Who should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate?

Who should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate?
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Some Democratic Party insiders and observers want presumptive presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenFighting a virus with the wrong tools Trump bucks business on Defense Production Act Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — US coronavirus cases hit 100,000 | Trump signs T stimulus package | Trump employs defense powers to force GM to make ventilators | New concerns over virus testing MORE to select a 2020 rival as a running mate, such as Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), or Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). Others are pushing for lesser-known officials like Congresswoman Val Demings (R-Fla.). Biden, himself, has hyped the V.P. qualifications of Democratic New Hampshire Senators Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? McConnell sets Friday night deadline for bipartisan deal on stimulus American citizen released from Lebanese prison, returning to US MORE and Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? Overnight Health Care: Trump triggers emergency powers in coronavirus fight | McConnell sets first stimulus vote for Sunday | Five sticking points for stimulus talks | Treasury delays tax filing deadline | Dems push insurers to cover virus tests Democrats press insurers to cover all coronavirus testing MORE, former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, and former Deputy U.S. Attorney General Sally YatesSally Caroline YatesWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? Biden allies see Warren as potential running mate Sally Yates endorses Biden MORE.

Whoever is picked, we know from the last debate that she will be only the third female major-party vice presidential candidate in U.S. history.

So who should it be? Let’s see if recent history offers clues. There have been 12 presidential elections since 1972, the start of the modern presidential nominating system. Of the 24 major-party vice presidential candidates during this span, seven (29 percent) were incumbents running for re-election — for example, Biden in 2012.

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Another 13 vice presidential candidates (54 percent) were plucked from outside the presidential nominating process; in other words, they had not competed against the nominee. Since 1972, three pairs of national-stage newcomers have faced off; for example, one pair was Senator Tim KaineTimothy (Tim) Michael KaineSenate on cusp of coronavirus stimulus deal after agreements in key areas Some Democrats growing antsy as Senate talks drag on Who should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? MORE (D-Va.) and Governor Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceTrump digs in on criticism of Democratic governors Trump signs T coronavirus relief package Arizona lawmaker warns Pence state may end coronavirus testing due to shortage MORE (R-Ind.). Six of the other seven times when one ticket featured a V.P. outsider and the other did not, the ticket with the V.P outsider lost: Sargent Shriver (1972), Bob Dole (1976), Geraldine Ferraro (1984), Jack Kemp (1996), Sarah Palin (2008), and Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? The Pelosi administration It's not populism that's killing America's democracy MORE (2012).

The exception was Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreWho should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes unexpected step to stem coronavirus Push for national popular vote movement gets boost from conservatives MORE in 1992, which actually makes sense since Gore had established himself as a national candidate while running for president four years earlier.

Only four V.P. contenders (just under 17 percent) competed against their eventual running mate: Mondale against Jimmy CarterJimmy CarterWise words revisited: 'There is simply no way to avoid sacrifice' Budowsky: President Trump, meet with all former living presidents Is coronavirus the final Trump crisis? MORE in 1976, George H. Bush against Ronald Reagan in 1980, John Edwards against John KerryJohn Forbes KerryLongtime Biden adviser posthumously tests positive for coronavirus The Hill's 12:30 Report: House to vote on .2T stimulus after mad dash to Washington Conservative lawmakers tell Trump to 'back off' attacks on GOP colleague MORE in 2004, and Biden against Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaCivil rights leader Joseph Lowery dies at 98 The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Airbnb - House to pass relief bill; Trump moves to get US back to work Obama thanks Fauci, Stephen Curry during Instagram Live session MORE in 2008. In two of these cases (Mondale and Biden), the candidate withdrew from the presidential race before the start of the caucus/primary season — and in Mondale’s case, more than a year beforehand.

It can be argued that selecting a vanquished opponent is good for the party, as it has the potential to unite disparate factions behind a common goal: winning in November. Tickets comprised of recent adversaries have been, at minimum, moderately scrutinized by the public, and in some cases (1980’s extended, the contentious battle between Reagan and Bush) thoroughly scrutinized. One of the biggest unknowns is how they will unify after trading barbs for months or a year or longer, which might be why Reagan-Bush remains the only example in the past 50 years of fierce electoral rivals joining forces.

And that highlights the biggest risk to choosing an adversary. It’s not just about two politicians learning how to walk and talk in lock-step. It’s also about whether voters buy into their partnership. 

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There is no right answer to “Who should join the Democratic ticket?” But maybe that’s not the right question. A vice presidential pick is not just a name or a voting record or policy statements. This person is being tapped to round out a story—a narrative that expresses, in simple terms, why this ticket deserves to win. A battle-tested, nationally recognized V.P. candidate might sound pretty good. But a battle-tested nationally recognized V.P. candidate who reflects the campaign’s core convictions and convincingly conveys its messaging . . . that sounds even better.

Why Biden? Why now? And what will this mean for America?

If Democrats cannot answer these questions, then it doesn’t matter who Biden picks.

B.J. Rudell is associate director of Polis: Duke University’s Center for Politics, part of the Sanford School of Public Policy. In a career encompassing stints on Capitol Hill, on a presidential campaign, in a newsroom, in classrooms, and for a consulting firm, he has authored three books and has shared political insights across all media platforms, including for CNN and Fox News.