What Biden’s VP choices bring — and don’t bring — to the table

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The spring of most years divisible by four is rife with speculation about the vice presidential choice of the opposition party. The selection invariably isn’t made until days before the presidential nomination.

This time, however, may be different.

There may not be a convention; Joe Biden has wrapped up the Democratic nomination earlier than usual and the Pandemic-necessary isolation has eliminated any stump campaigning.

Moreover, there’s a void of political news, so there’s more focus on one of the big uncertainties. It’s a good rationalization for a column anyway.

First, three realities about the vice presidential selection:

  • Running mates don’t deliver their states to the nominee; the last one that that made the difference in carrying his state was Lyndon Johnson in 1960.
  • The quality of the choice often is irrelevant. In 1988, the Democratic Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas was a far more respected figure than his Republican counterpart, Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle, and crushed him in a debate. The George H.W. Bush-Quayle ticket won big that November, easily carrying Texas.
  • A vice presidential choice can send a reassuring or reaffirming message. Dick Cheney in 2000 and Joe Biden in 2008 conveyed seasoning that complimented the inexperienced nominees, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

For Biden, it would be someone younger — he’d be the oldest president in U.S. history — who could generate excitement among important constituencies and credibly be seen as stepping into presidential shoes. He’s committed to picking a woman, and there seems to be five seriously discussed contenders.

Some activists point to Georgia’s Stacey Abrams, the 47-year-old African American who would have won the Governor’s race in 2018 if Republicans hadn’t effectively suppressed some votes.

This would not be a smart choice. Abrams is a talented politician with a bright future, though unfortunately she chose not to run for one of two Georgia U.S. Senate seats up this year. But she has never been elected to anything more than a state rep’s seat and has no Washington or national security experience. That — being a heartbeat away from the presidency — would not be reassuring.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has won plaudits for her handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit her state especially hard; she has been subjected to insults from Trump, which most Democrats consider a badge of honor.

Michigan is part of that blue wall of industrial states, along with Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, that gave Trump his victory in 2016. To repeat, it has been 60 years since a running mate spelled the difference in a state, and Whitmer is devoid of any Washington or foreign policy experience — not much more reassuring a heartbeat away from the Oval than Abrams.

Amy Klobuchar, the senior Senator from Minnesota, is the favorite of some mainstream moderate Democrats, who contend she would help with centrist swing voters and especially in the critical Midwest battleground. But swing voters are little influenced by a running mate. While Klobuchar might help in reliably Democratic Minnesota, she finished a distant fifth in this year’s Iowa presidential caucuses — so much for the Midwestern draw.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren might energize some reluctant left-wingers in the fall. Her intellectual heft and quick mind should intimidate Mike Pence in any vice presidential debate.

Remember those debates are pretty irrelevant.

If elected, Warren’s replacement would be chosen by the state’s Republican Governor for the critical first several months of 2021. Most important is whether Biden and Warren would be comfortable together governing; she’s not a natural number two.

That leaves California Sen. Kamala Harris. Her once bright presidential prospects flamed out as she lacked a coherent message and competent campaign. Still, she can be an effective campaigner and advocate, is able, and does have a little national security experience.

The Sanders wing isn’t crazy about the first-term California Senator, but they’d be hard pressed to attack the first African-American woman on a national ticket.

There may be others, long shots like Florida Rep. Val Demings or Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. Biden doesn’t have an easy or natural choice. On balance, Harris may be the best fit.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.

Tags Amy Klobuchar Barack Obama Catherine Cortez Masto Elizabeth Warren Foreign policy Gretchen Whitmer Joe Biden Joe Biden campaign Mike Pence Stacey Abrams Val Demings Vice President of the United States vice presidential pick Washington experience

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