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Why Joe Biden Should Pick Kamala Harris for Veep

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020

bidenharrisThirteen Tuesdays before Election Day (that’s 91 days until Nov. 3, for those keeping score at home) the most intriguing political question of the week is who will become Joe Biden’s Joe Biden.

The Veep Speculation Sweepstakes is in high gear, with the former Vice President and presumptive Democratic challenger to Donald Trump having signaled he will announce his selection of a running mate soon. So Newsmakers reached out to ace California political analyst Phil Trounstine, our partner at Calbuzz, to join in a workout of heavy duty punditry.

Biden pledged in his last primary debate with Bernie Sanders that he would select a women for vice-president and, since the police killing of George Floyd ignited the Black Lives Matter protests, he has come under increasing political pressure to choose a Black woman, who also would represent the most loyal cohort among Democratic voters
We’ve been out of the prediction racket since the early days of the President Hillary Clinton Administration, so rather than forecasting who Biden will choose, we kicked around the question of who he should choose, based on a series of oft-used criteria of choice for a running mate who can aid in victory, variously, by:
  • Helping win a state or a region (as elite Easterner John F. Kennedy chose the Texan Lyndon Johnson in 1960).
  • Healing an ideological rift in the party from the nominating campaign (as when conservative Ronald Reagan selected the more moderate George H.W. Bush in 1980).
  • Juicing turnout among a particular demographic (viz. Walter Mondale’s bold, if wildly unsuccessful, pick of Rep. Geraldine Ferraro in 1984).
  • Buttressing a weakness in the presidential nominee (Biden bolstered Barack Obama in 2008 with both Washington experience and foreign policy chops).
  • Doubling down on a strength (with Al Gore on the ticket, Bill Clinton in 1992 sent a clear message that the Democratic Party was moving towards the center and away from traditional liberalism).
  • Doing no harm (the most important qualification of all, famously ignored when Bush I inexplicably opted for Dan Quayle in 1988 and John McCain even more improbably decided on Sarah Palin in 2008).

Based on those touchstones — and the more ineffable standard of being prepared to take over as president in an emergency — the Calbuzzards ended with this ranking of the nine women most widely reported to be on Biden’s list:

Kamala Harris. The California Senator notoriously tried to rip Biden’s face off on the issue of school segregation during a primary debate, and some among the nominee’s inner circle fear she’d be more focused on advancing her own 2024 ambitions than pitching in as a team player. But Harris’s substantive if brief presidential bid makes her one of the few among the veep field who’s been scrutinized seriously by the national media, a process that showed her record as a professional prosecutor can play as both a strength and a weakness, depending on the ideology of the voter looking at her.

Close readers of Calbuzz will note that in recommending Harris as Biden’s No. 1 pick, we are cutting directly against our longtime critique of Harris as a politician with positions, not convictions, a successful climber who has almost always done only what is best for herself at virtually every turn. We don’t retract any of that. But it’s  also our view that from the standpoint of electing Biden, Harris is the most useful pick. And with the right seasoning — acting as No. 2, taking direction from the president and handling tasks given her — Harris could develop into someone who is a believable president. She’s the right age, demographic and gender; she has a national following and reputation; she’s experienced and deft on the campaign trail, and she just might help boost the Black vote in Milwaukee, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

Karen Bass. The Los Angeles congresswoman, the first African-American woman to serve as Speaker of the California Assembly, who now heads the Congressional Black Caucus, emerged as a surprise contender in recent weeks, buoyed in large part by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other allies in the House. Bass is a model inside legislator and bridge-builder, but she came up as a lefty community activist in the Rodney King era and her days as a fanboy of Fidel Castro could prove dicey in Florida, where Biden could snuff Trump’s re-election hopes, and the headline of an introductory interview on network TV this week – “I am not a communist” – won’t likely help her chances.

Keisha Lance Bottoms. The mayor of Atlanta has won high marks nationally, not only for her leadership during the Covid-19 pandemic, including her widely-publicized clash with Georgia Governor and Trump acolyte Brian Kemp over the issue of requiring face masks in public, but also during the protests that erupted in her city after the death of George Floyd. She endorsed Biden early, but going from serving two-and-a-half years as a mayor to one heartbeat from the presidency is a stretch, particularly for someone who’s never been examined on the national political stage.

4-Susan Rice. The former UN Ambassador and National Security Advisor under President Obama has more foreign policy credentials than all the other candidates combined and if Biden was looking for a governing choice exclusive of politics, Rice would top the list. But she’s a longtime inside player in Washington who has zero experience in exercising the very different skill set of a candidate, not to mention that, along with Hillary Clinton, she was the public face of the Administration amid the fallout from the terrorist attack that killed the U.S. Ambassador and three other Americans in Benghazi, Libya in 2012, a debacle that Republicans and Trump would love to re-litigate in the last three months of the campaign in an effort to change the subject from the pandemic, the protests and soaring unemployment rolls.

5-Val Demings. A House member from Florida, Demings has an inspiring personal story of working herself up from poverty to a distinguished career in law enforcement, including service as the first woman to become chief of the Orlando Police Department. She served as one of the Democrats’ managers of the Senate impeachment trial of Trump, but like Harris, her long record as a cop not only might help Biden with moderate and conservative voters but also could turn off younger and more progressive parts of the Democratic party, not least because of a record of excessive force allegations in the Orlando department, and a lack of transparency about them, some of which occurred during her tenure as chief.

Gretchen Whitmer. The governor of Michigan was widely touted in the media as a possible running mate in the early days after Biden clinched the nomination, but has faded as the Black Lives Matter protests seem to have made it more likely he will choose a woman of color. Although her leadership during the pandemic earned generally high ratings from state voters, she also has been the focus of angry protests against her stay-at-home orders, and her lack of testing in national politics might represent too high a risk for a politician from a state Biden absolutely can’t lose in his bid for 270 electoral votes.

Michelle Lujan Grisham. The governor of New Mexico, Grisham is a former member of Congress who, amid the Democrats’ 2018 “blue wave” election, became the first Latina of her party in history to be elected a state’s chief executive. A strong advocate of abortion rights, climate change action and gun control, Grisham potentially could help boost Latino voter turnout in Arizona and other key states, but Biden would likely face considerable disappointment from Black voters if he passed over Harris, Bass, Bottoms, Rice and Demings to choose her.

8-Tammy Duckworth. The Illinois Senator lost both her legs in combat as an Army helicopter pilot during the Iraq war and her extraordinary personal story also includes being the first woman with a disability elected to Congress and the first U.S. Senator to give birth in office. Daughter of an American father and a Thai mother, she was born in Thailand, and Republicans could be expected to try to raise “birther” arguments against her candidacy, which could prove a distraction to the Biden campaign.

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Elizabeth Warren. The Massachusetts Senator ran a spirited Democratic primary race against Biden, but her progressive platform on issues from taxes to health care and climate change make her popular with the party’s left-wing, so she could help turnout among those who backed her or Senator Bernie Sanders. Biden has adapted some of her stances since the primary, but despite polling that shows her pick would be popular, she’s a long shot, not least because she is close in age to the 77-year old Biden, throwing light on one of his big weaknesses.

JR

Watch the Calbuzz conversation by clicking below and…the podcast version is here.

Images: Karen Bass and Kamala Harris have (oneblog.com); Harris (NBC News); Bass (ballotpedia); Bottoms (Atlanta Magazine); Rice (Wikipedia); Demings (Wikiepedia); Whitmer (michigan.gov); Grisham (twitter); Duckworth (Wikipedia); Warren (Twitter).

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