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Handicapping the Biden VP race: Kamala Harris by a mile

Normally at this point in the presidential race every Democrat with a pulse thinks he or she is a contender for the vice-presidential nomination. This year Biden did us all a favor by cutting that number in half. But that still leaves a big field, but only theoretically. Kamala Harris is and has been the clear leader for months.

With the Tara Reade allegations, a female nominee who will be a loyal supporter is even more necessary — as is the importance of a female with a good record on sexual harassment issues. As long as she passes the background vetting, Harris is — by far — the most likely running mate for Biden. But there are others waiting for an opening.

What makes a contender for either party’s VP nomination? Historically, good VP nominees balance the ticket — they satisfy part of the ideological base of the party or are in a different type of demographic, whether age, ethnicity or professional experience. Good nominees play well with others and are willing to be a loyal second banana. Bad VP nominees do their own thing (Palin in 2008) or outshine their running mate (Bentsen in 1988). Good nominees are ready for the national media meatgrinder, bad nominees are inexperienced (Ferraro in 1984, Quayle in 1988 and Palin (again) in 2008). Rarely are VP nominees chosen for geography or to “deliver” a state, but it is an asset. 

And now for the contenders…

#1: Kamala Harris is the frontrunner by far. Harris checks all the boxes: minority woman, sufficiently liberal, lengthy public service record. Smooth on TV and from America’s technology capital, Harris is right out of central casting for 2020. She mixed it up a bit early with Biden but backed off and played nice once she dropped out. She didn’t play any games and endorsed Biden quickly after the California primary — showing she can be a team player. Harris is a better failed nominee than Klobuchar — she got out before voters could reject her, avoiding the stench of losing. Best of all, picking Harris is tantamount to handing the future of the Democratic Party over to a black woman. That act alone makes it difficult for grumbling progressives to sit on their hands. Harris is the very definition of balance.

#2: Gretchen Whitmer has gained a lot of Democratic Party fans and raised her profile by sparring with Trump during the pandemic.  She is the only governor on the Biden list — a good complement for a former senator. American voters like governors. From 1976 to 2008 former governors held the White House for 28 of 32 years. Helping deliver Michigan is a modest plus, but if Biden struggles in Michigan he’s probably not winning. Holding her back is a lack of experience on the national stage and not being a minority.

#3: Amy Klobuchar is a white version of Harris with several primary defeats on her record. Klobuchar was competent on the campaign trail, well-spoken and made no gaffes. Minnesota and midwestern is helpful. But she brought no real excitement. A Biden-Klobuchar ticket would be the bland leading the bland. If Kamala Harris stumbles or gets knocked out in the vetting process, Klobuchar would be neck and neck with Whitmer — with the Tammys looming in the background. Klobuchar likely will have to settle for Attorney General or Supreme Court.

#4 and #5: The Tammys are Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), two low-profile longshots with little experience in the national media. Duckworth is a veteran and Asian-American, two pluses. Baldwin is gay and from Wisconsin, also two pluses. Biden and the Tammys get some mutual benefit from pretending each are real contenders, but lack of national experience hurts and — like Klobuchar — Harris is simply ahead of them in line.

Last (tie): All Male American Citizens. Hard to say that 50 million Americans’ chances at anything add up to zero, so I guess I have to give men some kind of chance. Perhaps some combination of public mistakes and newly dredged up issues sinks the top women. Maybe the polling against Trump makes bringing Cory Booker or Pete Buttigieg viable. No chance, however, for Andrew Cuomo. The first article saying he should replace Biden for president ended the microscopic possibility for VP. Booker and Buttigieg won’t be left empty handed. Booker could get Education or Supreme Court. Mayor Pete gets HUD, Labor or Commerce — a pretty good consolation prize for a small-town mayor.

And three with zero chance …

Michelle Obama could get it if she wanted. But there’s no chance she walks away from the money, easy fame and relative freedom of her current life. The Obamas are cashing in on their terms. Michelle for VP is a ridiculous media-driven pipe dream.

Elizabeth Warren is too white, too old and way, way too difficult to deal with. No chance an over 75-year-old presidential nominee chooses an over 70-year-old running mate. More than that, Warren has managed to blow her chances at any real influence in a future Biden administration. She dithered in her endorsement to the point of rendering it useless. And her track record of squeezing Hillary Clinton for promises in 2016 will make the Biden team wary. Politico reported that top Biden donors are opposed to her nomination. In the words of Judge Smails: “You’ll get nothing and like it!”

Stacey Abrams’ loud campaign for the VP nomination gets her cable TV time, but it also signals she would be a terrible number two — not to mention no presidential nominee is about to be backed into a corner by a future running mate. Abrams came close in the Georgia governor’s race, but she still lost. That leaves her with the track record of winning a state legislative seat — along with thousands of other anonymous politicians. Before she started her very ill-advised campaign for Veep, she might have been able to get a plum position in a future Biden administration. She still will get something… Ambassador to Nepal sounds about right.

Keith Naughton, Ph.D., co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, is a public affairs consultant who specialized in Pennsylvania judicial elections. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.

Tags 2020 election Amy Klobuchar Andrew Cuomo Biden 2020 campaign Cory Booker Democratic Party Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Michelle Obama Pete Buttigieg Tammy Baldwin Tammy Duckworth vice president VP Pick

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