What is Going on With Biden’s VP Search?

Eleventh hour shifts have shaken up the Biden Campaign’s Veepstakes.

California Senator Kamala Harris embraces Vice President Joe Biden the night before Super Tuesday, 2020.

Early in the summer, the Biden campaign promised an August 1st deadline for the selection of Joe Biden’s running mate. It’s August 2nd, and there’s been no announcement. What happened to the deadline? It seems a flurry of last-minute lobbying on behalf of several VP contenders has thrown the Biden campaign into a furor, after a week of leaked rumors led many to speculate that California Senator Kamala Harris was a lock for the role. Harris has long been viewed as the default favorite in the veepstakes; anyone lobbying on behalf of another VP prospect is inherently campaigning against her. Apparently, some of that campaigning got to Biden’s head, and the Biden campaign’s self imposed deadline has been pushed back to the week of August 10th, the week before the Democratic National Convention starts in Milwuakee.

The public first caught sight of campaign infighting when comments by former Senator Chris Dodd, one of the chairmen of Biden’s VP vetting committee, were leaked by Politico, reporting Dodd’s grudge against Harris for her behavior towards Biden during the summer 2019 debates. Dodd criticized Harris for coming off as too ambitious and having “no remorse” over attacking Biden for his past support of anti-bussing policy. While criticizing ambition seems odd when picking the running mate of a man who’s run for President three times, it’s the main tactic Harris’ critics have been employing to argue against her being chosen as Biden’s VP. Critics of Harris have claimed that Harris would spend Biden’s first term preparing to run for President in 2024, distracting from her obligations as Vice President.

Different camps within the party have been campaigning on behalf of a number of candidates, and while the exact list of women being considered for the role is unknown (some sources have claimed that the choice is between a few contenders, other insiders from the Biden campaign have said that the committee is still deciding between 11 women), there are five women in particular that party insiders are pushing as an alternative to Harris.

THE FRONTRUNNER

After an accidental leak (which was quickly deleted) from Politico proclaiming that Joe Biden had chosen Kamala Harris as his running mate as of August 1st and the release of a photo from the Associated Press capturing Biden’s notes at a campaign rally which featured a section entirely dedicated to talking up Harris, rumors began to swirl that the Biden campaign had made their choice and that Harris had won the Biden veepstakes. Whether or not those breadcrumbs constituted an actual trail, and whether that trail’s been strewn about after the events of the past few weeks is all up for speculation.

If Biden chooses Harris, it’s because the campaign views her as the “do no harm” candidate. As of early August, Biden leads Trump by 8% nationally, and maintains a healthy lead over Trump in crucial swing states. In the present moment, Biden doesn’t need to add anything to his campaign in order to win the Presidency in November, he just needs something to not go terribly wrong. While Kamala Harris flamed out in the Democratic primary, and isn’t terribly popular among the left wing of the party, she has a large national profile and has already been vetted by the national media as a result of her presidential campaign. As someone who is liberal but not too liberal, Harris could play well amongst moderate suburbanites, and her youth could offset concerns about Biden’s age.

Harris’ critics bring up a number of problems with the possibility of campaigning with Harris; she did not succeed in the primary for a reason. In addition to the uphill battle a woman of color has to fight in order to earn the same credence with the media and voters as more traditional candidates, Harris was not very quick or consistent on the stump, embarrassing herself many times onstage and failing to land many hits after her initial attack on Biden in the first debate. Her record as a prosecutor made her poison among the left of the party, and if the Biden campaign is hoping to shore up Black voters by adding Harris to the ticket, the Trump campaign will have plenty of cannon fodder to use against Harris to discredit her as an ally to the Black community. Early polling doesn’t show Harris earning Biden a substantial increase in Black voters, and the more certain videos and horror stories from her time as California’s Attorney General circulate, the more Biden stands to lose from bringing Harris on as his running mate. The anti-Harris bloc may be unjustly attacking Harris for qualities that would be considered completely normal in a white male candidate, but Harris absolutely comes with certain risks that have the potential to bring harm to the Biden campaign- negating the very rationale behind choosing Harris in the first place.

WHO ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?

A number of regional and ideological blocs have been campaigning against Harris, offering up different candidates as viable alternatives to the California Senator. While there are some candidates who aren’t technically out of the running, such as Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Wisconsin Tammy Baldwin, there are five women who seem to have the most lobbyist wind at their back and are being the most seriously considered by the Biden campaign.

SUSAN RICE, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER

The largest anti-Harris bloc seems to have coalesced around Susan Rice, the only woman on this list to never be elected to office. Rice checks off what is perhaps the most important criteria on Joe Biden’s requirements for his eventual running mate: sympatico. Biden has used “sympatico” to describe his relationship to President Obama on a number of occasions, and has made clear that he wants his relationship with his VP to be a close partnership. Biden has known Rice the longest of any of the candidates, and the former Vice President has the strongest personal and professional relationship with Rice. Biden must have some personal investment in considering Rice, as she isn’t a traditional running mate by any definition. For Democratic insiders pushing for Biden to choose a Black woman who isn’t Harris, Rice seems to be their top choice, possibly because Rice might be the easiest candidate to convince Biden to choose over Harris.

Rice doesn’t come without her own liabilities, though, and the Trump campaign may consider Biden tapping Rice a huge gift. Rice was embroiled in scandal throughout Obama’s second term for her role in the events of 2012 Benghazi attack and her inability thereafter to explain away what the Obama Administration did and didn’t know at the time of the attack. Biden is running off of a lot of goodwill from the Obama Presidency, and there are only a few moments from Obama’s tenure as President that are still looked back upon negatively by the American public- Benghazi is one of them. Rice’s supporters argue that Benghazi is out of the cultural memory and wouldn’t be effective ammo against Rice in the General Election, but Hillary Clinton probably thought the same thing. Biden is beating Trump in the polls because he’s pulling in voters who did not vote Democrat until 2018, including many voters who probably voted for McCain and Romney. Reminding voters of why they didn’t support Obama and voted Republican until 2016 would tarnish Biden’s strength with moderate voters across the country, possibly costing him votes in crucial states.

REPRESENTATIVE KAREN BASS, CA

The latest addition to the VP search is California Rep. Karen Bass, a long serving member of Congress and Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Bass has risen through the ranks of prospective VP picks thanks to some nudging from Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and some anti-Harris California delegates. Pelosi argued that Bass “shouldn’t be overlooked”, is “someone everyone likes”, and that Bass would help united the left and moderate wings of the party. Bass has more connections to Black political apparatuses throughout the country than Harris, and may be a more effective campaigner for bringing out more Black voters. In her own subtle campaigning for the role of VP, Bass has made it clear to the Biden campaign that she has no interest in becoming President, making a clear distinction between her and Harris’ supposed intentions while occupying the office of the Vice President.

However, Bass has some really, really weird things to explain to voters should she be catapulted onto the national stage. One of the first results for Karen Bass on YouTube and Google is Bass speaking at the ribbon cutting ceremony for the Los Angeles Church of Scientology, praising the church for their message which “speaks to all people.” Though Bass has since revoked her praise for the Church of Scientology, claiming that she was not aware at the time of widespread allegations of abuse and manipulation against the church, the Biden campaign is still going to need a lot of airtime to explain this away. Bass has also spent considerable time in Fidel Castro’s Cuba as a part of the Venceremos Brigade, which “has organized annual trips to Cuba for young, leftist Americans for half a century.” Bass was one of few politicians to offer kind words for Castro after his death in 2016, saying his death was a “great loss to the Cuban people.” In defense of her past comments, Bass pointed out (correctly) that her comments were of little substantial difference than praise that President Barack Obama bestowed upon Castro for Cuba’s advances in its literacy and healthcare programs. (It’s interesting that Bernie Sanders’ offhand compliment for Fidel Castro’s literacy program was enough to garner a slew of attacks from the the Biden camp and the Democratic Party, but having worked firsthand with Fidel Castro seems to not be a problem for Democrats with Rep. Bass.)

While her Scientology problem currently overshadows her Cuba problem (can you see why Bass is a complicated pick for Biden?), Biden stands to lose a substantial amount of the important anti-Castro bloc of Cuban voters in Florida should he choose a running mate who’s worked extensively with Fidel Castro.

SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN, MA

While not the most likely candidate to be tapped by the Biden campaign, Elizabeth Warren is still allegedly in the running in Biden’s veepstakes. Progressives in the party have been pulling for the Massachusetts Senator since Biden became the presumptive nominee in an attempt to bridge the left and moderate flank of the party, claiming that having Warren on the ticket would bring the excitement to the Democratic ticket that it currently lacks. There’s some data to back this up; a poll from Morning Consult showed that Warren was the only prospective VP pick to increase Biden’s vote share, through bolstering Biden’s support with young voters. Warren left the Democratic primary with high favorable ratings and is massively popular within the party, particularly the more liberal and progressive circles made up of younger voters and voters of color.

If Biden were to pick Warren, many a pundit would point out that Biden failed to choose a Black woman as his running mate, which he’s been pushed towards since he became the nominee- and the recent waves of civil unrest resulting from police violence towards Black Americans has only put Biden under more pressure to consider tapping a Black woman VP. Voters may not care about the identity of Biden’s running mate as much as the media, but there’s scant evidence that Warren would help bring more Black voters into the fold. And even though Warren is popular amongst Democrats, she has her own baggage that the Trump campaign has not held back from using against her. Warren’s dishonesty regarding her alleged Native American heritage is well known, and her sloppy turn from an all-in Medicare for All supporter to an advocate of a hybrid Medicare for All/public option/ACA expansion plan lost her a lot of support in the fall of 2019. Warren could bring a lot of unwanted attention to the Biden campaign if her past comes back to haunt her, and Trump will do his best to see that it does. Not to mention that Trump has (unsuccessfully) tried to paint Biden as a radical socialist, or at least a “Trojan horse” for socialist policies, and adding a politician who supports legitimate progressive economic policies to the ticket could lend some credence to Trump’s attacks among more moderate voters.

SENATOR TAMMY DUCKWORTH, IL

Senator Tammy Duckworth has been in the VP mix for some time, but only in the last few weeks has she shot up to the top tier of candidates. There’s good reason for Team Biden to hold Duckworth in high consideration: Duckworth is a moderate Democrat who, if not personally, is very politically sympatico with Biden, and has set a number of records in the US Senate. She was the first person to give birth while serving in the Senate, is the first Thai American woman to be elected to congress, and is the first double-amputee to serve in the Senate. Duckworth is a veteran of the U.S. Army, having lost both her legs in a helicopter attack while serving in Iraq. Duckworth’s inspiring personal story and work with the Veteran’s Affairs committee have led to a number of veteran advocates to back Duckworth for the VP nomination. If Biden is looking for a “do no harm” candidate, it’s hard to find a better pick than Duckworth. There’s not much to attack her for politically given her relatively moderate ideology, other than a July CNN appearance in which she said there should be a “national dialogue” regarding taking down the statues of Founding Fathers like George Washington. The Trump campaign and Tucker Carlson immediately pounced on Duckworth for her comments, claiming that Duckworth “hates America” and that Duckworth is using her military service as a shield to “deflect from the support for the left-wing campaign to villainize America’s founding.”

If a tacit endorsement of permitting Americans to discuss whether or not they want to have statues of the Founding Fathers in their communities is the worst that the GOP can pull up on Duckworth, she’d be a hard candidate to land a punch on. Should Biden pick Duckworth, he will inevitably face criticism for not picking a Black running mate, but again, there’s no data to suggest that not choosing a Black running mate would hurt Biden’s electoral chances. Duckworth is a trailblazer and a fiery debater, and shares many emotional and political bonds with Biden, including prioritizing the wellness of veterans and the centrality of the family to their worldview. There’s been some debate as to whether or not Duckworth is technically eligible for the Presidency, and to that extent, the Vice Presidency, given that she was born in Bangkok. However, since her father was a U.S. citizen at the time of her birth, she is a naturally born U.S. citizen and is technically qualified to serve as President or Vice President under Section 1 Article 2 of the US Constitution. In addition to veteran advocates, Duckworth has been pushed by the Illinois Democrat Party, Illinois Governor J.B. Priztker and Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island.

REP. VAL DEMINGS, FL

Though Susan Rice has risen as the anti-Harris candidate for Democratic insiders pushing for Biden to choose a Black running mate, Florida’s delegation is still pushing for their favorite daughter Rep. Val Demings. There was a point over the summer where Demings entered the race as a leading contender in the veepstakes, with many anticipating that she would eventually eclipse Harris, given her low profile (and therefore low risk of backlash) and connections in the all-important battleground state of Florida. Demings seems to have fallen off the radar of the Biden campaign in the last few weeks as other contenders like Karen Bass and Keisha Lance Bottoms have risen into the top tier, but according to a report from the New York Times, Demings is still very much in consideration even if she is no longer in the top tier of candidates. Though, as a Representative who’s only had to court voters in the Orlando area, Demings is not a household name in Florida, any additional support Biden can get out of Florida will be necessary in what is likely to be a close race.

Much like Harris, Demings’ past career as a prosecutor complicates her proponents’ pitch; before her election to Congress, Demings served as the Orlando Chief of Police, overseeing a department that received a fair amount of scrutiny under her leadership. If the left flank of the party won’t support Harris for her actions as Attorney General, with many online giving her the moniker “Cop-mala”, it’s unlikely that nominating an actual (former) cop would help bring many younger, progressive voters into the fold. Given that the recent protests and calls for Biden to choose a Black running mate stemmed from police violence and misconduct, it’s unclear how choosing a Black former police officer will resonate with activists and voters within the party. To steal a quote from myself from a former article on Biden’s VP search, both Harris and Demings “are Black, but through [their] past offices represent the prosecutorial apparatus that systematically oppresses Black people.” Democratic insiders want Biden to choose a Black running mate, and may not care if that running mate has a history as a police officer or a prosecutor. Democratic voters at large don’t seem to have a preference of the identity of Biden’s running mate, and it’s unclear how different coalitions within the party would react to Biden nominating a woman with ties to the prosecutorial complex.

Kamala Harris going after Biden’s bussing record during the July 2019 debate, a source of hurt feelings for many in the Biden camp.

All of this is to say that, if party insiders are campaigning their candidates as alternatives to Harris, they are implicitly admitting that Harris is widely viewed as the favorite for the role, and no amount of nudging and derogatory comments is guaranteed to change that. For what it’s worth, Predictit has Kamala Harris as overwhelming favorite for the nomination, up 35 cents on the nearest candidate, Rice, who leads Karen Bass and Tammy Duckworth by 10 cents. If you’re antsy to find out who’s name is going to be under Biden’s on your lawn sign this fall, the good news is that Biden has, at most, 14 days left to announce a running mate, and will probably make a final decision sooner than that. For the time, it looks like Harris still leads the pack, but don’t be surprised if Biden announces a dark horse candidate as his running mate sometime next week.

Hey there folks

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store