The Memo: Activists press Biden on VP choice
Joe Biden’s search for a running mate is heating up — and so too is the pressure on the presumptive Democratic nominee from activists who want to see their ideology and identity reflected in his pick.
Biden has committed to selecting a woman as his running mate — a promise that, if kept, will deliver only the third female vice-presidential candidate in the history of the two major parties.
On Thursday, it emerged that Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) had been asked to submit to vetting by the Biden team, while Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) also said she is on the shortlist.
Other candidates believed to be under consideration include Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — both of whom, like Klobuchar, ran against Biden for the Democratic nomination.
Other names to watch include Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D), New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams (D) and former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice.
The case being made for each contender goes far beyond individual strengths and weaknesses, and into demographic and ideological considerations.
Biden, a 77-year-old white man, is firmly entrenched within the party’s center-left establishment.
Some voices in the party would be quite happy to see him choose someone cut from similar cloth, such as Klobuchar.
But others insist that Biden needs to bring excitement to the ticket — and that one obvious way to do so would be to choose an African American or Latina running mate.
The two previous female vice-presidential nominees were white. The late Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-N.Y.) was selected by Democratic nominee Walter Mondale in 1984 and now-former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) was chosen by Republican nominee John McCain in 2008.
Cornell William Brooks, a former NAACP president who is now director at the William Monroe Trotter Collaborative for Social Justice at Harvard University, said that a black woman would help Biden raise the enthusiasm level for his candidacy.
He cited the strengths of Abrams, Rice and Harris in particular.
“Stacey came within a hair’s breadth of being governor of Georgia. For a black woman to come that close to becoming governor in the Deep South, the buckle of the Bible Belt, there’s a breadth of appeal there. Rice is incontestably one of the most exceptional public servants in the country. Sen. Harris’s pedigree is impeccable,” he told The Hill.
More pointedly, Brooks suggested that Biden would be taking a risk if he did not go in that direction.
“Vice President Biden is not taking a risk with any of these uber-qualified African American women,” he said. “In fact, he may well be taking a risk by not picking one of them because of the excitement they would bring. Abrams, Harris or Rice could be that electrifying force that carries him to the White House. An African American woman on the ticket makes it very clear that any woman can be president.”
But some in the Hispanic community make an equally determined argument for a Latina running mate.
“The case for a Latina running mate is probably the same case as for a black running mate and that is, this is an important base group for the party,” said Stephen Nuño-Perez, director of communications and senior analyst with the polling and analytics firm Latino Decisions.
Nuño-Perez said that while Democrats may espouse policies favored by Latinos, minorities do not see people with their “lived experience” at the highest level of the party.
“The leadership does not represent that,” he said.
Racial and ethnic considerations are not the only things that matter, however. Biden’s win in the primary was seen as a setback for the left of the party, since he vanquished two leading progressives, Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
The divisions remain even though both Warren and Sanders have endorsed Biden. Progressives insist that Biden needs to allay their fears about an overly centrist approach with a more adventurous choice, such as Warren or Abrams.
On Wednesday evening, progressive group MoveOn released a survey of its members which showed their top three preferences were Warren, Abrams and Harris.
Seventy-three percent of respondents said they would be more likely to vote for Biden if Warren were his VP pick, while 66 percent said the same for Abrams and Harris.
Chris Torres, the political director of MoveOn Political Action, asserted that the group’s members were already enthusiastic about voting in November but that a progressive running mate could kick up their engagement to a different level.
“Folks are excited about voting for Biden, but what we are excited to see is how active our members are going to be around volunteering or around donating,” he said.
There are other voices in the party that also demand to be heard — and don’t want to cede Biden’s choice of running mate to the left.
The concern among those more-centrist members is that a choice that might delight progressive activists would do little to expand Biden’s support in the general election.
They argue that a more-centrist option could be the right recipe to defeat President Trump — the one objective that overshadows everything else for Democrats.
Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) enthused about the strengths of Klobuchar, his fellow Minnesotan, on Thursday.
“As a party that is increasingly portrayed as one for both coasts, I think there’s something quite powerful about a vice presidential candidate from the heartland,” Phillips told The Hill, noting that others on the VP short-list hail from California, Massachusetts and other coastal states.
“I do think that there’s a big part of this country that is looking for someone that kind of feels like they know them, represent them and understand them, and Klobuchar really does. I think the middle of America is longing for that kind of representation on both sides of the aisle,” he added.
Even as various groups and ideological factions press their case, however, some activists seem loath to push too hard for fear of risking the kind of disunity that might aid Trump and the GOP.
Nathalie Rayes, the president and CEO of Latino Victory, a group that seeks to boost Latino representation and political influence, said she had no doubt that a Hispanic running mate would be welcomed.
But she also made clear her organization would be working vigorously for a Biden victory even if that did not happen.
Hispanic voters, she said, “would galvanize around a Latina, and as an organization, we would as well … but we support the vice president regardless of his vice-presidential choice.”
Moe Vela, who was the director of management and administration in Biden’s office when he was vice president, made a similar point.
“Every group certainly has the right to express their desire to see somebody that looks like them” on the ticket, he said. But “at the end of the day, as a Hispanic myself, I don’t feel the need to advocate for a specific ethnicity.”
Those voices are among the calmest in the current debate. As Biden moves toward his choice, he has some choppy waters to navigate.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency. Jonathan Easley and Scott Wong contributed.
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