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During the 2008 presidential campaign, Republican presidential nominee John McCain surprised a number of voters by nominating a relatively unknown female politician from Alaska as his running mate. Governor Sarah Palin was chosen over several more prominent names in the Republican party, including Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani and the independent Joe Lieberman. Media scrutiny of Palin revealed a somewhat questionable political and personal record, from her involvement in the firing of an official who refused to fire her former brother-in-law to family controversies. These revelations caused some to question the vetting process itself before McCain made his final vice presidential selection.
There have been suggestions that the controversies surrounding Palin may force McCain to reconsider his selection and change the vice presidential pick before the November general election. Similarly, there were rumors that Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, might do the same. Given the Republican ticket's rise in the polls following the selection of its vice presidential candidate, especially among female voters, some thought Obama might change the vice presidential pick of Joe Biden. Some speculated that Biden might be replaced with Hillary Clinton in order to attract female voters.
Both the Democratic and Republican parties have procedures in place to change the vice presidential pick, but they have rarely been applied and are notoriously difficult to execute. Essentially, a mini-convention consisting of party leaders from all 50 states would meet for a vote to replace a vp who has resigned or died before the general election.
Historically, this scenario has only happened twice. During the 1824 elections, vice presidential nominee Albert Gallatin was unceremoniously dumped by the Democratic-Republican Party, but this decision was not in the hands of the presidential nominee. Until 1940, vice presidential nominees were selected by party members, not presidential nominees. The winner of the majority of votes would be designated the vp nominee, regardless of compatibility with the presidential nominee or geographical balance. The two nominees would simply campaign together as representatives of their party.
In 1972, Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern interviewed several candidates for the vp slot, finally settling on Senator Thomas Eagleton. Eagleton accepted the nomination, but was only minimally investigated. He failed to disclose the fact that he had voluntarily entered a psychiatric hospital three times during the early 1960s, and had received electroshock therapy for nervous exhaustion. He had also been prescribed several anti-depressants, including Thorazine. When details of Eagleton's depression reached the mainstream press, McGovern had little choice but to reconsider his nomination.
After approaching several prominent Democratic party members, McGovern finally convinced a Kennedy in-law named Sargent Shriver to accept the vp nomination. A mini-convention of party members largely supported this decision, although some voted for Eagleton as a show of support during a difficult time. McGovern and Shriver eventually lost the election to incumbents Nixon and Agnew, but a landslide re-election in 1972 had generally been anticipated.
It is indeed possible for a presidential nominee to change the vice presidential pick, but there would probably be a heavy political price to pay for the privilege. Many voters see the vice presidential nominating process as an early test of a presidential candidate's ability to make important decisions. Unless the vice presidential candidate chose to resign voluntarily or became incapacitated, changing a vp nominee during the middle of an election campaign could be perceived as an admission that a mistake or miscalculation had been made during the initial vetting process for the original vp candidate.
That would be a can of worms no doubt! Where do vetting processes get vetted anyway? I'd suspect there is quite a bit of variation and maybe the process should be scrutinized more than the decision-maker who chose to employ it.
Regarding the replacement of the vice-presidential candidate on a party's ticket (for whatever reason), what would the repercussions be from the various states' laws regarding the ballot process?
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