Harris seen as Biden VP favorite as clock ticks
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) is seen as the favorite as Joe Biden nears a decision on his vice presidential pick.
Harris would be the first Black woman and Indian American woman to be nominated on a major party’s presidential ticket, and she battled with Biden memorably on the debate stage more than a year ago.
Harris wouldn’t put a new state in play. She represents California, the largest electoral prize on the map but one that is completely safe for Democrats.
Yet many see her as the least risky pick for Biden, who is under pressure to select a woman of color as his veep, and someone who would be prepared to be president on day one.
“Knowing him, Kamala is the best pick for him,” said one longtime Biden confidant. “Their politics are very similar. I would be surprised if it wasn’t her.”
“I’d be shocked if it was anyone else,” the source added. “You’re getting to the degrees of risk after that.”
Still, sources say it’s not as if Harris has the race locked up.
If Biden doesn’t select Harris, it would come down to Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) or former national security adviser Susan Rice, women the former vice president knows well, the confidant said.
Another source close to the campaign said Team Biden is giving Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) a serious look in the final days of deliberation. Bass leads the Congressional Black Caucus.
“The Bass thing is real,” the source said, adding that if Harris was such a sure thing, the campaign wouldn’t be testing other prospects. “In many ways, she’s the easiest pick, even though she may not be the most obvious pick,” the source said of Bass.
Bass appeals to progressives, who desperately want to defeat Trump but are lukewarm on Biden.
In an open letter written to Biden earlier this week, California delegates who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) during the primary listed Bass as someone on their short list.
Some strategists also think Biden should select someone who is outside his comfort zone.
“Joe Biden comes from the ‘safe,’ moderate wing of the Democratic party and I assume he’s inclined to choose a VP who does, too,” said Democratic strategist Christy Setzer. “But that’s exactly the wrong instinct. Our base isn’t centrist; they’re progressive, and he needs to choose someone who excites them.”
In 2016, Hillary Clinton considered selecting Warren as her running mate, but landed on Sen. Tim Kaine, (D-Va.) who strategists — then and now — saw as the safe choice.
“God love him, but no one is excited by Tim Kaine,” Setzer said.
“To our detriment, Democrats always play it too safe with our VP picks,” Setzer added. “Joe Biden was probably the best in the Democratic field to win independents and disaffected Republican votes, so his VP choice better bring in the progressives.”
Other strategists predict Biden may not feel like gambling with a big lead in the polls.
The RealClearPolitics national average of polls shows Biden with a lead of more than 8 points on President Trump. He also holds leads in key states including Florida, where a Quinnipiac University poll out on Thursday showed him beating Trump 51 percent to 38 percent.
The widening Biden lead in polls, some say, gives an edge to the candidates perceived as safe.
“He’s going to take less of a chance because the polls look so good and political observers would say the race has tilted toward Biden,” said Democratic strategist Joel Payne. “There are no surprises with Kamala. You know what you’re going to get out of her. No one will be shocked that Kamala Harris is the choice.
“It’s the safer, more conservative choice,” he added.
Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University, said historically the candidates who take risks with their vice presidential picks are struggling and looking for a boost. He pointed to 2008, when Republican nominee John McCain selected Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
“However, this race is different than others,” Zelizer said. “Despite his lead in the polls, which can shrink, this campaign is hard to predict in terms of what it will look like. So there is an argument to be made that Biden could benefit from someone who could help him keep the Democratic message out front in the media and help to ensure high turnout in a pandemic era.”
The Biden confident said the team is taking nothing for granted and considering all options.
Still, the source added, “There’s a different level of risk no matter who you pick. There are opportunities and challenges for everyone.”
“But I think when all is said and done, he’ll land on the woman who is ready to be president on day one and will help fill some of the gaps that he has,” the source said.
Payne added that to date, Biden’s campaign hasn’t been packed with surprises and he doesn’t expect one with the running mate decision.
“Everything he has done has been close to the vest, do no harm, make the least waves,” he said. “He could throw us a curve ball but it would go against everything he stands for.”