Dems debate Clinton VP pick

Dems debate Clinton VP pick
© Greg Nash

Democrats are debating their party’s vice presidential candidate — months before the Feb. 1 Iowa caucuses. 

Former Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonTrump: Portland attacks ‘unacceptable’ Juan Williams: Trump's budget hurts his voters Is it still possible to stop ‘Big Tech’ from killing democracy? MORE is still vying for her party’s nomination against Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFunding confusion complicates Meals on Wheels budget fight The Hill's 12:30 Report Five takeaways from the Montana special election MORE (I-Vt.) and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, but her supporters on Capitol Hill are already weighing who should join the overwhelming Democratic favorite on the ticket. 

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Lawmakers are seeking a pick who will offer a balance when it comes to age, race, gender and regional considerations.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro is a favorite. His backers think the 41-year-old would give the Democratic ticket a youthful face and help the party with Hispanics. But he’s hardly alone, and other Democrats floated possibilities that include Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSenate panel approves Scott Brown as NZ ambassador Senate confirms Trump's first lower-court nominee The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (D-Mass.), Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom VilsackThomas J. VilsackUSDA: Farm-to-school programs help schools serve healthier meals OVERNIGHT MONEY: House poised to pass debt-ceiling bill MORE and even the current vice president, Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden blasts Dems for ignoring working-class concerns The Hill's 12:30 Report Cornell unveils Biden ice cream MORE.

The wide-ranging opinions highlight the importance to Democrats of making the right choice in a presidential race where they’re trying to maximize turnout in order to keep the White House, win back the Senate and take a big bite out of the Republicans’ historic majority in the House.

Clinton, 68, is a household name vying to become the nation’s first female president. To add some symmetry to a ticket topped by the former first lady, the short list of potential running mates, in many Democrats’ eyes, features fresher faces with a nonwhite ethnic background.

Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, is often first to be mentioned. 

“It would be a balanced and diverse ticket, and it would be two firsts: a female as president and a Latino as vice president. I think it’s a better reflection of America than what the other side can offer,” said Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), a Clinton supporter. “[Castro] has his ear to the ground as far as taking care of the constituencies that are traditional Democratic Party constituencies.”

Among those constituencies are Hispanics, an ever-growing election-year force that could play a deciding factor in swing states such as Florida, Colorado, Nevada and Virginia. President Obama won roughly 70 percent of the Hispanic vote in both 2008 and 2012, and the Democrats are hoping to keep that advantage in 2016. 

Many see Castro as helping the cause, particularly if they’re facing off against Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), the 44-year-old Cuban-American increasingly viewed as the GOP’s establishment front-runner in the presidential contest. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), another Cuban-American, has also seen increasing support on the presidential trail, and Ben Carson, an African-American retired neurosurgeon, is leading the GOP pack in several national polls.

“We’re going to need some type of attraction to duplicate the numbers that Obama had as far as getting minority voters to the polls,” Clay said.

Some see an African-American fitting that bill. Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) floated several possibilities, including former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, 59; Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), the 46-year-old former Newark mayor; and California Attorney General Kamala Harris, 51, who’s currently running to replace outgoing Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

But Hastings also noted the importance of regional factors as the Democrats hope to secure battleground states. He suggested Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who chaired Clinton’s 2008 campaign, might be in the mix. 

“They’ve got to win Virginia,” said Hastings, who backs Clinton for the Democratic nomination.

Hastings also suggested that Biden, who recently declined a presidential run after months of consideration, might want to remain in his current spot — something that’s never happened but is technically allowed under the Constitution.

“Stranger things have happened,” Hastings said.

Some Democrats have lamented that Clinton’s wide primary advantage has diminished the search for another woman on the ticket. 

“Unfortunately, with people making the presumption that it’s Hillary, there’s not a lot of names that get thrown out [promoting] a two-woman ticket,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), one of just two Capitol Hill lawmakers to endorse Sanders, who is Clinton’s closest rival. “I don’t know what’s wrong with it, but you don’t hear any names.”

But others see plenty of room for two women on the ballot.

“You could have Elizabeth Warren and Hillary Clinton and you’d have genuine enthusiasm among Democrats,” Hastings said.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.), a Clinton backer, offered another set of criteria he hopes will guide the search. Pascrell said the Democrats should be eyeing a more moderate figure — perhaps even a Republican — who can build bridges in regions where support for the Democrats has eroded. And in an environment when anti-establishment candidates such as Carson and Donald Trump have been wildly successful, Pascrell said someone new to politics would do just fine.

“I’m looking at somebody from either the South or the Midwest that has a good, strong military background and need not have run for office before,” Pascrell said.

He floated several names that fit the mold, including former Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), who recently dropped out of the presidential contest; former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Republican; and Vilsack (D), the former Iowa governor who now heads the USDA.

“[Vilsack] is somebody we should look at,” Pascrell said. “He understands the ins and outs of government and has a good perspective on foreign policy.”

Not all Democrats agree that the party needs to seek the perfect counterbalance to its presidential nominee. Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), who heads the Democrats’ messaging arm, said ideas, not demographics, will win the day. 

“I’ve spent 10 months now looking at every single poll and more focus groups than I can count. And you know what? It’s not about age, and it’s not about demography. It’s about the economy. It’s about people’s paychecks,” said Israel, a supporter of Clinton. “So the choice should be someone who has new ideas to help boost wages and clean up the system. And it really doesn’t matter where that person is from or what that person looks like. It’s: Do you have a plan to strengthen the middle class? That’s it.” 

There’s also a lingering sense that the vice-presidential pick, while an important messenger, will have little effect on a contest dominated by the much more prominent contender at the top of the ticket. 

“Any of it would provide a certain segment of balance,” Hastings said of the various factors underlying the looming decision. “But I haven’t personally seen any evidence that a vice-presidential candidate on either side has been demonstrably important in voter turnout.”