Now that the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination is definitively over, people are increasingly talking about the most important decision that Joe Biden has to make between now and the Democratic National Convention in August. And that is who Biden will pick as his running mate.
Speculation on this topic began gathering steam as far back as the final debate between Biden and Bernie Sanders when Biden promised to pick a woman to be his running mate. In recent days, the conversation has gained momentum as Biden (himself a former vice president) has used his campaign’s recently-launched podcast to discuss various potential candidates and announced that a selection team will be formed at the beginning of next month.
Biden has many factors to take into consideration for his pick.
The Democratic presidential nominee has made it clear that he is seeking a candidate who would be ready to take up the reins of the presidency at a moment’s notice (a nod to concerns about his own advanced age).
Luckily for him, the ranks of his party are flush with intelligent and talented female leaders – a fact made clear when female Democratic lawmakers chose to wear white to the 2020 State of the Union, creating a startling visual effect.
The role of Vice President is a unique one in American government, as the only official who is part of both the executive branch and the legislative branch, as President of the U.S. Senate. This means that, as well as being ready to take over the Oval Office, Biden’s running mate will need to be able to handle the legislative side of government. One of Biden’s key advantages as a vice president for Barack Obama in 2008 was that he had decades of experience as a senator from Delaware.
Biden will not only need a capable partner, but one who can bring him credibility and good vibes in the battle to defeat Donald Trump.
This ability is harder to measure than talent or experience, and could materialize in many forms. A candidate with a strong record in a state Biden needs to win (for example, in the Midwest) could be key in tipping the electoral college.
A popular progressive could help Biden unite his own party and convince left-leaning voters to go to the polls. As the 2016 election showed, turning out the Democratic base across the board will be essential if Biden is to win.
Another essential feature of a vice president is even harder to measure or predict; will Biden and his running mate get along? As Vice President for eight years, Biden had a famously close friendship with his boss, Barack Obama, and he has made it clear that he wants his running mate to be “simpatico” with him. With all these criteria in mind, below is a list of the most likely running mates for Joe Biden.
The junior U.S. Senator from California is considered one of the Democratic party’s brightest rising stars, and many of Biden’s closest allies have reportedly been promoting her. She is an extremely experienced politician, having worked her way up from San Francisco District Attorney to Attorney General of her state, and ultimately to the U.S. Senate. Even better, she is a woman of color in an election where the Democrats desperately need to turn out minority voters.
Although her own bid for the Democratic nomination ultimately fell flat, the early stages of the competition displayed her clear talents for campaign rallies, rhetoric and debating skills. All these will help Biden in the general election, and her record of blasting Trump’s appointees from her spot on several key Senate committees will likely enthuse the most anti-Trump parts of the Democratic base.
Although she and Biden clashed during the primary campaign, it appears that Biden has no hard feelings towards her. At the end of last year, he said that the fifty-five year old Senator had the potential to go on to be a vice president, attorney general, Supreme Court justice, or even president herself one day.
However, Harris does have some weaknesses. Her record as a “tough on crime” prosecutor in the Bay Area might mitigate liberal enthusiasm for her, and the Trump campaign is likely to use it against her – Trump has already begun to disingenuously present himself as a criminal justice reform champion.
There is also a likelihood that Harris’ presence on the ticket will motivate racists to turn out against the chance of another person of color in the White House; repeated studies have shown that racism was a key factor in Trump’s 2016 victory.
If Biden wants a candidate who can step up to the plate on day one, there is no better candidate than the U.S. Senator from Massachusetts.
In her own bid for the nomination, Warren presented herself as a policy-focused ideas machine, with the slogan “I have a plan for that!”
Warren not only has plans, but has a record of getting them enacted against the odds – most notably, from outside of government she lobbied for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, promising not to give up until there was “blood and teeth left on the floor.”
Warren would also be the best candidate to mollify the party’s dissatisfied left. Besides Bernie Sanders, she is easily the most progressive member of the Senate, and been viewed as a liberal hero for over a decade. Her presence on the ticket would reassure progressives about Biden’s intentions for his presidency.
An effective campaigner, she may also be able to woo back the crucial “Obama-Trump” voters with her own brand of economic populism.
However, if Biden wants a candidate who is “simpatico” with his own personality, there are few candidates worse than Warren.
The two have disliked each other since the 1990s, when Warren lobbied the Senate for fairer bankruptcy laws while Biden defended the credit card companies based in his home state. The enmity – played out over committee hearings and in interviews – was clearly very personal, and never really subsided. Warren refused to endorse Biden until his nomination became utterly inevitable; even Bernie Sanders was quicker to endorse the former vice president than Warren!
There are also demographic questions. Biden is seventy-seven years old and Warren is seven. Nominating two white septuagenarians to lead a party that relies on minorities and young voters might be a step too far, even for a nominee like Biden, who sometimes appears to scorn those very groups.
Stacey Abrams rocketed to national attention in 2018 with her run for governor in the state of Georgia. She came within a hair’s breadth of winning, and ultimately refused to concede the election, pointing to the obvious voter repression conducted by her Republican opponent Brian Kemp – who happened to be the state official responsible for running elections.
Abrams has many strengths as a running mate. She is a relatively young woman of color, from a potential swing state where she has a strong electoral record.
She is also one of the most popular Democrats in the country, and well-liked by progressives for her efforts against voter suppression.
Abrams has no national political experience, but with ten years in Georgia’s House of Representatives – six of which she served as minority leader – she is an experienced legislator and political negotiator, which will be a crucial part of any future vice president’s role.
Biden’s team, recognizing her strengths, tried to bring Abrams onto their campaign as a running mate more than a year ago. However, Abrams shot the idea down, saying “you don’t run for second place,” fueling speculation that she might run for the presidency herself. Although she now says that she would happily join a ticket with Biden, this early snub may hurt her chances, if Biden prizes loyalty and reliability in his potential vice president.
The Governor of Michigan has recently been in the national spotlight thanks to the COVID-19 crisis and Donald Trump’s attacks on her as “that woman from Michigan.” The feud between the two recently escalated, as Trump tweeted his support for right-wing anti-lockdown protesters at the state capitol in Lansing. However, even before she became so well known, Biden’s team was sizing her up as a potential running mate.
Whitmer became governor in 2018. Her victory was particularly impressive, as she beat an incumbent Republican in one of the three states that ultimately handed Donald Trump his 2016 victory in the electoral college.
She was chosen to deliver the Democratic response to the State of the Union this year, and was widely praised for her performance.
Picking Whitmer would likely be a sign that the Biden team is leaning into the phenomenon that drove the so-called “Blue Wave” of Democratic victories in the 2018 midterm elections.
In 2018, Democrats made huge gains in suburban, middle class constituencies, particularly among educated white women – traditionally Republican voters.
Whitmer, one of the beneficiaries of this trend, is ideally placed to exploit this. Raised in a politically connected family, she has spent almost all of her career in elected office. She exudes confidence, competence and charm, but has also shown a more vulnerable side; In 2013, while debating abortion rights in the Michigan State Senate, she described her experience as the victim of sexual assault.
This, along with her socially liberal stances, is likely to appeal to the suburban white women, many of whom voted for Trump in 2016 but have since been turned off by his disgusting misogyny. These voters will doubtless play a key role in any election strategy the Biden team develops.
The U.S Senator from Minnesota has a lot going for her as a running mate for Biden. She has never lost an election in her Midwestern home state, including winning over normally Republican-leaning areas.
She has a personal story that will resonate with many struggling, working-class Midwesterners, and a cheerful, folksy manner that appeals to many voters when applied to a one-on-one setting. Klobuchar is also much closer to Biden ideologically than many of the other potential vice presidential picks.
However, Klobuchar seems an unlikely pick for a number of reasons.
While many potential picks have already professed enthusiasm about becoming Biden’s running mate, Klobuchar’s cagey reply to a question on the subject was, “I’m just not going to engage in hypotheticals.” She also made enemies in Biden’s team when she publicly spurned a private approach by the former Vice President’s staffers before the Iowa Caucus. The subsequent results from Iowa were one of the most embarrassing blows of Joe Biden’s presidential campaign.
Klobuchar also has a reputation as a difficult person to work with (to say the least).
While Joe Biden spent his years in the vice presidency garnering a reputation as a fun, laid-back character, Klobuchar has a well-earned reputation as a fearsome boss. Employees in her Senate office have reported “anxiety that permeates the office,” with the Senator liable to explode in anger and throw objects at unlucky interns. Biden may never see that wrath himself, but given Biden’s desire to appear as a return to sanity, it seems improbable that he would invite somebody with Klobuchar’s reputation into a White House so recently cleared of its tantrum-throwing current occupant.
Senator Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin has not spent much time in the limelight compared to other potential picks, but her profile has a lot of potential. Baldwin has decades of electoral experience in one of the country’s most critical 2020 states under her belt, with six years in the State Assembly, fourteen years as a U.S. Representative and seven years as a U.S. Senator. In her 2018 landslide re-election, Baldwin retook no fewer than 17 Obama-Trump counties.
Baldwin is also a boundary-breaking politician: she was the first female U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, the first openly gay woman elected to the U.S. Congress, and the first openly gay woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
Furthermore, her consistent progressive stances (particularly on healthcare) have earned her praise from the Left, both inside and outside of the Democratic Party – the socialist magazine Jacobin recently suggested that Bernie Sanders should pick her as his running mate if he won the nomination.
Baldwin’s nomination has some risks associated – most notably that, if she became vice president, the Republicans would have a good chance of winning her seat in the Senate with a special election, potentially ruining a Biden Administration’s chances of passing legislation. There is also a chance that Trump would use the nomination of the first ever openly LGBT person to pour rocket fuel on the simmering bigotry that underlies his electoral base. That being said, Trump doesn’t need help to encourage his most barbarous fans, and Baldwin’s nomination could actually encourage socially liberal voters to get to the polls.
A large number of Democratic Party insiders think that the best way to win in 2020 is the way they won in 2008 and 2012, with an Obama-Biden ticket… even if it is in fact a Biden-Obama ticket. Rev. On the surface, there is some logic to their argument. The former First Lady of the United States is – according to some surveys – the world’s “most admired woman,” and has only grown in popularity since the end of her husband’s presidency in 2017. Biden himself has said that if he had the option, he would choose Mrs. Obama “in a heartbeat.”
Michelle Obama, like Joe Biden, spent eight years in the White House, and while Biden claims he had the ear of the President for that whole time, Michelle was literally the first and last person the President saw every day.
However, barring a miracle, Vice President Michelle Obama is not going to happen. Mrs. Obama has never held elected office, and has never displayed any interest in doing so. Indeed, a great deal of her current popularity can be attributed to the fact that her position puts her above and beyond politics.
She has also made abundantly clear, through interviews, close friends, and even a chapter in her 2017 memoir, ‘Becoming,’ that she will not take the job: “I’ll say it here directly: I have no intention of running for office, ever.”
Biden (whose friendship Mrs. Obama’s memoir describes in glowing terms) certainly has a good personal connection with the former First Lady, but that relationship would probably be harmed by the simple act of asking her to step back into politics. Biden knows this; he recently said in an interview, “I don’t think she has any desire to live near the White House again.”