Joe Biden is looking for a running buddy who actually made the Democratic nomination after Senator Bernie Sanders left the race.
Biden informed donors last month that he was going through the process even before Sanders stopped, according to a pool report. He has a long list of potential candidates he is winnowing.
“You now have to start deciding who you want to have background checks done as potential vice presidential candidates, and it takes time,” Biden said in a donor call in April. “It’s quite presumptuous, but sometime mid-month we’re going to announce a committee to oversee the vice president’s selection process.”
Biden has already made a promise that significantly narrows the field: he announced during the March debate that he would choose a woman as his running mate. It is a smart political move; President Donald Trump is considerably less popular with women than with men; an April CNN poll Biden showed with 30 points the leading Trump among women. Independent female voters helped push Democrats – and a historic number of female candidates – to the majority in the House in 2018. They could do the same for Biden in 2020.
Biden also wants a running partner who is ideologically attuned to him and someone he can work well with. Some of his advisers, including House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC), are public push Biden to select a woman of color.
Biden is well aware of the screening process; he passed it before spending eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president.
“Joe Biden is familiar with the process of selecting a vice presidential candidate because he was on the other side of the process in 2008,” a campaign officer from Biden told Vox. “Our campaign will carry out a powerful research process.”
The selection of a vice presidential candidate is particularly important to Biden. At the age of 77 (and 78 when he took office), he would be the oldest first-term president ever elected. Biden has made it clear that he wants someone considerably younger and willing to take on the duties of the presidency when health problems or other unforeseen circumstances arise. He is already asking Obama for advice on this front.
“The most important thing – and I’ve talked to Barack about this – the most important thing is that there must be someone who, the day after they are chosen, is willing to become president of the United States of America if something happens,” said Biden.
Are Vice Presidential Choices Really Important?
There is a general idea that a vice presidential candidate can ‘deliver’ their home state to the party, which may be why some of the people on the Biden list are from the Midwestern states. But the data that supports this idea is very thin, according to two political science professors – Chris Devine of the University of Dayton and Kyle Kopko of Elizabethtown College – who have been studying it for years.
“We are also quite skeptical about the benefit of the home state,” Kopko told Vox in a recent interview. “You have to make many assumptions that someone will feel so strongly about their home state that it will suppress any partisan disposition.”
Kopko and Devine analyzed election and voter data more than 100 years old, and found that vice presidential candidates usually only make a difference in the outcome of a general election when they are either very popular or very polarizing.
The Wall Street Journal in 2016 also analyzed years of election data and found that even when a vice presidential choice was positively rated by voters in their party, a majority of voters ultimately said that the VP choice ultimately had no measurable impact on their vote for president.
The real added value of a vice presidential candidate has more to do with what the selection says about the presidential candidate and their judgment. A vice presidential choice sends an early signal as to what a future government might look like.
“It gives voters some information about how this person would work as president, what he or she stands for, what the priorities will be in office,” said Devine.
The fact that Biden only considers female candidates for his running mate says more about where the Democratic party is than about Biden’s personal beliefs, Devine and Kopko said.
“So far, choosing a woman has become a bold move, an unconventional move, a strong signal,” said Devine. “At the moment, I think the script is turning around a bit, and it would be a bit of a ticket for men.”
The real question now is whether Biden will choose a woman of color like Sen Kamala Harris or Stacey Abrams, a progressive like Sen Elizabeth Warren, or a Midwestern figure like Sen Amy Klobuchar or Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
The list of livestock stakes, explained
Biden’s list is still quite long; he recently said he hoped to limit it to a “shortlist” of about 12 contenders. Here is a list of potential contenders named by Biden himself or identified by his prominent allies and advisers.
A young political star, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is not on the list. At age 30, Ocasio-Cortez is still shy of the minimum for a vice presidential candidate for five years – not to mention more ideologically attuned to Sanders.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)
There is a reason Kamala Harris is at the top of many vice presidential lists. Biden’s one-time competitor for the 2020 presidential candidate represents California in the United States Senate; she was elected to that position after her service as the attorney general of the state. As a black woman, of course, she can appeal to the Democratic Party’s most loyal constituency. However, Harris’s criminal record as a former prosecutor has not always translated into the easiest relationship with black communities, especially those on the left.
Despite some exciting moments between Harris and Biden early in the campaign (she scored a polling bump after criticizing his track record of racial issues during the first presidential debate), the two seem to be reconciled. In Harris’s favor, the fact that she’s from California is a Senate seat that Democrats can easily fill. Biden has showered Harris with praise and confirmed she’s on the list.
“She’s solid. She can become president herself someday. She can be the vice president, ” he said in December. “She can continue as a Supreme Court judge. She can be attorney general. I mean, she has tremendous scope. ‘
Harris has also shown that she is not afraid to fight members of the Trump administration or Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court judge. Having a vice presidential candidate who is a hunter can satisfy the basics and leave Biden free to pitch himself as a common-sense candidate against Trump.
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
To win the presidency, Biden must win the Midwest. Amy Klobuchar was able to help him with that.
Another one of Biden’s former 2020 opponents, Klobuchar has already proven her worth to Biden. When she quit and supported him, she gave him a major boost in her home state of Minnesota on Super Tuesday in March. Biden credited her with his main victory in that state. It begs the question of whether she could do the same in Wisconsin and Michigan.
The reason for having Klobuchar on the ticket as vice president is not much different from her original pitch as to why she should be president: being elected in a place where Democrats need it most.
Of course, Minnesota is considered to be bluer than Michigan and Wisconsin because of the influence of the relatively large and thriving Minneapolis / St metro area. But in 2016, Hillary Clinton won just nine out of 87 Minnesota counties, while Klobuchar won 51 of them two years later. There are many red areas in the state, and Klobuchar is loved in many of them. It is a good test case for the Senator’s election argument and could make Klobuchar an attractive choice.
Another thing Klobuchar has for her is that she’s ideologically a good match for Biden, and at age 59, she’s considerably younger. Klobuchar isn’t without baggage, considering past claims of her mistreatment of staff – but voters didn’t seem to care when she ran for President. Perhaps even more worrying is her lack of traction in black and brown communities across the country, a strength zone for Biden.
Government Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI)
Gretchen Whitmer’s political star rises and Biden takes it up.
Whitmer is the 48-year-old Democratic Governor of Michigan and was Senate minority leader years before. She’s a pragmatic, middle-way governor who focuses on healthcare and infrastructure, and the 2018 campaign slogan was ‘fix the damn roads.’
Michigan is one of the states that represents the recent problems (and possible redemption) of the Democrats in the Midwest, and Biden’s path to the White House runs through them. Whitmer can be a great asset here. She appealed to Michigan’s Republican and independent voters in the 2018 elections, beating Republican then-state attorney general Bill Schuette by 9 points. Whitmer won counties that went before Trump in 2016, which showed her appeal across party lines.
“We are a state going back and forth; we are not a state that fits comfortably in some party, ‘she told Vox in an interview in 2018.
While Detroit has been hit hard during the coronavirus crisis, Whitmer has become a fixation on Trump’s as she tries to get more federal aid and health care equipment for her state. Whitmer is far from the only governor (both Republican and Democrat) to cry out for more help, but Trump has reserved some of his worst insults for her. He called her “Gretchen” Half “Whitmer” in a tweet and said he had a “major problem” with the “young … female governor” in Michigan.
Biden recently invited Whitmer to his weekly podcast, calling her “one of the most talented people in the country” and a “friend.” Besides talking about the challenges facing the country, they seem to have an affinity with each other; Whitmer shared how Biden Fig shared Newtons with her and her daughter during a campaign stop.
Whitmer seems to have a lot of what Biden is looking for in a running buddy, although she has spent fewer years on higher positions than some of the other contenders. The bigger question could be whether she (she has already said “It won’t be me”), or if Democrats would be willing to compromise the seat of an important governor.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA)
If Biden wants to make a serious contribution to progressives, Elizabeth Warren is the obvious choice.
Warren’s campaign was the tireless policy machine of 2020, with plans for everything from pandemic preparedness to debt-free college. Biden recently supported a Warren plan that would allow for student debt cancellation during bankruptcy – a remarkable move, given a famous disagreement between the two over a 2005 bankruptcy law. He also Axios mused in December that while he would add Warren to his VP list, “The question is whether she would add me to her list.”
Warren may be the choice to unify the party’s ideological wings, and choosing her would certainly say something about where a Biden government would want to go. But electorally, it might make more sense to go with a colored woman or a Midwestern moderate rather than an unapologetic liberal democrat representing Massachusetts.
And then there is the question of whether Warren would like the vice-presidential job. As Vox’s Emily Stewart wrote, Warren’s time in founding the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau demonstrated her executive leadership and talent for “pulling administrative levers.”
With this in mind, Warren might be more at home – and more impactful – as a cabinet choice like Treasury Secretary or Secretary of Education, where she could actually run part of her broad regulatory agenda.
Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)
The two-time senator from Wisconsin checks a lot of boxes. She made history in 2012 as the first openly gay senator. And even when Republicans spent millions to drive her out in 2018, she drove to reelection and beat her Republican challenger by 11 points.
The Republicans of Wisconsin hoped to prove that the state was red once and for all in 2018, as Vox’s Dylan Scott wrote. Instead, Baldwin held on and lost Democrat Tony Evers’ former Governor Scott Walker (R), showing signs of life for the Democratic Party. Baldwin ran – and won – on the health care issue. Her struggle in the Senate to protect people with pre-existing conditions is personal; she has a pre-existing condition from childhood.
In addition to proving her stamina in a Midwestern swing state, Baldwin has some serious progressive bona fide, even if they don’t get as much attention as Warren of Sanders’ credentials. Like Michigan, Wisconsin is crucial for Biden to win, and Baldwin can give him a boost.
But taking her away from the Senate can be risky for the Democrats; The voters in Wisconsin will by no means automatically choose another Democrat to take her place.
Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL)
There’s been a lot of push and pull between a woman of color and a Midwestern woman – Tammy Duckworth is both.
A Thai American who made history as the first U.S. Senator to give birth during his tenure (and then speak about the challenges of taking maternity leave while in office) is helping Duckworth change one of America’s oldest institutions. She voted in 2018 while holding her newborn baby.
Duckworth has an impressive resume; she is a military veteran who flew Black Hawk helicopters in Iraq and had a double amputation after her helicopter crashed.
The Illinois senator is also unapologetically moderate. In the wake of Ocasio-Cortez’s surprising primary victory in 2018, Duckworth wondered if that type of progressivism could be replicated in more moderate parts of the country.
“I think this is the future of the party in the Bronx.” Duckworth said and added, “I don’t think you can win the White House without the Midwest, and I don’t think you can go too far to the left and still win the Midwest.”
Former Georgia Governor candidate, Stacey Abrams
Abrams, a voting rights activist who narrowly lost a bid for Georgia’s governorship in 2018, has been generating VP speculation for some time.
Abrams came in at 1.4 points after she was the first black women governor in America in 2018, but now 2020 here and there are two Senate races in her home state of Georgia, she shows little sign of wanting to run in either. Even with her relative lack of experience in senior positions, she is very popular with black women. A March poll by She the People, an organization for and by colored women, found that Abrams was the clear first choice among respondents – even above Harris.
While Abrams continues her work on extending the right to vote for voters of color, she is still very much in the mix when it comes to names of vice presidents. Although Abrams initially dismissed the conversation about the consideration for Biden’s vice president, she seems to be getting the idea.
“I’d be honored to be on the campaign track as a running buddy,” Abrams recently told Pod Save America. “That’s a process that you can’t campaign for and I don’t campaign for.”
Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)
Although Catherine Cortez Masto may not be as well known as her Senate colleagues Harris and Warren, she is a very influential member of the governing body.
She is the former Nevada Attorney General and the first Latina elected to the United States Senate. She is close to former Nevada Senate leader Harry Reid – a friend of Biden’s and a still powerful democratic leader. Cortez Masto is also the chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and is seen as a fundraising juggler for the party.
The 2020 pre-election showed that Biden had a lot to do with Latino voters in Western states; Sanders defeated him in Nevada, Colorado, and California after supporting Latino support in those states. Biden may be able to count on black voters, but it is not certain that Latino voters will show up for him.
Cortez Masto could be an important player in that area.
Government Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM)
In the same vein, Biden may also want to take a look at New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, Latina’s first democratic governor in the US. Before being elected governor in 2018, Lujan Grisham was a member of Congress and president of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
Although New Mexico is no longer considered a swing state, the governor’s mansion was under republican control for eight years. Lujan Grisham turned it from red to blue. She also led the influential Congressional Hispanic Caucus during the Trump administration’s family separation policy – and was a loud voice against the government’s treatment of migrants.
“We are doing everything we can to prevent the President and Homeland Security from continuing to hurt the zero tolerance terminology for anyone who breaks the law,” said Lujan Grisham the Associated Press in June 2018.
Lujan Grisham has proven that she is eligible for election in her home state, but it can be difficult to introduce her to the rest of the country.
Atlanta Mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms
As one of the first supporters of Biden, Bottoms stayed with the former vice president from the start. She supported him after the first democratic debateinstead of throwing her support behind Harris or Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), the two black candidates were running at the time.
Her reasoning was a belief that Biden was best positioned to defeat Trump in general elections. Even when things looked shaky while Biden was tottering in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, Bottoms was one of the primary surrogates campaigning for him in South Carolina, the state where he made his comeback.
One of Biden’s best allies, Jim Clyburn, forces Biden to choose a woman of color as his running mate. And Clyburn has made it clear that he thinks Bottoms could be the woman for the job.
“There’s a young lady in Georgia who I think would be a great vice candidate, and that’s Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms,” Clyburn told the Financial Times in a recent interview.
Rep. Val Demings (D-FL)
Demings, the only representative of the House on this list, has built a prominent position in Congress in a relatively short time. She was one of the impeachment managers selected by house speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring the case against President Trump to the U.S. Senate.
Before joining Congress, Demings had a background in law enforcement. She was the first female police chief in Orlando, Florida. While not as well known as some of the other names on this list, the fact that she’s from the Orlando area is politically important – it’s a rocking part of a major rocking state that Democrats want to regain in 2020.
Demings’ role in the impeachment process gives her some name recognition, but impeachment may be ripe for republican attacks; Democrats may avoid entering that area and instead focus on issues such as health care. Demings recently said she would take the slot if Biden asked her.
“I love being a member of Congress,” Demings recently told Florida TV channel WFTV-9. “But if asked, I consider it an honor.”
Former Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano
Napolitano’s name floats around a bit – albeit much less than some other more prominent contenders. Napolitano was Arizona’s governor from 2003 to 2009 before moving to Barack Obama’s cabinet and director of Homeland Security from 2009 to 2013. Napolitano has not been in office for years, but has valuable national security experience and led a red state as a Democrat in the mid-2000s.
While the 2020 elections talked a lot about the importance of swing states in the Midwest, Arizona is just as important. Arizona used to be reliably Republican, but it’s diversifying and Democrats had notable success in a major 2018 Senate race. They could also secure a second seat in the Senate this year, and election predictors say Arizona in November is likely to be the key will be to the math of Biden. Napolitano is unknown to many people outside the state, but if Biden wants to win seriously, she can be an asset.