sarah Palin had her supporters however. Many of the "religious right" including Bill Kristol backed her selection. 

Sarah Palin(108740)
On the campaign trail Palin seemed out of her depth. In an broadcast interview with Katie Couric, Palin claimed she had foreign policy experience due to Alaska's proximity to Russia. She also could not name a single newspaper she read. "All of them", was her answer. When pressed specifically she said, "Um, all of 'em, any of 'em that, um, have, have been in front of me over all these years."

In addition to her many gaffes, Sarah Palin was unmercifully parodied on Saturday Night Live. Tina Fey did a great Sarah Palin impersonation and the show hammered her week after week. Palin did gain a lot of points when she appeared on SNL alongside Tina Fey in a skit. 

McCain/Palin went down in defeat to Barack Obama and Joe Biden. On election night, as John McCain prepared to give his concession speech, Palin made one final gaffe. She had prepared a speech of her own to give and did not want to listen when told VP nominees do not give concession speeches.

Honorable Mentions

They did not crack the top ten worst vice presidential picks of all time but they still rate as honorable mentions.

  • Curtis LeMay was George Wallace's running mate in 1968. The retired general later was a model for the villain in Dr. Strangelove.
  • William Rufus King, was vice president under James Buchanan. He was sworn in while recuperating from illness in Cuba. King never recovered and died after serving less than two months as VP, all of it in a foreign country.
  • Andrew Johnson took office after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. Long regarded as one of the worst presidents, Johnson was impeached by the House and barely acquitted by the Senate.
  • John Breckinridge was the youngest vice president and the first to flee the country after being charged with treason. Almost ten years later Andrew Johnson gave him amnesty and he returned to the United States. He was never tried and charges were dropped 100 years later by a federal judge.
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