Joe Biden Looks for His Own Joe Biden in Running Mate
In picking a running mate, Joe Biden has said he would want to recreate the dynamic he shared with Barack Obama — a working partner who shares his policy vision and also complements his skills and areas of expertise. But there’s so much more at stake in 2020.
If the front-running Biden wins the Democratic presidential nomination in Milwaukee in July, his choice of a running mate will surely be even under more scrutiny than other nominees, considering he would be the oldest person ever inaugurated if he became president.
Whoever is nominated, Democrats are intent on denying President Donald Trump a second term, and the wrong running mate could cost the ticket votes.
Add to that Biden’s age — he’s 77 — and that means voters will be looking at his running mate as someone who might have to step into the job unexpectedly. Also, he would be unlikely to seek a second term in his early 80s, making the vice presidential choice the presumptive front-runner for the 2024 nomination before Biden even holds his inauguration.
Choosing a running mate is the first presidential-level decision that a candidate makes, but it’s also a strategic one, with the potential to add geographic, racial, ideological or gender balance to the ticket, something that campaign managers and advisers believe can help win the race.
Biden has given a few clues on how he views the decision in recent weeks.
He said last July that the vice president should be someone the president can “completely trust, that they’re simpatico with, have the same approach, political approach and you can delegate significant authority to.”
In February, Biden said the person had to agree with him on key policy issues like Medicare for All. That would not only avoid a family feud when he works to expand the Affordable Care Act already in place with a public option. It would also mean the person wouldn’t change direction if he or she became president in 2025.
That would seem to rule out Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and possibly co-sponsors of Sanders’ bill, like Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker and Tammy Baldwin.
He’s also said that he would like to pick a woman as his running mate, saying he could think of eight or nine women who could do the job.
In November, he mentioned four by name: former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates, who dramatically resigned from the Justice Department in the first few months of the Trump administration, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams and New Hampshire Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan.
Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who can claim credit for single-handedly reviving Biden’s campaign with a well-timed and influential endorsement just before his state’s primary, has made it clear how he’d like to see the decision shape up.
”I doubt very seriously you’ll see a Democratic slate this year without a woman on it,” Clyburn said, adding, “I would love for it to be a person of color.”
That keeps Abrams in the mix and adds California Senator Kamala Harris. Harris dropped out of the 2020 race in December but remains well-respected in the party. Biden hasn’t said no when he’s been asked about her as a running mate, and she was good friends with his late son, Beau, when the two of them were state attorneys general.
But Biden already has strong ties to African-Americans, especially in the South, and liberal California will almost certainly vote for any Democrat on the November ballot over Trump. Where extra support is needed is among Latino voters, who so far have favored Sanders. A Hispanic woman could help Biden get votes and satisfy Clyburn’s not-so-subtle recommendation.
Among those possibilities are Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham. Grisham, however, has no Washington experience and the Biden campaign has suggested that they’re not looking for outsiders this year.
Ian Sams, a former spokesman for the Harris campaign, said he thinks the senator would be a strong pick because she’s been through the ringer in her own run for the presidency.
“She’s been vetted,” he said. “Her history and her record have gone through the press in a way that other candidates who are less known nationally have not.”
Here’s a look at some of the factors Biden will need to take into account.
‘Do No Harm’
He can learn from John McCain, running against Obama in 2008, chose Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, then an up-and-comer in the Republican Party and a relatively young woman. He hoped picking her would ease concerns about his age and war injuries and compare well to the Obamas, who were frequently referred to as the new Camelot.
But Palin was inexperienced and gaffe-prone with a turbulent family history. Oneresearch paper estimates that she ended up costing McCain just under 2 percentage points that November, or 2.1 million votes, although McCain campaign veterans dispute that and say that in some states she helped.
So Biden is looking for someone with extensive Washington experience or time as an executive, preferably someone who’s been vetted on the national stage.
Some argue Biden should pick someone from the progressive wing of the party to help bring together Democrats after a contentious race that exposed rifts in the party united only by the desire to beat Trump.
Ronald Reagan, the ex-movie star and California governor who was the darling of Christian conservatives, chose former primary rival George H.W. Bush in 1980. Bush served as a moderate counterweight to Reagan’s conservatism, especially on foreign policy. Biden seems averse to this approach.
Sanders probably wouldn’t work because he’s a year older than Biden. That could leave Warren, who has not yet endorsed a nominee.
Many Democratic women were feeling burned after Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016, and seeing Warren, Harris and Amy Klobuchar drop from the race in 2020 only intensified those feelings.
Christopher Devine, a political science professor at the University of Dayton and author of the upcoming “Do Running Mates Matter?” says there’s “very little evidence” that Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 or Palin bolstered either Walter Mondale or McCain among women voters. But Pantsuit Nation, a women’s political advocacy group with 4 million members, hasa petition calling for Biden and Sanders to chose a woman as running mate, and Clyburn made clear his preference.
One advantage for Harris is that she would be likely be replaced in the Senate by another Democrat. That’s not the case for Warren, whose temporary replacement would be chosen by a Republican governor until a special election later that year.
Home State Advantage
Biden could also pick an elected official from one of the key swing states in November.
Boris Heersink, a professor of political science at Fordham University, has found that choosing a running mate from a swing state can boost the campaign by an average of 3 percentage points in that state, and up to 4 points if it’s an elected official with more than a decade in office.
“If you pick someone from a competitive state who has statewide experience, that would give you the biggest bang for your buck,” he said.
That means Biden could select a statewide elected official from Michigan, Wisconsin or Pennsylvania, which Trump won by less than 1 percentage point, or possibly Arizona or Georgia, which are seen by Democrats as increasingly competitive.
Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin or Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer could fill those requirements. Baldwin is also openly gay, which could help ease disappointment over Pete Buttigieg’s withdrawal from the race.
Biden speaks fondly of Obama and he could wind up picking someone because he likes that person.
The most recent example of this kind of choice is Mitt Romney’s choice of Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan as his running mate. Romney simply liked Ryan, famously going against the advice of his own pollster. Romney later said in a “60 Minutes” interview that he saw a lot of himself in Ryan, and he had often hired younger talent when he was in business.
Biden likes a lot of people. He spoke glowingly of Klobuchar and Buttigieg when they endorsed him, saying that running in a primary brings candidates together as friends. He had a rough moment in the primary with Harris when she criticized him for his position on busing to achieve school desegregation in the 1970s, but he remains fond of Harris because of her friendship with his son.
In a February appearance on NBC’s “The Today Show,” Biden said he wanted a vice president who he “didn’t have a single issue that they disagreed on.”
Asked if Harris fit that bill, he answered “Yes, I think so.”
(Disclaimer: Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, also sought the Democratic presidential nomination. He endorsed Joe Biden on March 4.)
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