Joe Biden has long been expected to pick a woman or a minority figure – or someone who is both – as his pick for vice-president, should he win the Democratic nomination to face Donald Trump in November.
During his debate with Bernie Sanders in Washington on Sunday, the former vice-president made it official. He would name a woman as his running mate, he said – and also put an African American woman on the supreme court.
“I’ll pick a woman to be vice-president,” Biden said. “There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow.”
The California senator Kamala Harris and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams are two names most commonly mentioned in Democratic circles.
Harris ran against Biden in the primary and landed memorable blows on him in an early debate, but endorsed him after dropping out. Neither she nor Abrams has said they would turn down an offer to join a Biden ticket.
However, Biden’s comments during the debate, and those of senior campaign officials in a post-debate call with reporters, made it clear that the likes of the Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar and Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, also former rivals for the nomination, could also be selected. The hard criterion is that the pick will be a woman who both works well with Biden and balances the ticket.
“He has to balance out who he is,” said Steve Phillips, a top party donor and the founder of Democracy in Color. “He’s an old white man so logically he should have a young woman of color to balance the ticket out.
“He will have some strength with some of the white suburban voters but he’s going to need turnout with young people, that was the cornerstone of the Obama-Biden ticket. So if there’s one thing people are not about Joe Biden, it’s enthusiastic. But if he has someone like a Stacey Abrams on his ticket, the level of enthusiasm there would just be dramatically different.”
Phillips said his organization and a number of others had been discussing sending a letter to Biden and Sanders, urging them to commit to a person of color.
Biden advisers, as any advisers would with the nomination still to be won, are loth to go into more detail about their candidate’s thinking. But in the post-debate call, Symone Sanders, a senior adviser, said: “He has said that the qualification for vice-president for him would be someone that is simpatico with him, as he would like to say.”
She added, unequivocally: “It will be a woman.”
Abrams has arguably been the most open about her willingness to join Biden on the ticket. She met with the former vice-president in the early days of the campaign, as his advisers floated the idea of naming a running mate early.
“Leader Abrams would be honored to be asked to join the ticket,” Seth Bringman, a spokesman for Fair Fight, Abrams’ voting rights group, said in a statement after Sunday’s debate, referring to her former position in the Georgia state house.
“For now, she is focused on leading national efforts to stop voter suppression and ensure an accurate census.”
Biden’s comments ignited a new level of speculation. On Monday, the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, who is seen as a rising star in the Democratic party, said she did not expect to join Biden in the general election.
Biden endorsed Whitmer during her 2018 campaign and on Monday she said she would “help him vet and make sure he’s got a great running mate”.
“It is not going to be me but I’m going to have a hand in helping him make sure that he has got a roundabout ticket that can win,” Whitmer said.
Picking a woman cuts out contenders including Cory Booker, a senator from New Jersey, and the former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, both of whom mounted their own presidential campaigns.
During Sunday’s debate, Sanders was also asked about his thinking. The Vermont senator’s path to the nomination is increasingly narrow but it has not closed entirely. After digressing, he said he was moving in the direction of picking a woman.
“In all likelihood, I will,” Sanders said. “For me, it’s not just nominating a woman, it is making sure that we have a progressive woman and there are progressive women out there. So my very strong tendency is to move in that direction.”