To keep or ditch the vice president? That is the reelection question.

Rumors that Obama might shelve Vice President Joe Biden are just that – rumors. But there are reasons, historically, that such rumors get started, usually rooted in a sense the president needs a reelection boost.

M. Spencer Green/AP Photo
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama D-Ill., and his vice presidential running mate Sen. Joe Biden D-Del. applaud at a campaign stop Saturday, Aug. 23, 2008, in Springfield, Ill. President Obama formally launched his re-election campaign Monday, urging grass-roots supporters central to his first White House run to mobilize again to protect the change he's brought over the past two years.

Will President Obama dump Joe Biden? Stories that Mr. Obama will name a new running mate for 2012 keep cropping up in the press.

First, the new vice president was to be Hillary Rodham Clinton. More recently, rumors identify New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as the possible No. 2.

We’ll get to the chances of a Biden-less Obama ticket in a moment. First let’s pause and recollect that a traditional political role of a veep is to provide balance. If the top of the ticket is from the North (JFK), the second banana is from the South (LBJ). If No. 1 is a conservative (Ronald Reagan), No. 2 is more liberal (George H.W. Bush).

The point of this is to try to neutralize some aspect of the presidential candidate that voters might not like.

“The outcome of the ‘veepstakes’ is far more likely to be based on short term electoral calculations than on long term governance considerations,” noted political scientist Lee Sigelman in a 1997 American Political Science Review article.

But after a president has won, the perceived balance of the ticket can change. Mr. Biden got picked as veep because he was far more experienced than Obama in foreign affairs, for one thing. But now that Obama can campaign as the commander in chief who got Osama bin Laden, Biden’s perceived strength may be less important.

So, sensing an opening, liberals who say Obama’s been too conservative start pushing for Governor Cuomo – scion of a famous liberal family – as the new No. 2. Party leaders who say the president is too unpopular start pushing Mrs. Clinton to create a Democratic “dream ticket” with wider appeal.

That’s not necessarily how dump-the-veep rumors begin. But the view by some party factions that the ticket should be rebalanced is how they gain currency and get repeated.

So is Biden doomed? Almost certainly not. Rumors are just rumors. And dumping his veep could make Obama look ungrateful and desperate, outweighing any rebalancing gain.

“In the modern era, dumping the vice president in a president’s re-election bid has become a sign of a weak presidency,” wrote Jody Baumgartner, an East Carolina University political scientist, in the journal White House Studies in 2007.

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