Joe Biden is set to formally become the Democratic presidential nominee at a party convention late next month. But for many voters, Mr. Biden’s most important move will come weeks earlier, when he unveils his choice of running mate in early August.
The vice-presidential pick is the quadrennial parlour guessing game over who is best suited to round out the ticket, do no harm and energize the party base. But in a tense and unusual election year rocked by a pandemic, a national reckoning over racism and police brutality, and an increasingly unpopular incumbent president, Mr. Biden’s choice of running mate matters more than ever.
He has committed to choosing a woman, assuring that his running mate will make history as the first female vice-president if Mr. Biden prevails in November. In the wake of protests over racial injustices, some Democrats are pushing him to choose a woman of colour, or someone capable of exciting younger and more progressive voters put off by the prospect of choosing between two white men in their 70s.
But he will have to weigh those demands against the need to find someone who can appeal to moderate voters in battleground states such as Michigan, Wisconsin or Florida that Mr. Trump narrowly won in 2016.
A former vice-president himself, Mr. Biden understands the challenges of being No. 2. He has said that his most important criteria is to find someone who is “simpatico with where I want to take the country,” and has the experience and temperament to take the lead on major White House files. Mr. Biden himself was chosen by the Obama campaign largely because of his deep experience in foreign policy and national security.
The decision has added significance this year, given that Mr. Biden will be the oldest president ever to take office if he wins – 78 on Inauguration Day. Mr. Biden has described himself as a “transition” candidate, sparking widespread speculation that he will only serve one term and that in choosing his running mate, he will effectively anoint his political successor.
Here we look at the front-runners: who they are, what kind of history they have with Mr. Biden, what they would bring to the ticket and why this veepstakes is particularly important.
Kamala Harris, 55
U.S. senator and former California attorney-general
Pros: She is a Black woman who has twice won statewide office. A career prosecutor, Ms. Harris has drawn praise for her grillings of Trump administration nominees in Senate committee hearings. She often tops polls asking voters who they would support for Mr. Biden’s vice-president, and she has garnered national attention for work on police reform in the wake of protests over the death of George Floyd.
Cons: Ms. Harris billed herself as a “progressive prosecutor” on the campaign trail, but her law-enforcement record is her biggest liability. Activists in California have attacked her work as San Francisco’s district attorney and state attorney-general, including efforts to block a California court from overturning the death penalty and preventing the release of prisoners who had been wrongfully convicted, along with a program that threatened jail time for parents whose children skipped school. Her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination was rocky and failed to adequately define her amid a crowded field split between moderates and progressives.
Relationship with Mr. Biden: As California attorney-general, Ms. Harris was close with Mr. Biden’s son, Beau, when he was attorney-general in Delaware. He supported her efforts during the subprime mortgage crisis to negotiate a better settlement with banks, even though many financial institutions were incorporated in his state. “There were periods, when I was taking heat, when Beau and I talked every day, sometimes multiple times a day,” she wrote in her 2019 autobiography The Truths We Hold. “We had each other’s backs.” But Ms. Harris also delivered Mr. Biden his most devastating blow in the Democratic presidential race, attacking him during a debate last year for his record on race, including his opposition to a federal program that used busing to desegregate schools.
Elizabeth Warren, 71
U.S. senator from Massachusetts
Pros: Ms. Warren could help heal the ideological rift within the Democratic Party and boost turnout among progressive voters in November. She has deep policy experience, including helping to steer the Obama administration through the 2008-09 financial crisis. She is particularly popular among college-educated suburban women, a key swing demographic. Ms. Warren is also one of the party’s strongest fundraisers, collecting more than US$125-million in donations for her own presidential run, much of it through small-dollar donations.
Cons: While she could electrify progressives, Ms. Warren may be too polarizing for moderates. She also supported a universal health care plan that Mr. Biden opposed – one of the most significant policy divisions within the party. Ms. Warren, who is 71 and white, represents neither generational, nor demographic change for the Democratic Party. If she is the vice-presidential pick, her replacement in the Senate would be chosen by the Massachusetts Republican governor, a risky prospect in a year when Democrats hope to retake the Senate.
Relationship to Biden: Ms. Warren has been a thorn in the side of moderate Democrats such as Mr. Biden for decades. The two repeatedly sparred over legislation more than a decade ago that made it harder for consumers to declare bankruptcy. Ms. Warren even chastised Mr. Biden for taking credit for being a champion of women because of his work fighting domestic violence when, she argued, making it harder to declare bankruptcy would disproportionately harm single mothers. “Senators like Joe Biden should not be allowed to sell out women in the morning and be heralded as their friend in the evening,” she wrote in her 2004 book The Two-Income Trap.
Val Demings, 63
U.S. congresswoman and former police chief of Orlando
Pros: As an African-American former police officer from the swing state of Florida, Ms. Demings could help bolster Mr. Biden’s controversial record on race at a time when the country is gripped by protests over police brutality. Her background as a police chief could assuage concerns among moderate voters skeptical about calls to slash police department budgets. She is one of only two Democrats who sit on both the House judiciary and intelligence committees, and served as one of the managers of Mr. Trump’s impeachment inquiry. Ms. Demings proved to be a tough questioner during the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, getting special counsel Robert Mueller to acknowledge that the President had not been truthful in his answers to investigators.
Cons: Ms. Demings has spent fewer than four years in Congress and lacks national name recognition. Her nearly 30 years as a police officer may also alienate progressive voters. Ms. Demings often casts herself as a reformer and touts that crime fell 40 per cent in Orlando during her three years as police chief, though the department has faced persistent criticism for excessive use of force by officers. She also co-sponsored a 2019 bill that made it a federal crime to assault a police officer – which was vehemently opposed by several civil-rights organizations.
Relationship with Biden: It’s not clear that the two know each other well. During Mr. Trump’s impeachment inquiry, Ms. Demings defended Mr. Biden against Republican allegations that the former vice-president had put pressure on Ukrainian officials to fire a prosecutor in order to help his son, Hunter, who later joined the board of a Ukrainian natural-gas company.
Keisha Lance Bottoms, 50
Mayor of Atlanta
Pros: Mayor of Atlanta since 2017, Ms. Bottoms received national attention for her defiance of the Republican governor’s efforts to reopen the economy amid a surge in coronavirus cases – she revealed in July that she had tested positive herself for the virus. She was also in the spotlight because of an impassioned speech to protesters in May, where she said she worried about the safety of her own teenage son and urged demonstrators to honour the memory of Martin Luther King Jr.
A Black moderate politician from Georgia – a Republican stronghold shifting more Democratic because of changing demographics – Ms. Bottoms represents a path to victory for Mr. Biden that runs through African-American communities in the South.
Cons: Compared with some other women under consideration, Ms. Bottoms has relatively little experience in government. She has never held statewide office, nor served in Congress. She has also had to walk the line between supporting her city’s police officers and pushing for police reform. Staking that middle ground became more challenging after two officers were charged in June in the death of Rayshard Brooks, prompting a walkout by hundreds of Atlanta police.
Relationship to Mr. Biden: Ms. Bottoms has been one of Mr. Biden’s most loyal supporters. She frequently served as a Biden campaign surrogate on the campaign trail, stumping for votes in Iowa and Texas, and spending several days doing outreach among African-American voters in South Carolina, a state that proved to be a game-changer for Mr. Biden’s then-struggling campaign.
Ms. Bottoms has often defended the former vice-president on national television when he was under attack on issues of race relations from Democratic challengers, such as Kamala Harris and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.
Susan Rice, 55
Former national-security adviser to Barack Obama and former ambassador to the United Nations
Pros: Ms. Rice has by far the most experience in government of any contenders for Mr. Biden’s running mate, though she has never run for office. A Rhodes scholar who grew up in a politically connected African-American family, Ms. Rice has worked in senior foreign policy and national-security roles for the Clinton and Obama administrations. Since leaving government, Ms. Rice had co-chaired the committee advising Washington, D.C., on how to reopen the city during the coronavirus pandemic and has appeared as a fierce critic of Mr. Trump in the media.
Cons: Trump loyalists have seized on Ms. Rice’s comments in September, 2012, that a deadly terrorist attack on U.S. facilities in Benghazi was actually a protest in response to an anti-Muslim video as proof of an Obama administration cover-up.
Republicans have also focused on an e-mail Ms. Rice wrote herself in early 2017 about a meeting involving Mr. Obama, Mr. Biden, and former FBI director James Comey discussing concerns about conversations between Mr. Trump’s national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, and the Russian ambassador. Mr. Trump has claimed the e-mail is proof that Obama administration officials spied on the Trump White House.
Congressional investigations turned up little to substantiate the accusations. But Mr. Biden may be wary of a running mate who prompts questions about secret e-mails and Benghazi – attacks that proved successful against Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Relationship to Biden: Ms. Rice worked closely with the former vice-president as a member of Mr. Obama’s inner circle. She described him as “my favourite unannounced visitor” in her 2019 autobiography Tough Love.
“Unlike President Obama, who rarely ambled into our suite and never without a purpose, the VP liked to pop in with no agenda and linger,” she wrote. “He came to check out how we were doing, buck us up, tell a joke, shoot the breeze, or deliver a Bidenism – a family aphorism that never lost its value.”
Gretchen Whitmer, 48
Governor of Michigan
Pros: Ms. Whitmer is a relatively popular governor, who called out the Trump administration’s bungled federal response to the pandemic. She gained national attention for a first-in-the-nation ban on flavoured e-cigarettes. Recently, she has faced down thousands of gun-toting anti-lockdown protesters in the state capitol, prompting Mr. Trump to dismiss her as “that woman from Michigan.”
Ms. Whitmer’s 10-point victory in 2018 over a Republican – in a state that Mr. Trump won only two years earlier – is seen as a potential roadmap for Democrats to retake Michigan in November. In a sign of her rising status within the party, she was chosen to give the Democratic response to Mr. Trump’s State of the Union address in February. At 48, she is decades younger than Mr. Biden, offering Democrats a candidate who represents generational change.
Cons: Ms. Whitmer, who is white, may face a backlash by Michigan voters if she’s seen ignoring the state’s COVID-19 public-health and economic woes in favour of the campaign trail.
She has only been a governor for little more than a year, and spent much of her 20-year political career toiling in Michigan Legislature at a time when Democrats were in the minority. Her lack of national political experience has translated into low numbers in public-opinion polls about Mr. Biden’s VP pick – many voters say they know little about her.
Relationship to Mr. Biden: Mr. Biden endorsed Ms. Whitmer’s 2018 run for governor and she endorsed his presidential bid in March. But the two are not known to have worked closely together. Still, her name was floated last year by some of Mr. Biden’s advisers as a possible vice-presidential selection. She often comes across as more of a pragmatist than an ideologue, and shares Mr. Biden’s skepticism about universal health care.
Stacey Abrams, 46
Former candidate for Georgia governor
Pros: A Yale University-trained tax lawyer, Ms. Abrams rose to be House minority leader in the Georgia Legislature and was the first African-American woman to give the Democratic rebuttal to Mr. Trump’s State of the Union address last year.
At just 46, Ms. Abrams is among the youngest women under consideration for Biden’s vice-presidential pick. A prominent African-American leader from the South, who narrowly lost a bid to become Georgia’s governor in 2018, she offers the kind of political sea change that many younger and more progressive voters want for the Democratic Party.
She also has a strong national profile, and is among the most recognized names in public-opinion polls about Mr. Biden’s vice-president choices.
Cons: While most others have played down their candidacy, Ms. Abrams has openly and publicly campaigned for it. “I would be an excellent running mate. I have the capacity to attract voters by motivating typically ignored communities,” she told Elle in April.
Despite her high profile, Ms. Abrams’s political experience is limited to her decade in the Georgia Legislature, and as a deputy attorney for the City of Atlanta before that. She also told late-night TV host Stephen Colbert last month that she had yet to hear from the Biden campaign to be formally vetted, raising questions about whether she was a serious candidate.
Relationship to Biden: Mr. Biden has asked Ms. Abrams to appear with him on media appearances and televised town halls, moves that are seen as a trial run for a national campaign. It is a reversal for Ms. Abrams, who last year brushed off the idea of being Mr. Biden’s vice-president at a time when she was mulling her own presidential bid.
Also on the list
Michelle Lujan Grisham, 60, Governor of New Mexico
Ms. Lujan Grisham is the first Latina woman to serve as a Democratic governor, elected in 2018. She spent five years in U.S. Congress before that chairing the influential Congressional Hispanic Caucus, where she criticized the Trump administration’s efforts to separate asylum-seeking families at the Mexico-U.S. border. A former state health secretary, she has also been lauded for steering New Mexico through the coronavirus pandemic. The tiny state has administered more tests per capita than all but Rhode Island and New York.
Tammy Duckworth, 52, U.S. senator from Illinois
A former Army lieutenant colonel, Ms. Duckworth was awarded the Purple Heart after she lost both of her legs when the helicopter she was piloting was shot down in Iraq in 2004. She is a former congresswoman and first-term senator who won the seat once occupied by Mr. Obama. As an Asian-American woman from the Midwest, Ms. Duckworth can appeal to a diverse group of voters, including military veterans and working mothers. She was the first senator to give birth while in office and brought her newborn daughter with her to cast votes on the Senate floor.
She was recently the focus of a tirade by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who called her a “coward” for suggesting that there be a national discussion over removing controversial statues. She is also threatening to hold up more than 1,000 military promotions in the Senate to protest against the treatment of Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Vindman, who announced plans to retire this week, citing “bullying” by the White House after he testified against Mr. Trump in the President’s impeachment investigation.
Tammy Baldwin, 58, U.S. senator from Wisconsin
A career politician, Ms. Baldwin served 14 years in the U.S. Congress before beating a popular former Republican governor to win a senate seat in 2013. She is the first openly gay woman elected to Congress and represents the swing state of Wisconsin, which Mr. Trump narrowly won in 2016. She is among Mr. Biden’s more progressive choices. She has backed policies such as universal health care and police reform, and was an early supporter of marriage equality.
Karen Bass, 66, congresswoman from California
Ms. Bass is a late addition to the roster of Biden vice-presidential hopefuls. She chairs the powerful 55-member Congressional Black Caucus and served as speaker of the California state assembly before her election to Congress in 2010. Ms. Bass has also been a prominent voice on police reform, helping shepherd a recent bill through the House of Representatives. Police brutality has been a core issue for her since her days as a community organizer in Los Angeles.
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