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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 BidenLawmakers, activists remember civil rights icons to mark 'Bloody Sunday' Fauci predicts high schoolers will receive coronavirus vaccinations this fall Biden nominates female generals whose promotions were reportedly delayed under Trump 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 ShaheenSenate approves sweeping coronavirus measure in partisan vote The eight Democrats who voted 'no' on minimum wage Justice Democrats call moderates' votes against minimum wage hike 'unconscionable' MORE and Maggie HassanMargaret (Maggie) HassanSenate approves sweeping coronavirus measure in partisan vote Senate rejects Cruz effort to block stimulus checks for undocumented immigrants The eight Democrats who voted 'no' on minimum wage MORE, former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, and former Deputy U.S. Attorney General Sally YatesSally Caroline YatesBiden directs DOJ to phase out use of private prisons The Hill's 12:30 Report: Sights and sounds from chaotic downtown DC Biden to name Merrick Garland for attorney general 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 KaineDemocrats near pressure point on nixing filibuster  Overnight Defense: White House open to reforming war powers | Army base might house migrant children | Fauci scolds military on vaccine White House open to reforming war powers amid bipartisan push MORE (D-Va.) and Governor Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceClyburn: Allowing filibuster to be used to deny voting rights would be 'catastrophic' Sunday shows preview: Manchin makes the rounds after pivotal role in coronavirus relief debate DeSantis, Pence tied in 2024 Republican poll 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 RyanPaul Ryan to host fundraiser for Cheney amid GOP tensions Boehner book jacket teases slams against Cruz, Trump CPAC, all-in for Trump, is not what it used to be MORE (2012).

The exception was Al GoreAlbert (Al) Arnold GoreKlain on Harris breaking tie: 'Every time she votes, we win' Al Jazeera launching conservative media platform Exclusive 'Lucky' excerpt: Vow of Black woman on Supreme Court was Biden turning point 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 CarterThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - J&J vax rollout today; third woman accuses Cuomo Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter return to Georgia church after vaccinations The progressive case for the Hyde Amendment MORE in 1976, George H. Bush against Ronald Reagan in 1980, John Edwards against John KerryJohn KerryEconomic growth in Africa will not be achieved by a blanket ban on fossil fuels Biden can build on Pope Francis's visit to Iraq OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine MORE in 2004, and Biden against Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaLawmakers, activists remember civil rights icons to mark 'Bloody Sunday' Why is Joe Biden dodging the public and the press? Here's who Biden is now considering for budget chief 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.