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ECU political scientist meets the Vice President

GREENVILLE, N.C.   (June 18, 2009)   —   When the vice president’s office calls with a dinner invitation, you can’t very well turn it down.

Especially if, like Jody Baumgartner, assistant professor of political science at East Carolina University, you study American vice presidents.

Baumgartner’s extraordinary invitation came by way of an advisor to Vice President Joe Biden last month. He was asked to join several other experts on the vice presidency for a special dinner to be hosted by Biden in his Massachusetts Avenue home.

Baumgartner has published a book, “The American Vice Presidency Reconsidered” (2006), and several articles on the subject of vice presidents, but never thought he would have the chance to dine with one.

“I was very surprised,” he said. “It was very exciting. There is no other way to say it.”

Guests at the June 9 dinner included three other scholars, a former advisor to Vice President Walter Mondale, U.S. Senator Ted Kaufman of Delaware and several of Biden’s advisors.

The meal, which was served in a formal dining room, consisted of salad, a fish entrée, dessert and coffee. But the most memorable part was the conversation that unfolded through the courses.

Biden had called the gathering to converse about the opportunities and pitfalls facing a vice president. While Baumgartner did not reveal specifics of their talk, he did say Biden seemed to have a good sense of the office from a historical perspective.

“I got the distinct impression that he had a fair idea of what was going on already. I think he called together this convocation to confirm those ideas and see if anything new came out,” Baumgartner said.  

Baumgartner’s research has shown that, though the primary job of the vice president is to help the president, some have found this secondary role to be a difficult one. “If vice presidents can avoid having other expectations for the job, they seem to be setting themselves up for more success,” he said.  

Baumgartner also noted that vice presidents have become more influential, more powerful and more involved since Walter Mondale served under President Jimmy Carter. He sees Biden continuing this trend.

“In spite of the fact that Biden is not going to be another Dick Cheney, there is no chance that he’s going to fade into the background. He may not overtake Cheney in terms of power and influence, but he’s not going to go backwards. That’s the trajectory this institution is on,” Baumgartner said.

All in all, Baumgartner enjoyed the experience, describing it as “pretty cool,” and “a heck of a nice deal.”  

And, he spoke highly of his host:  “He’s a very nice fellow. Some of it is probably practiced, but I get the sense that he is, genuinely, a really nice guy,”

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Contact: Christine Neff | 252-328-1159