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If elected, Joe Biden will be 78 when he takes office, the oldest president ever. He would be in his 80s by the time he’d complete his first term, and there’s a good chance he wouldn’t run for a second.

Small wonder then that his choice as running mate is attracting so much attention. The notion of the person chosen being a heartbeat away from the presidency resonates.

Another reason for the buildup is Mr. Biden’s promise that his pick will be a woman. The best choice, no doubt, would be wonder woman Michelle Obama. Since the publication of her gigantically successful memoir Becoming, she’s become the most popular woman in the United States. It’s Michellemania.

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Alas, even though Mr. Biden said Monday “I’d take her in a heartbeat,” she has no interest whatsoever in the vice-presidency or any other elected office. She detests the phoniness of politics. But she will campaign for Mr. Biden. She can’t tolerate the sight of U.S. President Donald Trump running down her husband’s legacy every chance he gets. She’ll fight to prevent him getting four more years.

Beyond her, handicappers see three leading contenders for the running-mate prize: Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Kamala Harris of California and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Whip-smart Ms. Warren carries the banner of the party’s large progressive wing. Her selection would help unify the Democrats under the moderate Mr. Biden. The coronavirus pandemic is bringing on the broadest expansion of the role of government in generations. It’s a dramatic shift left. As a policy wonk with a plan for everything, Ms. Warren would fit the new times.

But she has many drawbacks. Mr. Biden needs someone who will bridge the generational divide; she’s 70. She’s from Massachusetts, which is near the bottom of his campaign’s list of geographic priorities. She bombed in the primaries, being unable to connect. Lastly, Mr. Biden has indicated he wants a vice-president with whom he is simpatico. Ms. Warren’s relentless pugnacity is ill-suited for old-shoe Joe.

Ms. Harris is likewise razor-sharp, is 15 years younger than Ms. Warren, has some traction with the left side of the party and would give Mr. Biden added appeal to the African-American community. But California is solidly in the Democrats’ camp, Mr. Biden already appeals strongly to African-Americans and Ms. Harris is not a good personal fit for him either. She harshly attacked him in a debate last spring for a civil-rights position dating 40 years back.

The candidate Mr. Biden personally favours is Ms. Klobuchar. Like him, she’s a pragmatist who can work both sides of the floor. They have similar policy views, and he would be comfortable seeing her succeed him in the Oval Office.

Minnesota is in a region where Mr. Biden needs help. Ms. Klobuchar, whose husband, John Bessler, contracted the coronavirus but has recovered, is a combative but cheery campaigner who could give the ticket a sense of optimism and appeal to swing voters. Her chief weakness, though, is no small one: the left side of the party would oppose her selection.

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A rising party star who can’t be ruled out is Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer. Michigan is a key state for the party and she’s developed a national profile for standing up to Mr. Trump during this pandemic. Her weakness is that her only electoral experience is in state politics.

Selecting a woman as running mate comes at an uncomfortable moment because of a sexual-assault allegation against Mr. Biden by a former aide, Tara Reade, who worked for him in the 1990s. News media investigations have fallen short of substantiating the allegation. But seven other women previously came forward to accuse Mr. Biden of unwelcome physical contact. Though Mr. Trump has had at least 17 women accuse him of inappropriate behaviour, including allegations of sexual harassment and assault, the Republicans will do all they can to keep the issue alive.

The contenders for a place on the ticket have been hesitant to comment, but Ms. Klobuchar, for one, said the case has been investigated by journalists and essentially gave Mr. Biden a pass.

To read the tea leaves is to speculate that, given Ms. Obama’s lack of availability, Ms. Klobuchar is the one Mr. Biden would most like to run with. Her selection would create a problem with the left side of the party. He would have to tend to that by embracing a platform that substantively caters to progressives’ needs.

Editor’s note: (Apr. 21, 2020) A previous version of this story said that Kamala Harris was 22 years younger than Elizabeth Warren. She is 15 years younger.

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