Traditionally, American presidential candidates pick vice-presidential running mates largely in secret, outside the view of the public or even members of their own party so as to maximize news value – and not offend those passed over for the job.
But in 2020 – during a campaign already driven mostly online due to the coronavirus pandemic – Joe Biden’s quest to make a vice-presidential pick has been an unusually open, vocal and public audition, both within the campaign and outside it.
A range of organizations and political figures have either covertly or overtly told Biden who he should pick as his running mate and vice-presidential nominee.
“We know now that the VP selection committee has been named and they’re starting to meet,” said Aimee Allison, co-founder of the She The People outside group.
Allison and her group want to see Biden pick a woman of color – which has matched some of Biden’s allusions to what he is looking for in a running mate. “This is our moment, this is a make-or-break moment for the Democrats, so we’re doing everything we can to both show the strategic wisdom and how valuable it would be to have the enthusiasm of women of color.”
The most commonly mentioned names for Biden’s running mate are the California senator Kamala Harris, Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer, former Georgia state house minority leader Stacey Abrams, Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar and Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren. They have all emerged on the national stage in the last 10 years – as opposed to Biden who has been on the scene for decades.
Publicly or privately they have all expressed openness to accepting an offer to be vice-president. Allies of those Democrats as well as potential Biden running mates have tried to tip the scales in their favor publicly and privately. But those efforts have varied.
“Obviously Abrams is doing a sort of a different strategy – much more aggressively vying for it whereas Warren’s people have been much more low-key about vying for it,” said Sean McElwee, a liberal activist and co-founder of the Data for Progress thinktank.
Biden himself has openly described some of the criteria he is looking for. He has vowed to pick a woman. The former vice-president and presumptive Democratic nominee on multiple occasions has said he’s looking for someone who is naturally “simpatico with me” adding “who is a real partner in progress and is ready to be president on a moment’s notice”.
“There are a lot of women out there with the experience to do that job,” Biden said during a fundraiser in late April.
As many as a dozen candidates have been mentioned as serious candidates. His selection is especially important as he has begun framing himself as a “transition candidate” who would bridge high office to the next generation of Democratic and liberal lawmakers. That suggests that Biden’s running mate could be a strong contender to run for president as soon as 2024 if Biden won the 2020 presidential election and opted to serve only one term.
Harris, Whitmer and Klobuchar have all done fundraisers for Biden or been guests on his podcast, where the former vice-president interviews them. Influential Democratic party figures have pushed Biden to consider other rising stars, such as the Nevada senator Catherine Cortez-Masto or Florida congresswoman Val Demmings.
Abrams has been the most overt in her eagerness to be considered. In interviews she has repeatedly said Biden would benefit from having her as a running mate and that she would accept an offer. . Lauren Groh-Wargo, a top aide for Abrams and her former campaign manager, penned a New York Times op-ed titled Stacey Abrams Knows the Secret to Winning the White House.
Abrams herself wrote an article for Foreign Affairs critiquing Donald Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. There is a long history in American politics of politicians trying to demonstrate foreign policy knowledge to show well-rounded qualifications for the White House.
Donors and allies of Abrams have also been encouraging Biden and his team to strongly consider choosing her.
Among liberal outside groups and grassroots, Abrams and Warren are the favored candidates. A poll commissioned by Way to Win, a women-run group of Democratic donors, suggested that Abrams would be the best running mate for Biden.
A recent tracking poll commissioned by MoveOn found Warren with the clear lead among a list of about a dozen potential picks. Our Revolution, the outside group aligned with the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, conducted a poll of its members and found members “overwhelmingly” preferred Warren.
“For progressives there’s really two options it’s either Warren or Abrams as the top pick,” McElwee said.
Sara Nelson, the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, has been an outspoken proponent of Biden picking Warren as his running mate. She argued that a progressive favorite is the way to boost turnout Democrats need.
“We need to turn out an inspired and engaged electorate and the way to do that is to bring together a coalition of voters that we’ve never seen before,” Nelson said.
Nelson warned that without support from liberal activists and grassroots progressives who back Warren or other members of that wing, Democrats could lose to Trump in November.
“I think it’s a problem because we need that energy,” Nelson said. Nelson said she thinks the Biden campaign seems “pretty pragmatic” about that.
But other Democrats have argued that picking a liberal darling like Warren would undercut Biden’s chances of winning over conservative voters open to voting for someone other than Trump.
Less a favorite of progressive activists, Whitmer has been catapulted into the national spotlight partially because of her handling of the coronavirus pandemic. She has publicly said she would accept and has kept in contact with the former vice-president. The ties between Biden and Whitmer go back before the 2020 presidential race. He endorsed her during the 2018 Michigan Democratic primary for governor. When the two were discussing Whitmer endorsing Biden in the presidential race, part of the discussion veered to how Biden would approach picking a running mate if he won the nomination, according to a Democrat with knowledge of those conversations.
Other major Democratic party figures have been pushing Biden to consider other candidates. The former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid has strongly encouraged Biden to consider Senator Cortez-Masto, a favorite for some Hispanic Democrats, according to two Democrats with knowledge of those conversations.
Congressman Jim Clyburn has encouraged Biden to pick an African American woman like Harris or a lesser-known figure like the former Obama administration national security adviser Susan Rice. Influential Democratic donors have voiced support for Harris or Demmings. Harris allies have also been pushing Biden aides and allies to consider Harris.
Rumblings about Harris’s prospects as a potential vice-presidential pick for Biden began immediately after she dropped out of the Democratic primary, with some Democrats saying she ended her campaign partially to preserve her chances of being selected for the eventual ticket.
Of all the interest groups, operatives and lawmakers pushing various candidates or types of candidates, arguably the strongest has been the push for Biden to pick an African American woman as a running mate. A group of 200 women recently signed a letter urging Biden to pick a black women as his running mate.
“Choosing a white running mate right now is not a safe choice. It doesn’t broaden the coalition,” Allison, who signed the letter, said. “The safe choice is to choose a running mate who can attract vital parts of the electorate, who pulls together a multiracial coalition and gets people to the polls.”