How the Democratic Nominee’s VP Pick Will Reflect His Electoral Strategy- and His Perceived Weakness
On June 9th, Former Vice President Joe Biden secured his 1991th national delegate, cementing his position as the presumptive Democratic nominee, and further cementing the particular importance of the nominee’s eventual choice of running mate. Presumptive nominee Pete Buttigieg or Kamala Harris could probably have stood to follow a more traditional, low-key path in selecting a running mate, but Joe Biden is in a particular position that gives the 2020 Veepstakes an unprecedented gravity. The former Vice President turns 78 in November, and should he win the Presidency in November, Joe Biden will be the oldest President on Inauguration Day in American history by eight years, blowing past the record set by Donald Trump in 2016. The 2020 Democratic Primary was historically crowded, with over two dozen candidates representing a multitude of the ideological and identarian coalitions that form the Democratic Party, and Biden, despite easily clinching the nomination after a rocky February, could only claim to represent a fraction of those coalitions.
Biden won the nomination because of overwhelming support from older Black voters and a new coalition of White suburban voters who are singularly concerned with unseating Trump. Young voters did not show up to vote for Biden, and the highly educated liberal voters who voted for candidates like Elizabeth Warren are not extremely enthusiastic at the prospect of a Biden nomination. He trails Hillary Clinton’s support of Hispanic voters by double digits, and the nascent left wing of the Democratic Party who stood behind Sanders are not all guaranteed votes for Biden in November. Biden represents the old guard of the Democratic Party, both aesthetically and ideologically, having been a reliable proponent for 40 years of a centrist, late 20th century neoliberal politics.
This is Biden’s double edged sword; He embodies the bipartisan ideal of “reaching across the aisle”, which may give him an air of dependability and a competency to govern, but this political aisle-reaching often materially resulted in economic austerity and social politics that were liberal in the moment but come across as reactionary ten years later. These were the same politics Trump was able to hammer Hillary Clinton on in key battleground states like Michigan and Wisconsin in 2016, who suffered economically as a result of these bipartisan efforts like NAFTA.
So, needless to say, Nominee Biden has a lot of leaks to patch, and a lot of bridges to build. Biden himself has said that his running mate will be someone who will be able to strengthen his candidacy where he himself has perceived weaknesses, and, more notably, Biden has committed to choosing a woman as his running mate. In choosing a woman running mate, the Biden campaign hopes to ameliorate the tension of having an old, white man carry the mantle of the Democratic Party. Many women ran for the Democratic nomination, women constitute 60% of the party, and many of the party’s rising stars are women. So it makes sense for the Biden campaign to diversify the ticket, hoping to attract a broader coalition of women and liberal voters who may be on the fence about voting for Biden. (Unrelated, but the parallels are interesting: the last and only other time in history that the Democratic Party ticket featured a woman in the VP slot was in 1984, when former Vice President Walter Mondale and US Rep. Geraldine Ferraro faced off against incumbent Ronald Reagan, a populist conservative with a celebrity history. No further comment as to how 1984 went for Mondale.)
HOW TO PICK A VICE PRESIDENT
A nominee’s running mate is chosen to fulfill a set of criteria, many unique to the particular candidate and the campaign, although there are longstanding traditional techniques used by campaigns in determining the best choice for a running mate. Often considered are geography, if a candidate hopes to bolster their chances of carrying a particular state or region, a potential pick’s relationship to the party, if the candidate wishes to strengthen their effectiveness and capability to govern, and ideology, if a candidate who represents a faction of the party wants to unite a broader coalition in the general election. In 2008, Barack Obama, a first term senator and the first Black nominee in the country’s history, needed an older, “safer” Democratic insider to serve as his running mate to balance out the progressive, young Obama’s ticket. Joe Biden, who also ran for president in 2008, fit the bill because of his longstanding relationship with the Democratic party and relatively centrist politics, and got the job. The Republican nominee, John McCain, represented a more moderate neoconservative ideological brand that was not necessarily popular among hardline conservatives and evangelical voters. In a pitch to the right of the party, McCain chose Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, whose outsider image and conservative social politics more closely mirrored what would become the Tea Party wing of the GOP. In theory, a more ideologically balanced ticket would drive a larger number of fired up conservatives to vote for McCain in November. Additionally, by choosing a woman running mate, McCain hoped to mirror the “change” that had become an integral part of the Obama/Biden brand.
Geography has become a less important factor in choosing a running mate in recent history. In the past, when the two parties were defined more by geographical issues as opposed to a more partisan liberal/conservative divide, major politicians had a larger influence on their home state politics, and a strategic pick could put a swing state safely in a nominee’s column. However, this has proved less effective in recent political history; Mitt Romney’s running mate Paul Ryan hailed from Wisconsin, but it did not help Romney win Wisconsin in the 2012 General Election. Donald Trump won the state of Indiana in 2016, although it’s debatable as to whether or not Mike Pence’s presence on the ticket helped him win the state. Pence was unpopular as Governor, and most states in the same region voted for Trump. Of the last eight Vice Presidential candidates, six hailed from states considered either solidly red or solidly blue. FiveThirtyEight founder and Editor in Chief Nate Silver calculates that the likely boost a Vice Presidential pick brings to the ticket in the modern political era is likely around 2 points, although that bounce varies from state to state. According to Silver, in smaller states, local politicians may have a stronger personal relationship with their constituents and may have more sway on their vote; however, unless you are expecting a particularly close election, choosing a running mate from a small state for the geographic advantage is not necessarily a smart move.
So geography may be less of an important factor to Biden than race, age, or ideology, even though the theoretical 2-point bounce from a running mate like Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan may close Trump’s small 2016 margin of victory. In a political era more defined by national cultural issues than geographical ones, the identity and background of Biden’s prospective candidates for running mate will probably have considerably more weight than their home state. While Senator Amy Klobuchar may be very popular in Minnesota, there’s no guarantee that her popularity in her home state will translate to victories in neighboring states with much different political cultures like Michigan and Wisconsin. Biden has made it clear that he is looking for a woman who is A) on the younger side B) someone he can get along with personally and politically (Biden calls this dynamic “sympatico”, a term he used to define he and Barack’s relationship) and C) experienced and ready to govern on Day 1. While this set of criteria may abate concerns about Biden’s age, it does not necessarily address young voters’ lack of enthusiasm about Biden, nor does it guarantee that the Black voters who delivered him the nomination will show up in the numbers necessary to elect Joe Biden in the fall. Hillary Clinton won the 2016 Democratic Nomination with overwhelming Black support, but depressed black turnout in the General Election gave Trump an edge in several key swing states that allowed him to win the Electoral College.
The Biden camp is probably well aware of this, and their eventual running mate selection will tell us how problematic these conditions are to Biden’s electoral strategy. Biden may have reason to believe that they really aren’t that problematic after all. In addition to heavy Black support, Joe Biden drove up turnout in White suburbs in huge numbers in 2020, which allowed him to come from behind and take unexpected victories on Super Tuesday in states like Minnesota and Massachusetts. The 2018 Midterms, which was a wave election year for Democrats, saw the emergence of a new coalition in the Democratic Party: affluent White suburbanites who may have been swing voters or Republicans in the past, but have become so disenchanted by Donald Trump and the GOP’s transformation into a monolithic Tea Party that they are now participating in Democratic Primaries so as to unseat Trump and those who carry out his agenda. These White suburbanites supplied crucial votes that helped Democrats flip 40 seats in the midterms, electing mostly moderate Democrats to represent their heavily suburban districts. This is not an exact science, as general elections and midterms are two very different types of elections, but if one were to apply the Electoral College math to the 2018 Midterm results, it would result in a comfortable victory for Democrats. If Joe Biden wants a safe, recent historical precedent upon which to base his electoral strategy, he may look to the 2018 Midterms, and want to focus on turning out as many middle aged, anti-Trump White suburbanites as possible. This strategy may intentionally leave out active outreach to younger voters, who already vote in low numbers and strongly dislike Trump, and simply hope to maintain or slightly improve upon Clinton’s margin with Black voters. In most recent polling, which shows Biden far ahead of Trump both nationally and in battleground states, Biden is running on par with Clinton in terms of Black support, but is miles ahead of her in White support.
If Biden believes that the Biden Coalition lies in this new suburban pool of voters, it may steer Biden away from trying to simply recreate the Obama Coalition, which relied on through-the-roof Black turnout and support from young voters. This may indicate that his path to victory runs through taking back the “Blue Wall” of the Midwest, and possibly flipping Florida, as opposed to trying to churn up enough Black and Hispanic support to flip North Carolina or Arizona. Of course, in a landslide election, these states may fall into Biden’s column anyway, and he is either tied or ahead in most recenrt polling of the last aforementioned states. His choice of running mate will indicate what Biden perceives to be his best path to victory, and the coalition of voters he is hoping to organize to bring him to the White House.
So, all that being said, who are the women that the Biden camp are considering to fill out the ticket? Biden’s VP Committee and insiders have publicly dropped a number of names, occasionally referring to a shortlist that the committee is building to vet a series of candidates and eventually pick the Goldilocks running mate for Biden. It’s a traditional practice for a nominee’s camp to field a potential group of contenders that could include dozens of names (A 2016 email from the Clinton campaign leaked from WikiLeaks indicated an initial group of 39 contenders), and then build a more selective shortlist from that group, which then slims down over time after a series of interviews and heavy vetting; Looking back again to 2008, Barack Obama chose current nominee Biden as his VP pick, but was also considering, among others, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson, Rhode Island Senator Jack Reed, and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine (Kaine would have his time in the sun in 2016). These picks gave a good look into the inner workings of the Obama campaign’s electoral strategy and messaging; as the first Black nominee for President, and running as a progressive, Obama wanted to pick a safe, centrist, White candidate with a long governing history and a good relationship with the Democratic establishment. Biden is from Delaware, a safe blue state, but would offer voters a sense of security and ensure them that the exciting one term Illinois senator would have a sturdy, reliable, if not a bit boring, governing partner. So looking into Biden’s shortlist could give insight into how the Biden campaign plans to maneuver and position itself in the general election, what demographics they are targeting and what coalition they plan to build to win in November.
In early May, the Biden campaign referred to “more than dozen” women that they were vetting, and later referring to “ten women” that were being vetted for the Vice Presidential slot. In early June, the AP reported that the shortlist had been narrowed down to six, though the Biden campaign disputed the report, claiming that the process was still fluid and more women were still being vetted and “additional candidates could be asked to submit to the extensive document review process of top contenders”. Overall, there were twelve women who have independently confirmed that they have been in contact with the Biden campaign, whether or not all of them still are currently is up for speculation. These are the twelve women confirmed to have been in contact, at some point, with the Biden campaign, in no particular order:
1. Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar
2. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren
3. California Senator Kamala Harris
4. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer
5. Florida US Rep. Val Demings
6. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham
7. New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan
8. Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin
9. Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth
10. Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice
11. Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo
12. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms
Those who have been tuned in to the Veepstakes will probably notice one surprising exemption from this list, former Georgia Gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Despite publicly jockeying for the role, there is no evidence that the Biden campaign has any interest in interviewing her for the VP slot. Abrams herself said in early June that she has not received a call from the Biden campaign as they go about their vetting. This may come as a shock to some, since as early as 2019, before Biden even jumped in the race, there was speculation that Biden would announce his candidacy with Abrams as his running mate from the get go. However, Abrams’ lack of experience (her highest office was Minority Leader of the Georgia State House of Representatives) does not match up with Biden’s criteria to have a Vice President who would be ready to lead the executive branch on Day 1. While his committee may certainly be pushing Biden to choose a Black woman as his running mate, the Biden camp seems to have a relatively deep bench of Black women that either have more governing experience, more of a national profile, or a closer personal relationship with Biden than Abrams.
There is reason to believe that of these twelve women, some of them are in much stronger consideration for the job than others, especially if one takes at face value the report that the campaign has slimmed the list down to six. It is likely that early on in the vetting process, the campaign wanted to have all their bases covered and reached out to women from a wide spectrum of ideological and ethnic backgrounds. Senator Maggie Hassan, who would be a “safe” moderate running mate for Biden, has confirmed that she was submitting documents at the behest of the Biden campaign for vetting, but there has been little talk beyond that, and it’s very possible the Biden camp has moved on from Senator Hassan. Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, many women in government garnered national profiles for their handling of the crisis, such as Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo. However, as COVID slowly fades into the background (for now) and the nation erupts into conflict over racial justice and police violence, the spotlight on governors who caught the Biden campaign’s eye in their handling of the pandemic has faded somewhat. In particular, in the must win state of Michigan, it is unclear how the many protests against Governor Whitmer’s shutdown policies will affect undecided Michiganders’ views of the Governor come November, and may give Biden more reason to distance himself from her than to bring her on board. Speaking of social distancing, Amy Klobuchar, who was a, if not the, frontrunner for the pick may no longer be on Biden’s radar at all, given her tenure as Hennepin County Attorney from 1998–2006, when she allegedly failed to bring charges against Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin in the 2006 shooting of Wayne Reyes. Derek Chauvin would remain on the force and go on to murder George Floyd in May 2020. Klobuchar’s prosecutorial record had already come under scrutiny during the primary, with Black Lives Matter protestors interrupting rallies and even going so far as to call for her resignation from the Senate. The events in Minneapolis and Klobuchar’s close ties to the actors involved have probably diminished her chances of becoming Biden’s running mate.
This is not to say that none of these women are no longer in contention for the VP pick, but we only know for certain that the campaign is seriously considering a list that includes, but is not limited to, Warren, Harris, Demings, Bottoms, Rice and Lujan Grisham.
A Biden/Warren ticket would indicate a much different target coalition than a Biden/Demings ticket, or a Biden/Whitmer ticket, so let’s take a look at the women that Biden is reportedly considering and extrapolate what each prospective pick would indicate about Biden’s electoral strategy, what the campaign thinks a winning Biden Coalition would look like, and what Biden perceives to be his own weaknesses.
1. Senator Kamala Harris, CA
A Biden/Harris ticket has been long predicted by pundits, as the Junior Senator from California would help craft an ideal image for the Biden campaign and reflect the demographic diversity of the Democratic Party. Harris herself was considered a rising star in the party after her election to the Senate in 2016, and has been talked up as a Presidential contender since 2008, when she served as the San Francisco DA, and later the Attorney General for the state of California. While her 2020 campaign did not make it to Iowa, she was viewed by many as a martyr of a racist, sexist nomination process who was faced with a litany of double standards as a Black woman. She retains a high national profile and has a small but dedicated fanbase, albeit a one who is already largely locked in to vote for Biden in November. Harris is liberal, but not too liberal, so Biden would not necessarily be closing a large ideological gap by picking Harris. In choosing Harris, Biden would be making a conscious decision to focus his campaign on the national calamity sparked by police violence against Black people, targeting Trump in his weakest spot: race. In choosing a Black running mate, Biden would ostensibly be hoping to bring more Black voters into the fold, ensuring that he does not face the same depressed turnout amongst Black voters that brought down Clinton in 2016. However, in choosing Harris, Biden may back himself into a corner on racial politics; While Harris is Black, her record as a prosecutor came under harsh scrutiny during the primary, with particular criticism focusing on her positions regarding truancy, the legalization of marijuana, her failure to act on reducing the sentences of those convicted of non violent drug charges, and opposing the mandatory use of body cameras by police officers. The current unrest in America stems from police brutality against Black people; Harris is Black, but through her past offices represents the prosecutorial apparatus that systematically oppresses Black people. Voters concerned with police brutality, particularly young voters and Black voters, may be turned off by Harris’ past record, as they were during the primary. Additionally, Harris never polled well among Black voters in during her campaign. She regularly polled behind Biden, Sanders, and occasionally even Warren and Bloomberg with Black voters, so there’s no guarantee that Harris would bring significantly more Black voters to the ballot box. Harris’ main base of support was largely White, college educated liberals, who are already safe bets to vote for Biden in November. While choosing Harris may look good on paper, so did Harris’ run for president.
2. Senator Elizabeth Warren, MA
When polling Trump and Pence against variations of a full Biden ticket, there was only one Biden ticket that seemed to materially boost his numbers: Biden/Warren. It makes sense- Warren remains hugely popular with the progressive wing of the party, and with young voters, and maintains a large national profile even after losing big on Super Tuesday. While hardcore Berniecrats are not particular fans of Elizabeth Warren, having Warren on the ticket may be the largest bone the Biden camp has to throw to progressives in the party. A Biden/Warren ticket may be the ultimate bridge-gapping that Biden could pull off, and there’s reason to believe it would pull in a number of voters who were not safely locked in to vote for Biden. Like Harris, Warren’s base is largely White, educated and liberal, but Warren’s base is significantly younger than Harris’. Interestingly enough, when Biden planned on running for president in 2016, his initial instinct was to tap Warren for his running mate. This team of rivals would present a united front for the Democrats, and may well pull together the largest coalition of voters in the fall of any potential ticket. Given that America will likely be in some form of a recession in January of 2021, it would be prudent of Biden to select Warren, whose handle on explaining and managing economics is one of her strongest suits. If Biden chooses Warren, he may be indicating while he is secure in his suburban base and strong Black support, he fears it may not be enough to pull him across the finish line in November, and that he needs to shore up a significant amount of enthusiasm to bring energy to the campaign. A play to progressives and young people may be smart for Biden, but Warren does not come without baggage. Trump’s “Pocahontas” nickname for Warren, referring to her dishonesty regarding her ethnic background (she used to claim Native American heritage, and it is difficult in determining exactly how much she used this claim to further her career and secure certain opportunities), is a favorite of his, and she would be put under intense scrutiny for her past claims in a general election setting. There is no doubt that the Trump camp would hammer Warren on the Native American claims, and would have ammo to create a campaign to paint Warren in a dishonest and untrustworthy light. While she left the nomination process with high favorables, the spotlight intensifies during a general election, and who can say just how effective these attacks on Warren would be? Would this, along with her progressive brand, turn off moderate voters who Biden needs to secure swing states in the Midwest and the suburbs? It certainly wouldn’t look amazing for the Biden campaign if the Democrats chose two individuals with a past history of varying degrees of racial insensitivity to lead the ticket, particularly since it looks like race will be a crucial issue in the General Election. Additionally, while Warren found some support with Black voters, her base of support is overwhelmingly White, and it’s unclear that Warren would bring many more people of color to the table. While Warren may be Biden’s best chance at building the broadest coalition, she may pose dangers to Biden that could undermine support from his core base.
3. Rep. Val Demings, FL-10
If you’re wondering “Who?”, you’re not alone. Rep. Val Demings probably has the lowest name recognition of anyone on this list, though that may not be a problem for Biden, a former Vice President. Val Demings represents Florida’s 10th District, is a solid center-left Democrat, and served as the Chief of the Orlando Police Department for four years. Because of her relatively low profile, it may seem odd that Biden would choose her as his running mate, although she may have caught the campaign’s eye when she served as a Floor Manager during the Impeachment Hearings against Donald Trump. Rep. Val Demings would fulfill many on Team Biden’s wish for the former VP to choose a Black running mate, and someone with a low profile may not come into the national spotlight with much baggage. However, a closer inspection of Demings’ career prior to congress is enough to give pause. She was a patrol officer in the Orlando Police Department and eventually promoted to Chief of the OPD, spending 27 years with the department before running for her current seat. Whereas Harris was criticized for her prosecutorial record, and was referred to as a “cop” by her detractors online, Demings literally was a cop, and her tenure at the OPD was not spotless. Demings runs into the same dilemma as Harris; In a year where social tension has burst over police brutality against Black people, is it enough to have a Black running mate if that running mate was deeply involved in the criminal justice system, or, in Demings’ case, a police officer? Black Lives Matter has already spoken out against Demings as a potential pick, putting Biden in a potential Catch-22. Biden is being pushed to choose a Black woman, but two of the top black women that Biden is vetting have long careers in law enforcement. However, the scrutiny against Demings has not yet reached the level of that against Harris, which may be what makes Demings the more viable pick in the end. Public opinion polling shows that the majority of Americans, while supporting “Black Lives Matter” in the abstract, are not necessarily in favor of more radical measures like defunding or abolishing the police. Essentially, the majority of Americans are concerned about police violence and racial justice, but they are not anti-cop. One of Biden’s core groups of support, White suburbanites, probably fall into this majority, sympathetic to the BLM cause, but uncomfortable with anti-police rhetoric, and therefore may not mind electing a former law enforcement officer to the Vice Presidency. Choosing Demings may indicate that Biden is angling to recreate the 2018 map, relying on high urban turnout to guarantee a victory in the popular vote and increasing suburban turnout to secure the Electoral College. This choice could either turn some Black voters off or bring more Black voters to the polls, depending on how her record as a former Police Chief is handled. Additionally, Demings certainly wouldn’t bring many more progressives onboard, but, as is becoming increasingly apparent, no VP pick comes without their risks. Some have argued that Demings would lock in Florida for Biden, but Florida is a huge state, and there is a huge difference between a Governor or a Senator, and a Representative. There are doubts about how much sway Val Demings has on Florida voters as a whole.
4. Governor Gretchen Whitmer, MI
During the early days of COVID, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer was receiving high marks for her handling of the pandemic, and the Biden campaign made their interest clear in vetting her as a possible running mate The rumors began to circulate as early as March that Whitmer was moving into the top tier of contenders with Warren, Harris and Klobuchar. While her spotlight has dimmed somewhat, let’s say Biden taps Whitmer to be his running mate. This would be a clear play for the Midwest, an attempt to rebuild the Rust Belt firewall that fell to Trump in 2016. While it’s unclear how popular Whitmer will be in November, if she her approval ratings remain high into the summer, Biden may have good reason to pick the Governor as his running mate. Despite the decreasing strength of geographic picks in the modern era, even a small boost from Whitmer could make the difference between a narrow loss or win in the state. Whitmer is a moderate, ideologically close to Biden, so a Biden/Whitmer ticket would likely be another configuration designed to rebuild the 2018 coalition that won Democrats the House. Of course, there is the chance that choosing Whitmer could backfire in her home state, given the highly publicized protests against the statewide shutdown in April. Whether or not Michiganders are on the side of the protestors or the Governor, it may be enough to create controversy around Whitmer and damage her reputation, potentially turning off swing voters and coveted Obama-Trump voters.
5. Former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, DC
In the words of infamous blues musician and 2024 Presidential hopeful “Joliet” Jake Blues, “We’re getting the band back together!” Susan Rice, former National Security Adviser to Barack Obama from 2013–2017, was, along with John Kerry, the face of foreign policy and national security in the second Obama term. Tapping Susan Rice as his running mate would mean Biden is turning the Obama Nostalgia Factor up to a 10, hoping to invoke as much Yes We Can! goodwill as possible from the American public, who still hold the 44th President in high regard. Biden undoubtedly has a close personal relationship with Rice, and a strong working relationship is an important factor for the Biden campaign in vetting possible running mates. Rice has never been elected to any public office, having served for decades in various Cabinet and Security roles, so it is unclear exactly who her base of support would be, but a Rice pick would probably appeal to voters who wish for a return to normalcy after a Trump Presidency. However, it’s unclear how well this would work, as Rice was embroiled in scandal after the 2012 Benghazi attack. She was accused by Republicans of misleading the public after stating on air several times that the White House was unsure as to whether or not the attack was a premeditated or spontaneous, nor could she identify the assailants, when it had been clear to US intelligence only a day after the attack that it had indeed been premeditated and carried out by al Qaeda affiliates. In an ironic twist, Biden’s attempt to bring back the good feelings of the bygone Obama era by choosing Rice may dig up some of the darkest moments of the Obama Administration. Though Benghazi is far from the front of public discourse, Biden does risk resurrecting it by nominating Susan Rice.
6. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, GA
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms may be the newest addition to this list, as she has only come into the national spotlight in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and subsequent protests in Atlanta. On May 29th, after receiving word that the initial protests had turned violent, Mayor Bottoms gave an impassioned speech imploring the protestors to go home, lest they risk bringing more harm to their city. Bottoms’ emotional delivery and levelheadedness in the face of citywide turmoil sprung the Mayor into the national spotlight. In the following days, she received waves of media attention and praise from people sympathetic to the protestors but wary of riots and looting. Emerging as a voice of reason in a time of uncertainty, Bottoms probably came into the sights of the Biden campaign, who were desperately needing to build a bench of experienced Black women candidates without a history of scandal or baggage. On June 13th, she announced the resignation of the Atlanta Police Chief after the shooting of an unarmed Black man, Rayshard Brooks, an event that sparked another bout of protests in the city. Bottoms may be another rare smart geographic for Biden. Most polling shows an extremely tight race in Georgia, and the state has been trending ever so slightly bluer and bluer, and Democrats believe they may finally have the Peach State in their grasp. High Black turnout in Atlanta, combined with strong suburban turnout and targeted maneuvers to increase Black turnout statewide may be enough to win Biden Georgia, despite the state’s notorious history of voter suppression and making it difficult for Black Georgians to vote. If she continues to walk the fine line between maintaining order in her city and working with the protestors demanding change in the Atlanta Police Department, Bottoms may be able to build on her good reputation. It’s a hard line to walk, though, with many online already being quite vocal about their displeasure with Bottoms’ handling of the protests in Atlanta and her plans to put more money in the Atlanta Police Department budget. Should she stumble, Atlantans may turn on her quickly, making her more of a liability than an asset, but it seems that Mayor Bottoms’ test of leadership has just begun. While she may not have much experience or name recognition, Keisha Lance Bottoms may be Biden’s best pick if he wishes to turn out Black voters in crucial areas.
7. Senator Amy Klobuchar, MN
Never say never, right? While no one can claim to know the inner workings of the Biden camp, it seems really unlikely that Amy Klobuchar will be asked to join Joe Biden as his running mate. She had quite a quick turnaround- in early May, it seemed that Klobuchar was at the top of Biden’s shortlist, to the chagrin of the progressive wing of the party. A Biden/Klobuchar ticket wouldn’t be functionally dissimilar to a Biden/Whitmer ticket- Klobuchar would theoretically help Biden hold down the Midwest, her home turf, and in particular widen Biden’s margin in Minnesota. They’re about as ideologically similar as they come, and Klobuchar pounced Biden in the affluent suburbs of New Hampshire, where she surged to a third place finish. If the Klobucharm worked in New Hampshire, there’s reason to believe it would work in suburbs around the country. However, we cannot ignore the glaring red flag- Derek Chauvin and Klobuchar’s past record as a prosecutor. For the sake of optics, the Biden campaign, if they want to drive out suburban voters and feel comfortable in Joe’s popularity with Black voters, should probably pick a Whitmer or a Raimondo.
8. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, NM
If Joe Biden taps New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham for his VP, we know he has a problem: Hispanic voters. He currently trails Clinton’s margins with Hispanic voters, and in the 2020 Primary, Hispanic voters overwhelmingly backed Senator Bernie Sanders. If Biden starts to sink in the Midwest, and his easiest path to victory is through flipping the Sun Belt in states like Arizona, or if he feels he’s in danger of losing Nevada, he may tap Governor Grisham. She has a low profile, but is the only Hispanic woman on this list, so a Biden/Grisham ticket would indicate that Biden’s Hispanic voter problem has become a thorn in his side.
9. Senator Tammy Duckworth, IL
Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth has been confirmed to be in contact with the Biden campaign, and has publicly stated that she would accept the role if offered to her. Duckworth has a unique background that could make her an interesting running mate; On top of her Purple Heart, she was the first person to give birth while serving in the Senate, she would be the first Asian American nominated for Vice President, and would the first disabled person to be on the ticket for the Executive Branch (Duckworth is paraplegic, having lost both her legs in an attack while she was serving in Iraq). She is a moderate with an inspiring backstory, and pathos is a quality that Biden is particularly keyed into as a politician. Perhaps the only drawback to nominating Duckworth as Biden’s running mate would be missing the opportunity to nominate a Black woman to put an emphasis on the campaign’s commitment to racial justice.
10. Senator Tammy Baldwin, WI
Little talked about but potentially a powerful pick, Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin has allegedly been moving up the ranks of prospective running mates, according to the New York Times. She is the first openly gay person to be elected to the Senate, and would be a pick that could play strongly to the progressive wing of the party and labor across the country. Baldwin has a strong voting record on labor rights, is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, supports Medicare For All, and could help smooth over some of Biden’s iffier trade deals. A running mate who could bring in progressives, excite young voters and attract Rust Belt voters disaffected by neoliberal trade policies would be a great asset to Biden, so it’s no wonder she’s being held in higher consideration as of late. Perhaps the label “progressive” may scare off some more moderate, older voters, which could eventually lead Biden to another running mate, but Senator Baldwin could potentially be a healthy boost to Biden’s chances in carrying the Midwest and generating enthusiasm. One foreseeable downside to a Biden/Baldwin ticket is that Baldwin’s seat in the Senate would be left open, and her replacement would be chosen in a special election to fill out the rest of her term. In the purplish Wisconsin, there’s no guarantee that Baldwin’s successor would be a Democrat.
11. Governor Gina Raimondo, RI
Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo apparently caught the eye of the Biden camp due to her handling of the COVID Pandemic, and would be a safe moderate to join the former Vice President on the trail in the event that Biden wants to turn out the suburbs on Election Night. Biden may be compelled, depending on his electoral strategy, to choose a “safe” running mate, particularly if he feels that he has a secure coalition that will bring him victory in the Electoral College. Historical precedent shows that this is not always a safe bet; Hillary Clinton’s choice of Tim Kaine and Al Gore’s choice to run with Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman did not prove to be effective electoral picks. They both won the popular vote but narrowly lost the Electoral College (though one can dispute how legitimate Gore’s loss really was), and a bolder choice of running mate may have tipped their close elections in their favor.
12. Senator Maggie Hassan, NH
Biden has publicly name dropped New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan in the past as a possible running mate, and it was confirmed in May that she was being vetted for the job. There hasn’t been much news about the Senator and Biden beyond that. In a close Electoral College race, Hassan could help lock down New Hampshire for Biden, which came dangerously close to flipping red in 2016, and potentially put Maine’s 2nd Congressional District back into the Democratic column.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The news cycle on the Veepstakes started when Biden became the presumptive nominee, and with every update or leaked rumor is followed by a slew of stories about who the former Vice President will choose as his number two. However, we won’t have a definitive answer for a while. The nominee rarely announces their running mate more than a week before their party’s convention, and the DNC has been pushed back to mid-August due to the COVID pandemic. The earliest we’ll know whose name will occupy the bottom of the Biden yard signs is around August 1st, but we may not know until August 15th or 16th. Trying to predict now who the Biden camp will pick now would be a moot point, as even Team Biden has been transparent about the fact that the women they are holding in high contention today may not be at the top of their list in a month or so. The most recent online speculation is that Harris is, and will likely remain, Biden’s top pick. And while perhaps Harris does have an advantage over the other candidates, and it would not be surprising to see her tapped in August, speculation is just speculation.
The conversation surrounding Biden’s running mate is merited though, as his choice carries more weight than the usual VP pick. Biden will need to make a strategic choice to ensure that he can build the coalition necessary to conquer Donald Trump in the Electoral College. Given Biden’s age and politics, his running mate will have to be able to govern effectively and help bring together a number of fractured wings of the Democratic Party- not to mention potentially having to serve as a tiebreaker on the Senate floor in the less than unlikely event of a split Senate come 2021.
Given current events, Biden may well feel compelled to choose a Black woman as his running mate, but cultural moments fade into the rearview mirror so quickly in 2020, and by August, who knows what qualifications Biden will require of his running mate? Two of his leading Black candidates have close ties to the very institution whose systematic failures sparked the current wave of civil unrest, and a number of his White candidates could very well end up being Tim Kaines and adding nothing to a ticket that very badly needs a something. His bold picks bear many risks, and his safe picks may indicate that Biden is not tuned in to the current moment. Biden must toe a difficult line- and as complicated as the choice may be, we should all be grateful that he has promised to select a woman as his running mate, since Biden can’t take the easy way out and just choose Andrew Cuomo.