NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, April 23rd, 2020

Who will Joe Biden’s running mate be?

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.

Kamala Harris

Sen. Harris addresses the California Democratic Convention in 2019

Sen. Har­ris address­es the Cal­i­for­nia Demo­c­ra­t­ic Con­ven­tion in 2019 (Pho­to: Gagae Skid­more, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

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.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren waves

Eliz­a­beth War­ren waves to ral­ly­go­ers dur­ing a Seat­tle appear­ance (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/NPI)

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

Stacey Abrams in Seattle

Stacey Abrams at her April 2019 Seat­tle Town Hall appear­ance (Pho­to: Andrew Villeneuve/Northwest Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute)

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.

Gretchen Whitmer

Gov. Whitmer meets Michigan Army National Guards

Gov. Whit­mer meets Michi­gan Army Nation­al Guards (Pho­to: Julia Pick­ett, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

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.

Amy Klobuchar

Sen. Klobuchar greets a crowd in Des Moines, Iowa

Sen. Klobuchar greets a crowd in Des Moines, Iowa (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

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.

Tammy Baldwin

Sen. Baldwin addresses a Senate Committee

Sen. Bald­win address­es a Sen­ate Com­mit­tee (Pho­to: US Con­gress, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

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.

Michelle Obama

Mrs. Obama has clearly stated her disinterest in rejoining electoral politics

Mrs. Oba­ma has clear­ly stat­ed her dis­in­ter­est in rejoin­ing elec­toral pol­i­tics (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

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.”

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2 Comments

  1. That’s a very good syn­op­sis of the prospects. Maybe it would be of ben­e­fit for Biden to look out­side the norm. A fresh face.
    Maybe even some­one from the pri­vate sec­tor.

    # by Mike Barer :: April 23rd, 2020 at 7:35 PM
  2. Joe Biden needs to unite the two sec­tors of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty. There is only one can­di­date who can fire up the base and it isn’t Eliz­a­beth War­ren, it is Stacey Abrams!

    This com­ment has been edit­ed by NPI to com­ply with our Com­ment­ing Guide­lines.

    # by Victoria Owen :: May 13th, 2020 at 12:52 PM