DALLAS (Tribune News Service) — A presidential nominee’s choice of a running mate often tells a lot about his approach to both the general election campaign and his prospective administration.
And even before announcing last month he’ll pick a woman for the second spot on the 2020 Democratic ticket, Joe Biden was very open about some of his considerations, and even some potential choices.
Noting that Barack Obama picked him to offset his own lack of foreign policy and Washington experience, Biden told a recent fundraiser the former president advised him to follow suit by picking someone with experience in areas where he was lacking.
“And so, I’m going to need a woman vice president who has the capacity, has strengths where I have weaknesses,” Biden said. Former President George W. Bush did that in 2000 by picking Dick Cheney, who had the Washington experience the then Texas governor lacked.
Earlier, Biden said he wanted someone who was “simpatico” with his major priorities and philosophy and who would be prepared to step into the presidency immediately. That suggests he likely won’t seek ideological balance by picking someone from the party’s progressive wing.
Given those clues, it’s hardly surprising there is substantial agreement on the prime prospects. Recent rating sheets by both the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake and CNN’s Chris Cillizza named the same three top candidates, though in slightly different order.
They are California Sen. Kamala Harris, who topped both lists; Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar; and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Both also mentioned Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, as well as some lesser known possibilities. Though nominees do sometimes make surprising choices, that seems unlikely this year.
Several factors reduce Warren’s chances. She is more liberal than Biden, and her age (70) makes her an unlikely match for the 77-year-old Biden. She comes from a safely Democratic state, and the fact that it has a Republican governor means that, if elected, she’d be replaced by a GOP appointee, reducing Democratic prospects to regain a Senate majority.
The other two senators come from states with Democratic governors. Harris, 55, and Klobuchar, 60 next month, are both substantially younger than Biden and were thoroughly vetted during their unsuccessful presidential bids.
Each brings different assets. While California is a safely Democratic state, Harris is the daughter of a Jamaican-born father and an Indian-born mother, providing racial diversity for a party that needs a big minority turnout to win. She was a prosecutor and California’s attorney general before her election to the Senate. (Two other more junior senators would provide different diversity: Sens. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, 52, an Asian American war veteran who lost both legs in Iraq, and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, 56, who would bolster Biden’s primary weakness with Hispanics.)
Klobuchar, unlike Harris, comes from a crucial battleground region, the upper Midwest, where Biden needs to regain states Trump captured in 2016. A prosecutor before her election to the Senate, she seems more “simpatico” personally with Biden, though Harris was a close friend of the former vice president’s late son, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden.
Whitmer would provide a different dimension. Even before the current crisis, the 48-year-old Michigan governor was sufficiently highly regarded in Democratic circles that party leaders chose her to make the response to Trump’s State of the Union address in February. But she probably would not be on the short list without the way her management of Michigan’s response to the coronavirus pandemic elevated her prominence.
Still, she has assets beyond being a strong spokesperson on the issue likely to dominate the campaign. Though only in her first gubernatorial term, she is an experienced politician who was Democratic leader in the Senate of a state that is crucial to the Party’s November hopes.
Even some Republicans say she shares Biden’s proclivity for seeking good working relations across the aisle.
“She resembles an older style of politics. She wants to get things done without tearing people apart,” Michigan’s Republican House speaker Lee Chatfield told Politico. “She’s the only Democrat I’ve seen placate the business lobby and the environmentalists.
“Mark my words,” the GOP lawmaker added. “It would be a missed opportunity for the Democratic Party not to consider Gretchen Whitmer for the ticket.” This week, however, Chatfield criticized some of her more stringent responses to the pandemic.
While less experienced than Harris or Klobuchar, Whitmer’s experience running a large state would fit the Obama-Biden prescription of picking someone whose assets offset the presidential nominee’s weaknesses. Her state-level service certainly complements his long Washington experience.
The former vice president will have to decide if her obvious smarts and political skills would offset her national inexperience and especially how she would perform in the campaign’s highest profile running mate event, the vice presidential debate.
Because of his age, many believe Biden, if elected, would only serve one presidential term. That puts an even greater burden on his choice, since he’ll be picking someone who would not only be next in line to his presidency but a potential heir apparent to lead the Democratic Party in 2024.
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency. © 2020 Dallas Morning News.