McGovern's VP choice offers Romney a cautionary tale

Then- U.S. Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton, left, and then-Sen. George S. McGovern, the presidential candidate, stand before the delegates to the Democratic National Convention in the final session in Miami Beach, Fla., in this July 13, 1972 file photo. AP

Sen. Thomas Eagleton, George S. McGovern
Then- U.S. Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton, left, and then-Sen. George S. McGovern, the presidential candidate, stand before the delegates to the Democratic National Convention in the final session in Miami Beach, Fla., in this July 13, 1972 file photo.
AP

Eighteen days after Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern picked Missouri Sen. Thomas Eagleton as his vice presidential choice, Eagleton was forced to step down. That infamous day in political history fell 40 years ago Tuesday - July 31, 1972 - and as CBS News' Bill Plante reported then, it was a day of "hurt and disappointment" for Eagleton as his signs were removed from the McGovern headquarters.

Eagleton resigned after news broke that he suffered from mental illness and received multiple treatments of shock therapy. McGovern was unaware of Eagleton's mental health problems when he asked the senator to serve as his running mate.

(CBS News interviewed Eagleton on Aug. 1, 1972.)

When McGovern offered Eagleton the running mate slot over the phone on July 14, Eagleton said, "I'm flabbergasted.... Before you change your mind, I hastily accept."

The day after he resigned, Eagleton said on the CBS Morning News, "George McGovern could not have been finer. He expressed confidence in me. He expressed satisfaction that my health was adequate, but he pointed out... if I remain on the ticket, all the attention and all the debate would be about Eagleton."

The senator added, "It was my personal feeling that this 'Eagleton issue' would fade away through this month of August... but an argument can be made that it would linger on."

(Watch Bill Plante's report in the CBS News archives video on the left.)

As Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney comes close to naming his own running mate, Eagleton's story gives this year's GOP candidate a cautionary tale of the importance of the vetting process.

By all accounts, Romney's vetting process is the polar opposite of McGovern's. Leading the process is one of Romney's closest advisers, Beth Myers, who is described as "well-organized, meticulous, discreet, [and] good at assembling a team."

The vetting process is reported to include meetings, detailed questionnaires, and an extensive inquiry into the candidates' finances, personal life and health records. "With their leave-no-document-unturned thoroughness, advisers to the candidate readily acknowledge that he has conducted a search specifically designed to avoid the kind of rushed and risky selection of Sarah Palin," the New York Times reported this month.

Like Eagleton, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was a vice presidential pick that later inspired some regret. In 2008, Republican candidate John McCain attempted to conduct a thorough vetting of his ultimate running mate. His campaign, however, was pressed up against a deadline, according to accounts of the campaign.

In the book "Game Change," which gave an insider's look into the 2008 presidential campaign, journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann wrote that McCain's staffers "weren't searching for problems. They were looking for a last-second solution." On CBSNews.com's "60 Minutes Overtime," Heilemann said the campaign's senior staff rationalizes picking Palin but now regrets it.

(Watch a clip of 60 Minutes' interview with Halperin and Heilemann in the video on the left.)

"They all look back now and they think, 'We had to do something dramatic. Given the info we had about her at the time, it made sense, it was rational. At the same time, I think there's a profound degree of guilt on the part of the most senior people in the campaign... Although it made sense at the time, they regard her as dangerous, bad for the party and would have been someone who was ill-equipped to serve."

The Romney campaign has offered little insight into its vetting process, though Myers offered some rare remarks at an event in Ashburn, Virginia on Tuesday. "We have a ton of qualified Republicans, she said, according to CNN. "It wasn't a year where there were three people who might fit the bill."

Ann Romney offered another rare mention of the vice presidential nominating process in an interview with CBS News.

"It's gonna take someone else that's gonna be there with Mitt, that Mitt will enjoy, with the same personality type that will enjoy spending time with them, and also competent, capable, and willing to serve this country."

In addition to the extensive private vetting process, public tryouts are also part of Romney's process. Some people considered to be the top contenders have either joined Romney on the campaign trail, hosted Romney campaign events themselves or have been dispatched to cable news to deliver Romney's message. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., joined Romney for public events, including a Fourth of July parade, while he was vacationing in the Granite State. Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has traveled the country on Romney's behalf. And with Romney overseas, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal went to Iowa last week to stump for the candidate.

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell On Twitter»

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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