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Toward the end of June, in an interview with a local television station in Lancaster, Penn., presidential candidate Joe Biden stated that he is “doing the background checks” for his vice presidential picks.
The process for picking a vice president is long and exhaustive, including a thorough review of the candidate’s personal life, financial information, criminal record (even minor things like speeding tickets), marital history and any other skeletons they might have in their closet.
The former V.P. pledged to announce his own V.P. pick before Aug. 1. Although his list of final choices has been fluid recently, some candidates seem closer to the top of the list than others.
The seven individuals on the short list, according to a myriad of news outlets, are Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Rep. Val Demings, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar once graced that list before dropping out, saying Biden should pick a woman of color. And pressure has been growing across the nation for Biden to do so, given the national conversation on race and police brutality in continued protests sparked by the high-profile deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breona Taylor and many others.
Still, Biden has not committed to picking a woman of color.
Time is ticking for an announcement. Biden likely wants to enter the Democratic National Convention on Aug. 17 with a running mate so he can come in well-prepared. Last election, Hillary Clinton picked her vice president Tim Kaine on July 22, which gave her a few weeks of preparation going into the D.N.C.
So with all this in mind, what are the pros and cons of each candidate?
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, has been an ardent Joe Biden supporter for a long time, endorsing him in the primaries more than a year ago — even when, for a brief moment, Joe was looking to fall in second behind Sen. Bernie Sanders. She would fulfill the call to pick a woman of color from close Biden advocates, but she lacks national name recognition like some of the other picks. Bottoms also occupies the moderate lane of the Democratic party, and along with Biden, has resisted rhetoric around “defunding” the police, which might alienate the more progressive lane of the party calling for that, come Election Day.
Rep. Val Demings from Florida is another woman of color for Biden to contemplate. She, much like Bottoms, is from the more moderate wing of the Democratic party. She could potentially pose an issue for Biden though, given her past tenure as Orlando’s chief of police: That department has had issues with use of force in the eyes of the public. Depending on how that tenure is framed, it could either be a hindrance with voters wondering why she didn’t do more to fix the department’s problems or a valuable asset who could bridge the divide between those seeking police reform and the police themselves.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice is a lesser-known option among voters for Biden’s vice presidential spot. Despite lacking name recognition, Rice would likely help Biden change foreign relations to what he sees as more suitable — given what Biden and his allies view as President Donald Trump’s erosion of foreign alliances — and given her experience as a U.N. ambassador as well as former President Barack Obama’s national security advisor. Her closeness to Obama might also fasttrack her to the top of the list since she already had a working relationship with Biden.
Gretchen Whitmer, the current governor of Michigan, might be a good option for Biden if he thinks he needs to shore up support in the Midwest — especially since Whitmer is the governor of Michigan, a key swing state that Hillary Clinton lost in 2016. Although Biden is currently up in Michigan, according to Real Clear Politics polling average, if that margin shrinks as Election Day draws closer, Whitmer might be a more attractive option for the Biden campaign.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren has already said she’d agree to be Biden’s V.P. if he asked her. She has clear national name recognition as one of the top contenders for the presidential nomination. Warren would be a good option to garner more support from the progressive wing of the electorate, as a poll done in late April after Biden was the presumptive nominee showed that she was Dem. voters’ top pick for vice president. But her much-more progressive bent might also be a risk for Biden in critical swing states like Pennsylvania that Clinton just barely lost in 2016.
Sen. Kamala Harris from California started off strong as a candidate in the presidential primaries, but she fizzled out as the race became more intense; she eventually dropped out and endorsed Biden. She formerly served as Attorney General of California, and much like Demings, her law enforcement experience (although different in nature than being the chief of police like Demings), is a risky pick for Biden. Another problem for Harris’ run at V.P. is her lack of strong support within the Black community. From Aug. to Dec. 2019, Harris had never placed higher than third in Black support among primary candidates. And she doesn’t have any real Midwest pull like Whitmer or progressive support like Elizabeth Warren.
Stacey Abrams was the high-profile candidate in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election, and although she lost, it was the closest governor’s race in Georgia since 1966. Abrams herself has actively voiced support for being Biden’s V.P. and is consistently in the running based on all available reporting. She also previously served as the minority leader in Georgia’s House of Representatives from 2011 to 2017. Since she is a relatively fresh face to the political stage, that could help or hinder her. On one hand, she doesn’t have as long of a track record for Republican opposition to draw from for attack ads, but she also hasn’t had long to define her image and policies to the nation at large like some of the other V.P. contenders.
So who is the best pick for Biden?
It is most assuredly a tough position for Biden to be in, but if I were in charge of the pick, I would pick someone that wouldn’t really make any waves and is a fresh face on the national stage, like Stacey Abrams.
Biden is holding a massive historical lead against an incumbent at this point in the campaign: Making any large tweaks to the formula of his success might sink that lead’s margin. Abrams might not drum up much more support in terms of groups that Biden needs to appeal to, but she almost certainly wouldn’t drive any voters away either. Giving Trump and the G.O.P. a candidate with a long political track record would just be giving them more ammunition to hurt Biden.
Picking someone new and relatively inoffensive might just be the smart realpolitik play for Biden.
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