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 BidenThe Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight Is Texas learning to love ObamaCare? Romney warns Trump: Don't interfere with coronavirus relief oversight 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) HassanDemocrats urge administration to automatically issue coronavirus checks to more people Mnuchin says Social Security recipients will automatically get coronavirus checks Lawmakers press IRS to get coronavirus checks to seniors 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 KaineBiden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much Students with disabilities could lose with COVID-19 stimulus package Coronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner MORE (D-Va.) and Governor Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceSocial distancing works, but resistance prompts worries of growing crisis White House: Anyone 'in close proximity' to Trump or Pence will be tested for coronavirus Watch live: Coronavirus task force holds press briefing 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 GoreAl Gore blasts Trump: 'You can't gaslight a virus' Who should be the Democratic vice presidential candidate? The Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes unexpected step to stem coronavirus 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 CarterCoronavirus crisis scrambles 2020 political calculus Biden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much Biden could be picking the next president: VP choice more important than ever MORE in 1976, George H. Bush against Ronald Reagan in 1980, John Edwards against John KerryJohn Forbes KerryUS inaction is hurting the chance for peace in Libya Poll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters Biden's pick for vice president doesn't matter much MORE in 2004, and Biden against Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Hill's Campaign Report: Coronavirus forces Democrats to postpone convention Biden associates reach out to Holder about VP search Poll: More Republican voters think party is more united than Democratic voters 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.