WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) — Former Vice President Joe Biden’s shortlist of contenders to serve as his running mate has gotten a bit shorter with Sen. Amy Klobuchar withdrawing from consideration, and growing pressure to select an African American or Latina candidate could narrow his options further as he weighs what could be one of the most important decisions of his campaign.
The Minnesota senator publicly backed out of the race to be the presumptive Democratic nominee’s vice-presidential pick Thursday, telling MSNBC Biden selecting a woman of color instead would help “heal this nation right now.”
"This is a historic moment, and America must seize on this moment. And I truly believe as, I actually told the vice president last night when I called him, that I think this is a moment to put a woman of color on that ticket," Klobuchar told host Lawrence O’Donnell.
Klobuchar’s chances of joining Biden on the Democratic ticket had already dimmed considerably since the death of George Floyd in her home state triggered a national wave of protests over race and policing. She often struggled to appeal to black voters during the primaries and her record as a prosecutor raised concerns on the left about her stance on criminal justice issues.
According to The New York Times, Biden advisers have been actively vetting and interviewing about a dozen women as potential running mates with an eye toward announcing a selection by early August. Aside from Klobuchar, top contenders reportedly include:
The stakes for Biden’s decision are high. The 2016 election was decided by tens of thousands of votes in a handful of states, and a slight shift in turnout one way or the other in key demographics could greatly impact the outcome of the 2020 race.
“Biden’s choice must be ready to excel in an enduring way under the intense scrutiny of a national campaign in a way that helps his campaign succeed in the competitive states which will decide the election,” wrote Joel Goldstein, author of several books on the vice presidency, in an analysis for Sabato’s Crystal Ball, concluding there are simply too many variables to confidently predict Biden’s selection right now.
According to Gary Nordlinger, a political consultant and an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management, Biden’s top criteria for a running mate are likely the same as for most presidential nominees: someone who is qualified to be president and will not embarrass him on the campaign trail.
“If I was Joe Biden, I would not take a risk on an unproven candidate,” Nordlinger said. “Chemistry is also good. When Bill Clinton picked Al Gore in 2000, he reinforced the centrist, moderate image.”
Recent polls suggest Democratic voters increasingly agree with Klobuchar that the time has come for a woman of color on the ticket. A Politico/Morning Consult poll released last week found 46% of Democrats consider it important for Biden to pick a candidate of color, up from 36% two months ago.
The Politico poll indicated Warren and Harris had the highest net favorability ratings among Democratic voters, but both had slightly negative net favorability when the survey was expanded to include all voters. Many of the other contenders—including Abrams, Demings, and Bottoms—are still largely unknown and undefined on the national level.
A Monmouth University study of 2,000 people who voted in early Democratic primaries and caucuses released Thursday singled out Harris as the most popular choice in the wake of weeks of protests against racism across the country. About one-quarter of respondents named the black former prosecutor as their preferred pick, with Warren and Klobuchar far behind at 13% and 12%, respectively.
More than half of Democrats polled by Monmouth selected a woman of color as their top choice, though the sample was not necessarily representative of the whole party. Nearly 60% believed picking a candidate of color would increase Biden’s chances of victory.
“Selecting a woman of color is more about cementing core Democratic support Biden already has than it is about winning over remaining stragglers from the primaries. But what it means for Democrats who don’t vote in primaries as well as for independents is another question entirely,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth Poll.
While he sees an argument for selecting a progressive like Warren or a Latina like Grisham, Democratic strategist Brad Bannon expects the confluence of recent events will compel Biden to pick an African American woman.
“The surge in support for Black Lives Matter, the tragic death of George Floyd and the president’s race-baiting opened festering racial wounds in American society and ramped up the pressure on Joe Biden to select an African American running mate,” Bannon said.
All of these factors have left Harris atop many pundits’ and oddsmakers’ lists of most likely nominees. Her own presidential campaign faltered, but she proved to be a formidable debater and a strident critic of President Trump.
Though Biden and Harris clashed over his record on race and segregation early in the primaries, their relationship has since greatly improved. Harris emphasized her eagerness to serve as vice president if asked during an appearance on “The Late Show” Wednesday, declaring this year’s election “the most important election of our lifetime” and vowing to do everything in her power to help Biden win.
“Justice is on the ballot in 2020, and saying goodbye to Donald Trump and, you know, go back to Trump Tower has to be imperative of all of us,” Harris told host Stephen Colbert.
As a former prosecutor with a tough-on-crime reputation, though, Harris carries some of the same drawbacks as Klobuchar in the current climate. Demings’ record overseeing a police department that used force against black suspects far more than other agencies presents similar complications.
“Of the women of color being mentioned as in consideration, Harris is the only one who is well known and has national campaign experience,” Nordlinger said. “Her downside is being a former Attorney General of California, which may yield potentially offensive actions in the wake of George Floyd's killing... I remember hearing an African American lady in South Carolina dismiss Harris as ‘She's the police.’”
Harris could also suffer from being seen as too obvious of a choice at this point. When Biden announces his running mate this summer, his campaign will be looking for a sustained burst of energy and media attention, and a predictable pick might not accomplish that.
“Choosing a vice presidential nominee is a chance for the campaign to generate some excitement, especially in the times of a pandemic when physical campaigning is largely impossible,” said Dan Franklin, professor emeritus of political science at Georgia State University and author of “Pitiful Giants: Presidents in their Final Term.” “Therefore, I wouldn't be totally surprised if Biden throws us a curve and selects someone outside the mainstream, like Tammy Duckworth.”
Protests over racial injustice have called new attention to Biden’s potential weaknesses among black voters, a vital demographic for Democrats in November. His record on criminal justice issues is controversial, he has made some comments that angered African Americans, and progressive groups have warned his policing reform agenda does not go nearly far enough to satisfy those seeking transformative change.
Still, even before selecting a running mate, Biden’s advantage over President Trump among voters of color appears to be widening. A Morning Consult poll released this week showed Biden leading Trump among all voters by 9 points, making significant gains with younger black and Hispanic voters, black and Hispanic liberals, and black and Hispanic men since early April.
A Fox News survey conducted June 13 to 16 found Biden ahead of Trump among black registered voters by 79 points, with nearly 80% of black voters saying Biden respects racial minorities and 86% saying Trump does not. About 90% of black voters and 77% of Hispanic voters disapprove of the president’s handling of race relations, and concerns about racism and the threat it poses to the stability of the country are rapidly rising.
Bannon noted the Democratic ticket of Secretary Hillary Clinton and Sen. Tim Kaine failed to motivate black voters in sufficient numbers in 2016, and Biden will not want to repeat that mistake. Entrusting an African American woman to become second-in-line to the presidency could help overcome some lingering doubts about his record.
“It is safe to assume African Americans will support the presumptive Democratic nominee in November. But it is uncertain whether they will turn out in large enough numbers to help Biden win,” Bannon said.
Klobuchar’s announcement places Sen. Warren in an awkward position as the highest-profile white woman left on Biden’s shortlist. She appears to still be actively vying for the nomination, joining Biden for his most lucrative fundraiser to date last week.
Warren remains very popular with Democratic voters, and she is increasingly taking on a leadership role in the progressive wing of the party where there is much skepticism of Biden. More than 100 Warren supporters sent a letter to Biden last Friday making the case for considering her as a partner to help address the various crises facing the country, including racial injustice.
“Anyone can speculate about who could most help your ticket politically in swing mid-western states or with people of color, both areas where you're already strong. Another big variable is who could persuade millions of disappointed Sanders supporters to vote for your ticket,” the letter stated, citing a poll that found Warren was the option most likely to appeal to Sanders backers.
That may be true, but Warren would bring her own liabilities to the team, as well. Beyond the political baggage of her claim to Native American ancestry, she is strongly disliked by Republicans and a GOP governor could select her replacement if she leaves her Senate seat—though the mechanics of that process are a bit complicated. She is also nearly as old as Biden at 70 years old.
“If we consider the weaknesses of the Biden candidacy, the most obvious one is his age,” Franklin said. “Consequently, I don't think Elizabeth Warren is the answer.”
Vice presidential selections are rarely seen as a deciding factor for voters, but the choice is still an important one—possibly even more than usual this year. Biden would enter office as the oldest first-term president in history at 78 and Trump allies often attack his mental fitness, so voters might be more inclined to consider his running mate’s capability to step in and lead the nation. That calculus did not work out well for the last septuagenarian presidential nominee facing health questions.
“A candidate who does not appear ready to be president will hurt Biden’s brand just as the selection of [Sarah] Palin [in 2008] compromised the credibility of John McCain’s themes of putting America first and emphasizing experience,” Goldstein wrote.
For an example that was more successful, Franklin pointed to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s selection of Harry Truman to replace Vice President Henry Wallace on the ticket in 1944 amid expectations he would not survive his fourth term in office. He stressed Biden’s health is not nearly as grave a concern as FDR’s was, but given the former vice president’s age, it must be a factor near the front of Democrats’ minds.
“This is the most important VP choice since Roosevelt chose Truman,” Franklin said.