this post written by Natalie and Himani!
During the final debate of the primary season, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden made a firm promise: “I commit that I’ll pick a woman to be Vice President.” And with the race for the nomination effectively (though not actually… ahem, New York) over, attention has shifted towards whom Biden might select as his running mate. The stakes are high with this Veep pick, as Biden has suggested that he’ll only serve one term as president.
Biden’s already named the leaders of his vetting committees — including Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Apple Exec (and former Biden counsel) Cynthia Hogan and, regrettably, former Sen. Chris Dodd — with plans to announce the nominee in July.
So, in this week’s Extra! Extra!, we take a break from our usual fare and offer some commentary on some of the names you’re most likely to hear, as we make our way through the vetting process.
Stacey Abrams, Former Democratic Nominee for Governor from Georgia
Natalie: It’s been interesting to watch people react to Stacey Abrams’ openly campaigning for the vice presidency. We’re so used to this process being secretive that folks bristle at someone rebelling against that convention. The truth is Abrams doesn’t have access to the conventional pathways to power — she’s not someone who served with Biden or who has an advocate close to the former vice president — so this is the path she’s chosen. Frankly, I find it refreshing and inspiring to see a black woman willing to claim what she wants.
But, with respect to the actual selection: I think Abrams is probably the best candidate in the field while also being the riskiest choice. She’s probably the most effective communicator in the field and her political acumen is unmatched. Moreover, I think she’d be the best governing partner for Biden…she’s more of an idealist than Biden, yes, but her tenure in the Georgia legislature shows the pragmatic “get shit done” type of leader she is…exactly the type of leader Biden believes himself to be.
Himani: So my rough understanding of parliamentary systems is that technically constituents are voting for the party for parliamentary seats and then the winning party picks their leader for Prime Minister, although more often than not (and I think increasingly?) the person slated to be PM is established throughout the campaign. (Brits, Canadians, and others who live in Parliamentary systems – please correct in the comments if I’ve gotten any of this wrong.) Americans, who are relatively more skeptical of government, like having the control that voting directly for their national leader provides. But it’s always struck me as more than a little incongruous that the VP selection is, as Natalie says, usually a secretive process.
Like Natalie, I find Abrams’ approach refreshing for calling out the bull shit of the process for what it is. I’ve liked Abrams ever since I learned of her in 2018, and I was devastated when the gubernatorial election was, literally, stolen from her. But, she’s proven herself to be a capable leader in other ways, as she says, through her national organizations trying to fight voter suppression and ensure everyone is counted in the census (yeah, that’s still happening…).
Tammy Baldwin, Senator from Wisconsin
Natalie: I’m not sure how anyone justifies having Amy Klobuchar on the short list but not Tammy Baldwin. She brings the same Midwestern values to the table as AK but she’s from a swing state. Plus, the possibility that Joe Biden could nominate the first openly LGBT person to the vice presidency would be monumental.
Himani: Honestly, I didn’t know much about Tammy Baldwin before reading this article and before getting too far into it, this sentence in the second paragraph caught my eye (and my ire): “He needs a qualified candidate who can help him win a key swing state such as Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania or Wisconsin.” I am so, SO tired of presidential political analysis that takes this lens of focusing on swing states, as if the rest of us not living in swing states are just chopped liver whose votes do not matter. Yes, I know this is how the electoral college works, but it’s frustrating as all hell and seriously calls into question whether the charade we do here in America is actually “democracy” (of course, rampant voter suppression is what calls the American political system into question even more).
Combined, those four states make up 15% of the US population. 15%! 15% of the population that basically decides who the fuck is going to be president for four years? And those four states, mind you, are disproportionately non-Hispanic white – to the tune of 7 full percentage points! (60% of the US population is what the census deems “non-Hispanic” white – their term, not mine – whereas 67% of the population in those four states, combined, is non-Hispanic white.) As if the nonsense that passes for “representation” in the Senate weren’t bad enough.
Speaking of the Senate, I think Democrats need to stop compromising every other political office for the presidency. Mitch McConnell has sufficiently proven again and again that the Senate wields an incredible amount of power and even in the minority position he effectively gutted the Affordable Care Act. Losing Baldwin’s seat in Wisconsin is not a minor consideration, in my opinion.
Catherine Cortez Masto, Senator from Nevada
Natalie: Former Majority Leader, Harry Reid, is someone whose opinion carries a lot of weight with Biden, after having served in the Senate together for 25 years, and, given that, it’s hard to imagine that his recommendation of Catherine Cortez Masto won’t carry some weight. Early poll numbers show that having Cortez Masto on the ticket would help Biden substantially with Latinx voters — an area in which he struggles currently — giving him the boost he needs to win in Nevada, Florida and, possibly, Texas. Her 2016 win, I think, is a testament to her ability to bring new voters to the table…as she outperformed most polling to pull out a narrow win.
As with Harris, I worry about what a deep dive into Cortez Masto’s time as Attorney General might reveal (and how that might impact turnout) and, of course, she’d have a tougher road than some others in the field in building a national profile.
Himani: Listen, if we are going to obsess over swing states, then at least do it in the way these two articles about Catherine Cortez Masto do, which looks beyond just the white voters to see who the key voting blocs are that have carried the Democratic party in the past. Both articles make an excellent point about the lack of Latinx representation at the national level and, considering the Latinx community is the country’s fastest growing population, it’s time to change that.
Val Demings, Congresswoman from Florida
Natalie: It’s hard for me not to root for Demings, simply because I know that it would drive the president absolutely mad. Giving the vice presidential slot to the black woman who helped shepherd his impeachment through the Senate? He’d be apoplectic. Demings acquitted herself well in those hearings; her forceful assertion that no one was above the law bought back memories of Barbara Jordan.
She’s never won statewide in Florida before so, obviously, that’s a concern, as is
her legacy as the former police chief in Orlando.
Kamala Harris, Senator from California
Natalie: Can I be honest? It’s hard for me to find a reason for Biden not to pick Kamala Harris. That’s not to say I think she’s the best candidate in the field; instead I just think, for this moment, she offers the most reward and the least amount of risk. I don’t take her early withdrawal from the primary as a sign of her potential weakness as a running mate… in a regular election, she’s a top tier competitor, but we just happen to be living in the Upside Down.
Harris takes a lot of abuse from progressives, some warranted, some not… but here’s the reality: of the candidates on this list, she’s behind only Elizabeth Warren when it comes to espousing a progressive agenda. The same critiques made about Harris’ AG tenure could, likely, be made for Catherine Cortez Masto, Val Demings, Amy Klobuchar or Gretchen Whitmer… so why not go with the most demonstrably progressive of those choices?
Amy Klobuchar, Senator from Minnesota
Natalie: The upside to Amy Klobuchar is clear: she’s a thrice elected senator from the Midwest who could work to recapture the swing voters lost in 2016. She’d likely camp out in Wisconsin and Michigan for most of the general election. The downside to Klobuchar is equally obvious: it’s hard to fathom what part of the Democratic base would be excited by a Klobuchar candidacy.
Himani: I couldn’t agree with you more, Natalie, that it’s unclear who is excited by Klobuchar. She barely registered in the primary, even among the Midwestern states, and I know that there were a lot of factors there, with sexism being pretty substantial one, but I am afraid that her resounding loss will be an easy talking point for Republicans that will only serve to divide the Democratic party further apart and alienate progressives from the entire ticket.
Elizabeth Warren, Senator from Massachusetts
Natalie: I supported Elizabeth Warren in the primary and, with every new plan she releases to address the ongoing pandemic, I cry a little bit thinking about the kind of leadership we could’ve had. But, honestly, it never even occurred to me that she’d be a candidate for Biden’s vice president. They’d give her a spot on the short list out of courtesy, sure, but the idea that she’d ultimately be chosen? It seemed so unlikely that I didn’t even contemplate the possibility.
Would it be the best thing for the country? Absolutely. In addition to her progressive agenda, her ability to raise money from small donors is unmatched by anyone else in the field and Biden needs all the help he can get in that arena. But the idea that Biden, who’d be the oldest president in history, would pick someone who’d also be the oldest vice president in history? I just can’t fathom that happening.
Himani: I both do and don’t want Warren to be picked. She’s obviously the most competent person and any one of her plans would save hundreds of lives. But for her to be VP after everything that happened? It feels like the consolation prize you give to the woman everyone knows should’ve won, but no one wants to admit it because that admission means acknowledging that sexism is alive and well, after all. And, as the Vox article points out, Massachusetts currently has a Republican Governor who would select her temporary replacement until a special election is held.
Gretchen Whitmer, Governor of Michigan
Natalie: Strong handling of the coronavirus crisis has bolstered the political fortunes of governors across the country and Gretchen Whitmer is chief among them. And, because the thought of a strong woman doing her job effectively is perpetually bothersome to this president, Whitmer’s been a target of Trump’s ire, raising her profile alongside her poll numbers.
Though she first showed up on my radar in 2013 when she revealed the story of her own sexual assault on the floor of the Michigan Senate, I think she’s still too fresh to be thrust into the national spotlight this early (she was just elected governor in 2019). She’s a face to watch for in the future.
Himani: Whitmer is great, I’m not debating that. But, right now, in particular, I do worry that, as these articles point out, the outspoken minority protesting the social distancing measures she imposed to protect the state could make her a liability in Michigan and, possibly, other swing states. And now I’m being a hypocrite and doing the thing I said I hated about presidential politics.
- Tammy Duckworth, Senator from Illinois: Tammy Duckworth is Biden’s safest — and smartest — vice presidential pick
- Michelle Lujan Grisham, Governor of New Mexico: Lujan Grisham addresses VP speculation
- Janet Napolitano, Former Governor of Arizona: Why Not Janet?