By Tommy Andres, CNN
(CNN) - The job of vice president of the United States was once a consolation prize. It was literally given to the runner-up in the presidential election.
That led to some strange political bedfellows and laid the foundation for a job full of handshake photo ops and thumb twiddling.
John Adams, the very first vice president of the U.S., had some pointed words for the position:
[0:58] “I am vice president, and in that I am nothing.”
But despite the minimal power the office holds, the choice of a running mate can make or break a presidential campaign. And once elected, a president's poor veep choice can weigh heavily on an administration's reputation.
Take Martin Van Buren for example. He chose war hero Richard M. Johnson to be his number two. Historian Bill Kelter is author of the book, “Veeps: Profiles in Insignificance.” Kelter says it quickly became apparent that Van Buren's choice was a bad one:
[4:08] “The doorkeeper of the U.S. Senate called Johnson the most vulgar man of all vulgar men in this world. One of his slaves, Julia Chinn, was his common-law wife before she finally died in the cholera epidemic. After her death, he took up with another slave but she ran off with another man, so to punish her he had her caught, sold her at auction and then took up with her sister.”
Van Buren disliked Johnson so much that his taste for vice presidents soured all together. He ran for re-election without a running mate and lost.
So Mitt Romney better choose wisely. Because, while his political cohort may be little more than a last name on a bumper sticker, that lucky person could ultimately join a long line of historical gaffers, do-nothings, and even, some scoundrels.