obama biden
CNN  — 

Sometime this week – maybe as soon as today! – Joe Biden will announce his vice presidential running mate. Until that moment, the speculation over who he might pick (and why) will run rampant. And the vast majority of it will be totally wrong.

Why? There’s no part of politics and campaigns more dictated by arcane conventional wisdom than the veepstakes.

That conventional wisdom goes like this: The presidential nominee is primarily guided by the electoral map when making his (or her) pick. The person who winds up as the choice is someone the presidential candidate believes will help him deliver a particular swing state or an area that the ticket badly needs in order to win.

The problem with that thinking? A vice presidential pick hasn’t been the critical piece of carrying a state or a region since – wait for it – Lyndon B. Johnson, when John F. Kennedy picked him as VP in the 1960 presidential election. Kennedy needed the South to win and, as a senator from Massachusetts, there was massive skepticism about him despite the solidly Democratic voting nature of the region. LBJ, a senator from Texas, was a known and trusted commodity in the South and, by, selecting him, Kennedy put Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and the Carolinas in the Democratic camp. (Kennedy narrowly won the popular vote over Richard Nixon, but took 303 electoral votes.)

That pick, which is six decades old at this point, remarkably continues to dominate the way that many people – including many political types – think about the vice presidential selection process. But even a cursory look at recent history suggests that making a geographic, political pick isn’t really a thing anymore.

Let’s go through the last seven elections, shall we?

* 2016: Donald Trump picks Mike Pence, who is from Indiana, a state that the Republican presidential nominee had carried in every election but one since 1964. Hillary Clinton picks Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, from a once-swing state but one that by 2016 had moved solidly toward Democrats.

* 2012: Mitt Romney picks Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan. The GOP ticket loses Wisconsin.

* 2008: Barack Obama selects Joe Biden from Delaware, a reliably Democratic state at the presidential level. John McCain picks Sarah Palin of Alaska, which is not a swing state.

* 2004: John Kerry goes with Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, a state no Democrat has won at the presidential level since Jimmy Carter in 1976. Kerry/Edwards lose North Carolina.

* 2000: George W. Bush picks Dick Cheney of Wyoming, one of the most conservative states in the country. Al Gore picks Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, a state that hasn’t voted for a Republican for president since 1988.

* 1996: Bob Dole picks Jack Kemp, a Congressman from New York. Dole/Kemp lose New York.

* 1992: Bill Clinton goes with Al Gore, a senator from Tennessee. They win Tennessee! (But Clinton, a former Arkansas governor, might have won it anyway)!

See what I mean? With the possible exception of Gore in 1992, there simply isn’t an example of a VP candidate either being chosen to deliver a single state (or region) and then delivering that single state (or region). (In the case of Clinton picking Gore, I would argue that pick was much less about Gore being from Tennessee and the Clinton campaign’s desire to win the Volunteer State than it was about doubling down on Clinton’s image of a new sort of Democrat emerging from the South.)

So if VP choices aren’t really made based on geography anymore, then what are they based on, you ask?

Here’s what Hillary Clinton herself told MSNBC about that over the weekend:

“Number one, is this a person who could be president literally tomorrow? Secondly, is this a person that I could work with, that I would want to work with day in and day out, in good times and hard times, inside the White House to serve our country? And third, can this person help me win? And with Tim Kaine, I answered all three of those questions affirmatively.”

Notice the order Clinton put the priorities of picking a running mate?

1. Could this person be president

2. Personal relationship

3. Political considerations

What Clinton reveals here is that, contrary to the way most of the public thinks about the VP pick, it tends to be a governing decision rather than a purely political one. (Notice I said “purely” political. Because of course, there are politics in it.) And seen through that lens, the recent VP picks make sense.

Trump goes with Pence because he believes Pence, a former member of Congress, can work with the Washington establishment (and serve as a validator for Trump among that skittish group). Clinton picks Kaine because he is a competent bureaucrat who has spent time in the executive and legislative worlds and who, not for nothing, shares a deep religious faith with her. Romney picks Ryan to help him deal with Congress but also because they are both part of the fiscal-first wing of the GOP. Obama chooses Biden as a trusted Washington hand. Ditto Bush and Cheney. Even McCain’s pick, which was a total disaster in retrospect, was about his affinity for another fellow “maverick” who had stood up to the establishment.

What all of these presidential candidates have realized is that vice presidential picks don’t really get you into the White House. The simple fact is that people – or at least the vast majority of people – do not vote for the second-in-command. Think about it in your own life. If you need surgery, what matters more to you: The surgeon who will be doing the actual procedure or the person who is the trusted assistant? If your kid is a gifted athlete, do they choose what college they go to because of the head coach or because of the assistant coach? Right. So why would voting be any different?

To the extent that VP picks matter, it’s in what they can bring once you are already in the office. Biden, for his part, seems to see things through that lens.

“I think that I need somebody who in fact is simpatico with me, both in terms of personality as well as substance,” he said in May. “That means that they don’t have to agree with me on everything, but they have to have the same basic approach to how we handle the economy and how we handle everything.”

What we tend to forget – and what Biden’s quote is a useful reminder of – is that people running for president are still, well, people. In picking a coworker, they want to find someone who, first and foremost, they believe is able and who they can get along with day in and day out.

Who, then, does that suggest Biden might pick? Susan Rice, the former national security adviser in the Obama administration, certainly jumps out to me – if Biden sticks to the idea of making a pick based on relationships – and governing.

Of course, VP selection isn’t science. Or art. It’s somewhere in between. And largely depends on what the presidential nominee wants on that day when his mind gets made up. Which is why I rank Rice behind Kamala Harris in my final VP ratings.