Obama’s VP Candidate will be, presumably, announced today. On political grounds I’d prefer the candidate to be Kathleen Sebelius, but on historical grounds I sort of hope it will be Brian Schweitzer. Since Obama is finishing his pre-convention tour in Montana, it might be too. Here’s why I’d prefer it on historical grounds.
In the lower 48 states of the US, there are four time zones, dividing the country up into roughly equal areas from east to west. In the early years of the country pretty much all of its population lived in the two easternmost time zones, the Eastern and the Central. (Actually in the very early years there probably weren’t such things as time zones, but the people lived in what are now the Eastern and Central time zones.) Even today, if this information is correct, about 77% of the population live in those two time zones. So you might expect that the Democratic Party would have taken a fair time to have someone run on its Presidential ticket who was either born outside those time zones, or lived outside those time zones.
The first Democratic candidate (for either President or Vice-President) to be born outside the two easternmost time zones was Adlai Stevenson (1952, 1956), who was born in Los Angeles. Barring a major surprise, Barack Obama will be the second.
The first Democratic candidate (for either President or Vice-President) to be living outside those two time zones when they are nominated is, I believe, yet to be determined, because there haven’t been any yet. (If I’m wrong about this, I’ll be embarrassed, and a lot of what follows will be mistaken. But I don’t see any Westerners on this list apart from Lane, who shouldn’t really count as a Democrat.)
Since the two easternmost time zones extend as far as Mitchell, South Dakota, (home of George McGovern) and Mission, Texas (hometown of Lloyd Bentsen), I perhaps shouldn’t call this an east coast bias, but it is shocking just how eastern the party’s Presidential tickets have been.
In contrast, there has been someone from the Mountain or Pacific time zone on the Republican ticket in 15 of the last 21 elections, covering 9 separate candidates. So it’s not like there hasn’t been any chance to run western candidates on a national ticket.
Now the Democratic party does look a lot more western nowadays than it did a while ago. Currently the speaker of the House is from the west, as was the last Democratic speaker, and as is the Senate majority leader. And the Democratic national convention this year will be in Colorado.
And obviously this geographic fact (if it is indeed a fact) about previous nominees isn’t the most interesting demographic generalisation one can make about all previous Democratic candidates for President or Vice-President. And if it is broken this year, it won’t be the most interesting generalisation to topple. But it would (ceteris paribus) be nice to see a party that has for over two centuries exclusively run whites from the eastern half of the country, not do so this time around.
Of course, in all but one case the party has exclusively run white men from the eastern half of the country. So the best candidates for breaking down demographic barriers might be Janet Napolitano or Patty Murray. But it’s hard to believe that either of them will be the candidate at this stage, with no pre-announcement hype at all. (Not that either would be bad picks, either as candidates or as Vice-Presidents.) So that leaves us with Schweitzer as the great western hope.
 In 1860 the ticket of Stephen Douglas (IL) and Herschel Johnson (GA) was nominated by the Democratic National Convention. But this was only after several Southern delegates had walked out of the convention. Those Southern delegates reconvened and nominated John Breckinridge and, crucially for our purposes, Joseph Lane (OR) to run. And that ticket carried several southern states, ending up second in the electoral vote. But it is hard to count that as the Democratic ticket, when there was a properly nominated Democratic ticket. More details here.
 The candidates are Hoover (CA-1932, 1936), McNary (OR-1940), Warren (CA-1948), Nixon (CA-1952, 1956, 1960, 1968, 1972), Goldwater (AZ-1964), Reagan (CA-1980, 1984), Cheney (WY-2000, 2004), McCain (AZ-2008). Hoover and Cheney are somewhat borderline cases, because they were each born back east, and when they ran were associated with DC as much as anywhere. But I believe in each case they can be properly identified with the state I’ve marked here. Note that Jack Kemp (1996) was born in California, but was a New York congressman, and clearly ran as a New Yorker, so he’s not on the list.