Week of April 17, 2020

Biden Starts Vetting of Vice-Presidential Choices

With Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren suspending their campaigns and formally endorsing former Vice President Biden, the vetting and interview process for picking a vice presidential choice has begun. But what are Biden and his political advisors looking for?

Traditionally, vice presidential nominees are picked to balance the ticket, geographically, and in terms of experience.  That’s why the experienced Senator Biden was picked by freshman Senator Obama.  That’s why Northeastern Senator Kennedy picked Southerner Senator Johnson.  It’s also why political novice Trump picked then-Indiana Governor and former Congressman Pence for his running mate.

Biden doesn’t have to pick someone with a lot of experience, since he has been in politics for decades.  But he needs to look for someone who can help win some of the states Hillary Clinton lost in 2016.  He also should look for an ideological balance that can excite some of the more liberal/left-leaning members of the Democratic Party.

However, one of the most important factors (and one that usually isn’t a major factor in picking a running mate) is to pick someone who can readily step into the office of president.

Given Biden’s obvious mental decline and age (77 years old), it is quite likely that the Democratic vice-presidential choice could become president in the next 4 years.  And, if Biden makes it through the first term, he is unlikely to run for a second term, which means the Vice President could be the Democratic Party’s nominee in 2024.

Biden said in one of the Democratic primary debates that he would select a female vice-presidential candidate that would align with him on key principles and shore up his weaknesses – probably an allusion to his age.

Voters aren’t as concerned about the sex of the vice-presidential nominee with the exception of a majority of women.  According to a Politico/Morning Consult poll released this week, voters overwhelmingly preferred someone with governing experience over gender or race.  Only 29% said it was important for Biden to choose a woman and only 22% said it was important to pick a person of color.

41% said it was important that Biden pick someone more liberal then himself and 31% wanted someone religious.

However, many Biden advisors want him to pick a woman of color.

Keeping in mind that the person running for president impacts voters more than the vice president, here are some of the top contenders for VP nominee:

Senator Kamala Harris.  Harris is young (55 years old), a Black woman, someone with experience in Washington as a senator from California, and as California Attorney General.  It doesn’t hurt that she endorsed Biden when she dropped out of the presidential race.

She does have weaknesses.  Her record as California’s Attorney General was attacked by her Democratic opponents during the presidential primary debates.  Her office was involved in a crime lab scandal that resulted in more than 1,000 drug cases being dismissed.  She was also accused of blocking evidence that would have freed an innocent man from death row until she was forced to by the courts.  Investigative reporting by the Sacramento Bee verified the charges and Harris didn’t have a good response to either charge.

This type of heavy handedness by Harris while Attorney General will hurt her in the Black community. Black men represent a large part of America’s prison population.

On the positive side, Harris is a favorite of the Democratic leadership.

Senator Amy Klobuchar.  If Biden hopes to do better than Hillary Clinton, he needs to win the Midwest.  This is where Klobuchar comes in.  Although Minnesota is considered Democratic, it has shifted towards Trump in polls over the past few years.  Klobuchar could hold her state for Biden, while her Midwest roots could help retake Wisconsin and Michigan.

Klobuchar is also one of the favorites of the Democratic leadership.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer.  As governor of Michigan, Whitmer promises to help Biden retake Michigan – a state that helped Trump win the presidency.

However, Whitmer’s recent performance during the Coronavirus epidemic has been lackluster.  She first outlawed the prescribing of anti-malarial drugs for Coronavirus, even though preliminary tests show it to be somewhat effective.  Then she turned around and asked for the same drugs from President Trump.

Her heavy handedness during the epidemic has outraged some Michigan voters, who are circulating a petition to recall her.  The petition already has about a quarter of a million signatures.

She has banned the sale of vegetable seeds or plants.  Her strict stay-at-home orders have led to silly arrests by the police- including a $1,000 fine for a person found alone in a state forest.  Her authoritarian approach during the epidemic led this week to large protests at the state capitol that blocked traffic for miles.  Four Michigan sheriffs have announced they will not follow extreme executive orders.

The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board wrote, “Decrees like those from the Michigan Governor’s office and their capricious enforcement run the risk of encouraging mass civil disobedience.”

Speaking not only of Whitmer’s actions, former Secret Service Agent Dan Bongino said, “Civil disobedience is about to make a bold comeback.”

Although her tangles with Trump will warm the anti-Trump bloc, her recent actions will do little to win over people who voted for Trump in 2016.

Senator Elizabeth Warren.  Warren is the obvious choice if Biden wants to reach out to dissatisfied Sanders voters.  However, Warren frequently tangled with Biden during the debates and she was the last 2020 Democratic presidential candidate to endorse Biden.  She is also 70 years old, which negates the idea of bringing fresh, young blood to the ticket.

There are questions about her effectiveness as a campaigner despite her energy and good organization.  She lost the presidential primary in her home state of Massachusetts and did poorly across the nation although she was well financed.  She has also been caught in controversy that was exploited by Trump, including claiming she was partially Native American and that she was fired for being pregnant.

However, Warren has proved to be an effective fundraiser and fighter against corruption.  She is also one of the favorites of the Democratic leadership.

Senator Tammy Baldwin.  The senator from Wisconsin is the first openly gay senator, who withstood a strong effort by Republicans to unseat her in 2018.  This makes her a good choice to retake Wisconsin from Trump this year.

Although she isn’t as well-known as Warren, her liberal credentials put her in the same part of the ideological spectrum as Warren and Sanders.  This gives her some of the advantages of Warren, without any political baggage.

Stacey Abrams.  Abrams barely lost the race for governor in 2018, which would have made her the first Black woman to be a governor.

Abrams is popular with Black women, but her lack of experience and her refusal to admit defeat, while accusing the Republicans of voter fraud may make her more of a liability than an asset.

What is most likely to kill her chances to become the vice-presidential nominee is that she is actively seeking it – a negative in American politics.

Senator Catherine Cortez Masto.  Hispanics are the largest minority in America, and Cortez Masto may be the one to make a Hispanic person a nationally elected official.

One of Biden’s weaknesses during the primaries was with Hispanics, who went overwhelmingly for Sanders in Colorado, Nevada, and California.

One advantage that gives Cortez Masto the inside track for the nomination is that one of her supporters is former Senator Reid, who is close to Biden.  It’s quite likely that Reid will be pushing for her in the coming months.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham.  Grisham is the governor of New Mexico, a Democratic state.  However, as with Cortez Masto, she is a Hispanic and would help solidify a critical bloc of voters.

She has tangled with Trump over border enforcement.  She has pulled National Guard troops away from the border with Mexico and fought ranchers on the border who complained that the state wasn’t doing anything to close the border and protect their property. Some critics are asserting that border crime is higher in the New Mexico section the El Paso Border Patrol Sector than it is in the Texas section.

Although it is a given that Hispanics are for more flexibility on borders, polls show the average Hispanic voter wants more border security.  That and the large majority of voters who want America’s borders controlled, make Grisham a controversial choice for the vice-presidential nomination.

These are the women that are under consideration.  However, picking a woman isn’t a guarantee of election success.  Walter Mondale picked Geraldine Ferraro for his Vice-Presidential nominee and lost.  John McCain picked Sarah Palin for his vice-presidential nominee and lost.  And Hillary Clinton ran for president and lost to Trump. But time has changed and the mid-term election 2018 showed a wave of elected women to the congress.

Could there be a man that would make a better candidate?

The fact is that the current Democratic Party is so focused on gender and race that it can’t see that voters aren’t overly impressed by either factor.  They prefer experience.

This is one reason why New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is being considered as a vice presidential possibility, even though he has said he isn’t interested.

Cuomo has raised his profile with his daily news briefings on the Corona epidemic in New York.  He has tangled with Trump, but he has also thanked Trump for his help, which allows him to seem bipartisan.  All in all, he appears to be an effective executive although New York is America’s Coronavirus hotspot.

However, despite the positive news coverage, Cuomo has several problems.  First, New York State has the highest taxes in the nation and is losing people and businesses.  He is very anti-gun in a nation where the majority of voters’ support gun ownership.  And in past years, he has told conservatives that they aren’t welcome in his state.

While Cuomo has high visibility now, he is probably the most vulnerable of the other potential VP nominees.

So, who has the best chance to help Biden win?

According to some leaders in the democratic party and prior to Coronavirus crisis, the best choice probably is Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota.  She is more moderate and comes from the Midwest, which is a Republican stronghold.

Some polls show that among the women mentioned for the vice-presidential nomination, Klobuchar has a stronger image among white voters, independents, Republicans, moderates, conservatives, and those with a favorable view of Trump.  She also is more popular than Warren or Harris in the Midwest, Northeast, South and West.

Although the sentiment for a progressive woman of color is great amongst some in the Democratic Party, the reality of vice-presidential politics will probably come to the fore.  More than anything, the vice-presidential nominee must help the presidential candidate win the election by delivering electoral votes. Again, her supporters claims that   Klobuchar could erode Trump support more than politicians like Warren or Harris.

However, will Klobuchar help Biden that much?  Incumbents usually win reelection and Trump’s popularity numbers have gone up and down during the Coronavirus epidemic.  Klobuchar may be more popular than the other potential Democratic VP nominees, but in the end, nearly all voters will be choosing between Trump and Biden, not Klobuchar and Pence.

In the end, that is what counts.