US Election 2020: Who should Joe Biden choose as his running mate?
The office of Vice President has been historically occupied by characters of great importance. Harry Truman ascended from the Vice Presidency to become a war-time President faced with decisions on a nuclear scale. Lyndon Johnson had to rise to the challenge of uniting a grieving yet fractured nation. Gerald Ford had the unenviable task of restoring faith in an Oval Office marred by scandal and corruption. The responsibility to step up and take the reins of Government should the President ever resign or become incapacitated is one inherent in the role, yet most who must take on the task never expected to.
Former Vice President Joe Biden knows the responsibilities and anxieties of this burden very well. If Biden is elected, he will become the oldest President ever inaugurated at the age of 78. His choice of running mate may be one of the most important political decisions of the next decade, they must be ready to be President at any point from day one. However, Biden needs to make his choice carefully, in a fast-paced, unprecedented campaign dominated by a devastating pandemic and racial tensions. One wrong move could derail his path back to the White House.
Biden pledged at the last Democratic Primary debate in March to choose a woman for the role, and with the national spotlight on the #BlackLivesMatter movement since the murder of George Floyd in May there is pressure to choose a woman of colour. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said recently she would not be the pick and urged Biden to choose a woman of colour. In this article I intend to rank each of the candidates based on what they would bring to the Biden ticket and any future administration.
Most of the women on this list are women of colour, if Biden were to select any of them they would become the first woman of colour to be on a presidential ticket from either of the two main parties. Choosing any of the women on this list would be a momentous break from tradition. Their vice-presidential candidacy would be trailblazing, emblematic of an increasingly heterogeneous America.
8. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
On the surface, there are few reasons to assume that Senator Warren would even be under consideration by the Biden camp. She wouldn’t be injecting youth or diversity into the ticket, they differ massively in terms of their ideology and approach to governing and when it comes to the electoral college Warren has little to offer as her home state of Massachusetts is almost certainly in the bag for Biden. Yet, she remains a front-runner amongst Democratic voters and is reportedly under serious consideration by Biden’s team. It would appear that Biden may be prepared to roll the dice and rest upon the potential for a Biden-Warren ticket to unify the moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party. A New York Times / Siena College Poll found that 9 in 10 Democrats in 6 key battleground states think that race shouldn’t be a factor in Biden’s decision. The same poll found that Warren is the most recognisable of Biden’s shortlist, but a polarising figure. A Biden-Warren ticket would certainly be a gamble, perhaps Warren might be better suited to a cabinet position like Treasury Secretary.
7. Former Georgia Governor candidate Stacey Abrams
Abrams is a rising star in the Democratic Party. In 2019, she was chosen to lead the party’s response to President Trump’s State of the Union Address, her work to improve voting rights for black Americans has boosted the issue to the forefront of Democrats minds as the 2020 election approaches and she was even touted early on into Biden’s primary campaign as somebody he would consider. Her less than subtle public campaigning for her place on the ticket has undoubtedly helped to advance the prospect of the first woman of colour on either party’s presidential ticket, but may have hindered her own chances.
Though Abrams has limited political experience in comparison to many of the other women on this list, she is no stranger to the legislative process after serving 10 years in Georgia’s House of Representatives, and at the age of 46 would inject youth into Biden’s campaign. This would be an asset for Biden, should he wish to emulate the same dynamic partnership that helped him and Obama in 2008. However, Democrats worry that her limited experience mean that she wouldn’t be ready to assume the presidency on day one.
Abrams has come to represent the face of a demographic segment of the country that has been underrepresented in leadership positions in the Democratic Party. Although her name has faded into the background in comparison to some of the other women on this list, persistence is one of her strengths and Biden has his eye on her. Do not count her out yet.
6. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)
Amid Hillary Clinton’s crushing 2016 electoral college defeat, Democrats recoiled as their Midwest “Blue Wall” crumbled around them. Clinton was lambasted for choosing never even to campaign in Senator Baldwin’s home state of Wisconsin. If Biden wants to affirm his party’s commitment to rebuilding their Midwest support, he could do worse than to choose Wisconsin’s Senator Baldwin to help secure the crucial swing state.
Senator Baldwin, 58, of course has many other strengths that have consolidated her position on Biden’s shortlist. Her progressive credentials could excite many of those who voted for Biden’s primary opponent Bernie Sanders. She is an advocate for policies such as “Medicare-for-all” and was one of 113 representatives to vote against the war in Iraq. She has no shortage of legislative experience either, being in congress since 1999 she could be an asset in helping Biden get Congress working again. In a season where Pete Buttigieg, who is also openly gay, proved to be a powerful political force there could also be a hunger for LGBTQ+ representation on the ticket. However, Senator Baldwin has come under fire from Republicans for mismanaging an opioid crisis involving a Veterans’ Affair facility in her state.
In choosing Baldwin, Biden would be signalling a willingness to compromise with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. She has many strengths, but with a tightening battle for control of the Senate she could be an asset for Biden there.
5. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham
Biden’s campaign for President has been rocked by the devastating impact of the Coronavirus pandemic that at the time of writing has claimed the lives of over 125,000 Americans and left the US economy in a state of chaotic free fall. Governor Lujan Grisham would bring with her fresh experience of governing amid an unfolding pandemic. Governor Lujan Grisham, 60, has no shortage of political experience. She served in the US House of Representatives for 6 years before she was elected New Mexico’s Governor. Her legislative record may also excite many progressive Democrats suspicious of Biden’s moderate approach. She was one of 175 cosponsors on the 2015 “Raise the wage” bill, this was over a year before it became a high-profile issue.
In Congress she served as the chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, this could help Biden as he seeks to build bridges with Hispanic Americans who were consistently one of Biden’s weakest voting blocs in the primaries. In states where Biden is polling neck and neck with Trump like Texas and Nevada, this demographic has powerful sway.
Lujan Grisham is also no stranger to beating Republican incumbents, in 2018 she was comfortably elected after Republicans held the office for two terms. The Governor has the makings of a powerful running mate and there is no doubt that as Biden’s shortlist narrows, he will find her difficult to dismiss.
4. Former US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice
Ms. Rice is not the most conventional prospective vice-presidential candidate — She has never been elected to public office and she is relatively unknown to most Americans. However, she has led an incredible career in the political sphere rooted in the footsteps of her trailblazing father who was the second black governor of the Federal Reserve. Rice began her government career in the Clinton administration. First on the National Security Council from 1993 to 1997 then as Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs from 1997 to 2001. Later, she was nominated to be the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations by President Obama and became National Security Adviser in 2013. If Biden was to choose Ms. Rice for the role, it would suggest he is serious about making international relations a core focus for his administration after America’s position as an global leader has crumbled under the Trump Administration.
However, Rice became a lightning rod for criticism from Republicans during the Obama administration. She was central to controversy surrounding the 2012 attack on US diplomats in Benghazi, after appearing in US media immediately after the tragedy giving talking points from a CIA memo that was later proved to be formed from a false hypothesis.
Ms. Rice would be a comfortable choice for Biden, who already has a strong working relationship with her from the Obama administration. However, would she be up for the task of campaigning? Would Democrats lend Biden the kind of blank cheque that endorses him selecting a running mate with no experience in public office?
3. Representative Karen Bass (D-Calif.)
Congresswoman Bass has served five terms in the US House of Representatives and has become the chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. She has been a prominent voice in the congressional debate about the future of policing. She has an impressive personal biography rich in experience but also one that meets the moment the US faces. Her commitment to police reforms can be traced back throughout her life. Before entering elected office, she worked as an emergency room physician assistant and was a community organiser during the crack cocaine epidemic and LA riots of the ’90s. Like Biden, she has experienced great personal tragedy, her daughter and son in law were killed in a car crash in 2008.
Her commitment to bipartisanship closely aligns her with the governing style of Biden and was highlighted by the Profile in Courage aware she received in 2009 following her work with Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a member of the California State Assembly to close California’s $42 billion budget deficit.
Rep. Bass’ limited national profile means she has not experienced the intense public scrutiny other candidates have, and only recently Democrats have recoiled at comments she has made about Fidel Castro and how they might hinder Biden’s chances in the swing state of Florida twice won by Obama and once won by Trump. Although a newcomer to Biden’s shortlist, Bass has an impressive record and approach to politics simpatico with the nominee. It isn’t unlikely that she could emerge as Biden’s final choice.
2. Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)
Senator Harris is widely considered the front-runner in the “veepstakes”. After mounting an impressive campaign for the Democratic nomination herself, she has consolidated her place as a leader of the party. She has a career that includes multiple state-wide election wins in California and has served not just in the Senate but also as California’s attorney general and San Francisco’s district attorney. Harris has many strengths and would not only inject vigour and unmatched experience into the ticket, but also money. Harris recently raised $2 million for Biden at a virtual fundraiser.
She has won praise from Democrats for her prosecutorial manner that has been highlighted in her work on the Senate Judiciary Committee, particularly during the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. She has also been an outspoken advocate for police reform and anti-lynching legislation. However, some in the media seem to be underestimating the impact of a bust-up that occurred during the first primary debate in 2019. Harris suggested Biden’s past views towards desegregating schools through mandatory busing was hurtful and lamented the work he did in Congress with white nationalist Senators. This issue forms the foundation of a series of criticisms that has Democrats worried at the prospect of a Biden-Harris ticket.
Harris’ own record as district attorney for San Francisco and attorney general of California has come under renewed heat considering the #BlackLivesMatter movement. In choosing her Biden risks exacerbating one of his key liabilities as a candidate: criticism that he reinforced racist failings in the criminal justice system. Senator Harris has it all: fundraising skills, experience, youth, a quick on her feet approach and she is an all-star Democrat in her own right. Biden must weigh this up against the risk he might alienate a key demographic segment of the “Obama coalition” in young black voters.
1. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.)
Senator Duckworth has lived an extraordinary and inspirational life, defined by her service to the U.S. both in the military and in public office. Her biography is a microcosm of the American dream. Hailing from the state of Hawaii she is no product of privilege. She has said that sometimes circumstances were so difficult that she would sell flowers on the roadside. Her career has led her to the Senate where in 2018 she became the first Senator to give birth whilst in office. Her values, skills and experience stand in stark contrast to those of the President she nicknames “Cadet Bone Spurs”.
In choosing Duckworth, Biden would find many strengths that would be sure to advance his congressional agenda. An experienced legislator, the Centre for Effective Lawmaking ranked her as a Senator that “exceeded expectations”. Her championing of veterans’ rights throughout her career - serving as the leader of the Illinois Veteran’s Affairs Department until 2011 - led President Trump to sign Duckworth’s 2019 Veterans’ Small Business Enhancement Act. Though she has progressive credentials, she is somebody that Biden will find simpatico with his bipartisan governing style.
At the age of 52 Duckworth is comparatively young but has the experience to become Commander-in-chief from day one. If Biden believes that his campaign is a fight for the soul of America, Senator Duckworth should be at the top of his shortlist.