Vice President Joe Biden and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who will be named HUD secretary today. Photographer: Steve Pope/Getty Images
Vice President Joe Biden and San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who will be named HUD secretary today. Photographer: Steve Pope/Getty Images

This afternoon, President Barack Obama will name San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro as the next secretary of Housing and Human Development, sparking talk that Castro is being groomed for a vice-presidential run in 2016.

Perhaps. Or maybe this is just a case of wanting to elevate a potential Hispanic star in a party that has fewer than it should. At any rate, while it’s not too early for talking about presidential nominations, it is premature to speculate seriously about Veepstakes.

Except, I suppose, for a rare structural quirk that may be developing for the Democrats in 2016. The party may have a real shortage of first-rate VP candidates.

When it comes to the second spot on the ticket, there’s one clear division: it’s safe to pick someone who has been vetted by running a national campaign, and it’s risky to pick anyone else. Every one of the bad postwar picks was in that latter category: Richard Nixon in 1952, Spiro Agnew in 1968, Tom Eagleton in 1972, Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, Dan Quayle in 1988 and Sarah Palin in 2008.1 Not a single VP candidate who had previously run for president got into any serious trouble; the closest would be John Edwards, who got into trouble long after the campaign.

What’s unusual about the Democrats in 2016 is how few of these safe candidates will be available if, as seems possible, Hillary Clinton wins the nomination with minimal or no opposition.

There aren’t many Democrats who have run for president and lost and remained viable national candidates. Let’s say they have to have at least made it to Iowa, be younger than 70 in 2016, avoided scandal, and have been in office or government at least somewhat recently. There’s really no one from 2008 (well, almost no one). From 2004? There’s maybe one, Howard Dean. No one from 2000, or any farther back.

Dean is right on the borderline. He isn't too old, but it’s close; he’ll turn 68 just after the 2016 election. His last gubernatorial term ended in 2003, but he did hold party office more recently. It isn't clear whether anything he’s done since 2009 might be a source of trouble, and i'm not suggesting there is. The point is that no vetting is as thorough as what happens to a presidential candidate, which means that anything politically poisonous about Dean would have come out in 2004 … as long as it had already happened by then.

Of course, if Clinton dropped out, a full field would enter, producing a new crop of losers. And it’s quite possible that one or more candidates will challenge Clinton in the primaries and caucuses, producing one or more losers for her to choose from. Although if only one candidate enters and then defeats her, it’s unlikely that Clinton herself would be a likely VP choice.

It’s possible to choose a good VP candidate who hasn’t previously run for national office. Paul Ryan didn’t hurt Mitt Romney in 2012. But it’s risky. And it does look as if it’s a risk the Democrats may have to take in 2016.

1 Want to argue that one of these wasn’t a bad pick? Each was enough of a problem that they generated press stories about the possibility that they would be dropped, with the exception of Agnew, who was almost dropped in 1972 and then wound up resigning.

To contact the writer of this article: Jonathan Bernstein at Jbernstein62@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net.