Biden's VP Choice: Some Considerations and Speculation

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden laughs with audience members during a meeting with local residents, Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, in Emmetsburg, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)


Now that Bernie Sanders has effectively dropped out of the race and Joe Biden is the presumptive nominee of the Democrats, talk will naturally turn to his choice of a running mate.  Gone are the days of backroom deals for VP choices and most candidates announce that choice prior to the convention.  Biden’s decision will be unprecedented on two levels.  First, it will occur amidst an ongoing coronavirus epidemic.  Party conventions are nothing but pep rallies for grown-ups and an opportunity to bash and trash talk the opposition.  The Democrats have already moved their convention back one month, giving Biden extra time to make a decision.

Secondly, Biden has already announced that his choice will be a woman.  Although one could pass it off as pandering, it does have two benefits.  It relieves pressure on Biden from female special interest groups to name a woman.  It also eliminates a large pool of potential candidates (males) and saves time and money on the vetting process.  Hence, Biden and his people can be more deliberative in their choice.  Regardless, Biden is not the first candidate to apply a criteria that narrowed the pool of possibilities, although he is the first to do so as concerns a demographic group.

Regarding VP choices generally, few people will support a ticket based on the second choice if the person at the top of the ticket is disliked.  It is doubtful that anyone will vote for Biden if he falters on the campaign trail (a high probability) because of who he chose as a running mate.  However, his choice does send a message to voters about Biden’s decision-making abilities and his values.  If thoughtful enough, it reflects positively on him.  Where a choice does matter sometimes is when the person at the top is new to the national political scene.  Biden does not meet that definition.  Because that consideration is taken off the table, Biden is afforded a greater pool of possibilities- consideration of a DC outsider.

However, history dictates that his choice will come with a political background.  The last time anyone without a political background was a VP choice was Alf Landon’s choice of newspaper publisher Frank Knox in 1936.  Every VP choice since 1940 has come from the following “feeder” positions: (1) a sitting or former senator, (2) governor, (3) House member, or (4) high national executive official.  They have averaged about 14 years of experience in these (or some combination of) positions.

Biden has added another criteria to his choice: they will be younger than him.  If he holds true, that would take Hillary Clinton off the table and possibly Elizabeth Warren.  Of course, when Biden says “younger,” we do not know what he means.  He probably, at this point, does not know what he means.

Vice presidential candidates, moreover, must be able to adjust to their role.  The choice will not be the lead person, but a supporting one, albeit the principal supporting one.  They have to be willing to articulate campaign themes without introducing divergent or distracting messages.  They have to harmonize their message with that of Biden while simultaneously be willing to attack the opposition without going overboard lest they turn voters off as rabid “attack dogs.”  They cannot be the story.

Of course, a key consideration is electoral politics.  Choices are sometimes made on the belief that the person can help them win a competitive state.  Most polls and models indicate the election will be close either way in 2020 and surely this weighs on Biden’s mind.  However, this sometimes backfires and sends a signal that the selection process was based on this criteria only.  Thus, although Biden may be tempted to choose someone like Gretchen Whitmer to put Michigan in play, it may be seen as a political choice only for those purposes.

Finally, the choice has to make a positive impact with his base.  The problem here for the Democrats is determining what exactly is Biden’s base.  From all indications, it is the DNC establishment which basically laid the groundwork for his nomination.  Their shunning of Bernie Sanders (again) has not played well with many within the party- former supporters of Warren and Sanders in particular.  There is palpable fear among Democrats right now that these people will either sit it out or drift to Jill Stein in the Green Party.  This is why the Leftist blogosphere is replete with editorials imploring voters to get behind Biden.  But, the more they pressure, the more they push these people away.

So, who are the possibilities? This writer will look, alphabetically, at the possibilities most often named:

  1. Stacey Abrams- there is not literally enough room on any stage for both Biden and Abrams given her girth.  Her close loss in Georgia’s gubernatorial race raised her national profile, but she remains a loser nevertheless.  This writer believes that although she would be a compromise between Biden’s alleged base and the more radical elements in the party, she may prove to be too big a distraction (and not big because of her girth).
  2.  Tammy Baldwin- she hails from Wisconsin, a very key swing state in 2020, and has been in Congress since 1999 as both a House member and Senator.  She is also openly gay which would check off another box for the Democrats.
  3. Michelle Lujan Grisham- She has 8 years experience in the House and two as Governor of New Mexico.  She may not be gay, but she is Hispanic.  That puts her roughly in that 14-years experience window and with Trump expecting to make a play for New Mexico, she is an intriguing possibility.
  4. Kamala Harris- she has a checkered history as California AG and she folded under pressure in the debates when Tulsi Gabbard attacked her on that.  While she gets a lot of buzz, usually presidential candidates do not choose primary opponents as a running mate, although that is not necessarily written in stone.
  5. Amy Klobuchar- The senator from Minnesota, another state being targeted by Trump in 2020, has been in DC for exactly 14 years.  Dropping out and her early enthusiastic endorsement of Biden may be an important factor.  Other than throwing salads at campaign people, she was not that controversial and, at times, seemed the most adult-like in the room.  Ideologically, to the extent anyone can discern Biden’s ideology, he and Klobuchar are probably most simpatico.
  6. Catherine Cortez- Masto- the Senator from Nevada may be Hispanic and young, but also inexperienced in DC, a relative unknown, and from a state that does not figure into electoral politics.
  7. Michelle Obama- This is wishful thinking on the part of pundits.
  8. Elizabeth Warren- this would highly please the radical progressive base of the party.  However, she has not outright endorsed Biden and she is old.  Do the Democrats want two old senile candidates?
  9. Gretchen Whitmer- Sure, she has all of two years experience from one of those feeder positions, but does anyone seriously believe she would be a consideration if not for the Wuhan virus?  She would be a long shot dark horse in the best of times.  A key consideration: How well is she liked in Michigan?
  10. Sally Yates- Seriously, some people are touting her as a possibility.  Methinks the last thing Biden wants is any mention of Russiagate, FISA abuse, Ukraine, or the Obama FBI/DOJ/CIA.

My best guess, considering the usual factors plus other considerations: Amy Klobuchar.