By Larry Levine –
The issue in November’s Presidential election is Donald Trump.
The campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden cannot forget for one second that if the election is a referendum on Donald Trump, Biden will become President. They can count on help in this from Trump, who will spare no opportunity to keep the spotlight on himself.
So, does it matter who Biden taps to be his Vice Presidential running mate?
Hopefully, not much, if at all. To varying degrees most of the prominently named possibilities would bring some added strength to the ticket. What Biden must consider is that the ultimate choice cannot become a distraction beyond the normal flap that will emanated from discontented members of his own party. The current vetting of potential candidates needs to be extensive and careful. The ideal VP choice would meet four main criteria:
1. Help flip and defend states by convincing former Trump voters it’s safe to switch or by energizing voters who stayed home in 2016 to come out this time and vote for Biden;
2. Instill confidence on the economy, education, and healthcare, which would help accomplish number 1;
3. Be qualified to be President;
4. Present a resume and background containing nothing to frighten any bloc of voters or give Trump an opportunity to change the focus.
The target now is what it always has been: win all the states Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and flip enough states to change the Electoral College result. It’s hard to believe any Clinton state would now think so favorably of Trump as to switch. That means flip Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin and the election is won. All three states voted for President Barack Obama twice before switching to Trump in 2016. At the same time, Biden must defend Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nevada and Maine, where Clinton earned Electoral College votes by slim margins.
We cannot know what is being discovered through the vetting process as we view the Vice Presidential hopefuls from a distance. We also cannot know of the personal feelings Biden has about each candidate. What we know is what has been in the public press, what appears on each candidate’s official resumé, and what we are able to learn in discussions with people who may know each candidate better than we do. Here are the choices most frequently mentioned.
Yeah, I know, she says she isn’t interested. No matter how many times she says it she remains everyone’s fondest dream. She’s smart, personable and probably the most loved person in the nation. But she says she isn’t interested. Were she to accept the nomination, it would be game-over for the other potentials and for the election in November. But she says she isn’t interested. We included her in this list, because if she were to change her mind … Does anyone know how to change her mind?
STACEY ABRAMS, Georgia
A former member of the Georgia House of Representative (2007 – 2017) she became a nationwide darling of liberal to progressive Democratic activists when she ran an aggressive race for Governor in 2018, which she lost. She has since become active and visible in opposition to voter suppression. In the State House she served on committees on Appropriations, Ethics, Non-Civil Judiciary, Rules, and Ways & Means. She is African American and a dynamic speaker who could energize black voter turnout beyond her home state. Georgia is one of those states that some Democrats speak of lustfully as being close to returning to the fold. A thin resumé and chaos in Atlanta after a police shooting of a black man are among the reasons a University of Virginia tracking project recently downgraded her chance to become the nominee.
CONGRESSMEMBER VAL DEMINGS, Florida
Florida voted for Obama twice and then turned to Trump. Some Democrats believe Cuban voters have turned against Trump and the state can be won this year. Others argue that unless it’s a landslide, Florida Republicans will find a way to steal the election. Demings is African American. Black voter turnout dipped to 59.6 percent in Florida in 2016 (Clinton) from a record high 66.6 percent in 2012 (Obama). If Demings’ presence on the ballot can drive that number back up, Florida comes into play. She also could energize enough of a black voter turnout increase in Michigan to help flip that state. On the other hand, she is not well-liked by the Black Lives Matters crowd. She was a 27-year member of the Orlando Police Department, including four years as chief. The department’s reputation on police violence matters has been widely criticized. According to a 2015 article in The Atlantic, the Orlando Police Department “has a long record of excessive-force allegations, and a lack of transparency on the subject, dating back at least as far as Demings’ time as chief.” There is nothing in Demings’ resume to indicate any direct involvement in or emphasis on issues of the economy, education, or healthcare, although she probably had exposure to these as a member of congress.
GOVERNOR MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM, New Mexico
She was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 2013 to 2018, when she was elected governor. She served as director of the state’s Agency on Aging and was Secretary of Health. Before that she was the elected Bernalillo County Commissioner. In Congress, she served on the Budget Committee. A Latina, she is not well-known outside her home state, but she could help drive up Latino turnout elsewhere. Healthcare is an important issue with Latinx voters. As governor she successfully pushed for passage of increased school funding and a hike in the state’s minimum wage. She also has been a vocal advocate for the Dream Act. Her impact on Latino turnout could help secure Nevada and make Arizona and Florida competitive.
U.S. SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS, California
Harris is in her first term in the Senate after having served two terms as California Attorney General. Before that she was district attorney in San Francisco. California is a strong Democratic state that Biden will win. Harris is African American. Her presence on the ticket could energize enough of an increase in African American turnout to help flip some states and bring others into play. While she attacked Biden during early debates, the two appear to be on good terms now. Supporters relish the opportunity to see her go toe-to-toe with Vice President Mike Pence in a debate. As with Demings, she has issues with the Black Lives Matter crowd. Critics of her record as district attorney and attorney general say she over-incarcerated convicts, fought to keep wrongly convicted people in prison, fought against court orders to reduce overcrowding of prisons, walked both side of the death penalty issue, opposed a bill to require her office to investigate officer-involved shootings, and refused to back statewide standards regulating the use of police body cameras. There is nothing in her resume to indicate any direct involvement in or emphasis on issues of the economy, education or healthcare, although she probably had some involvement with these issues in the Senate. It’s notable that her home state colleague, Senator Dianne Feinstein, did not support her in the primaries, opting for Biden instead.
SUSAN RICE, District of Columbia
If Biden needed someone to bolster his foreign policy credentials, she would be the hands down winner, but he doesn’t. Remember, he was chosen as the VP candidate to shore up Obama’s foreign policy credentials. Rice served in various capacities at the National Security Council in President Bill Clinton’s administration. She was Ambassador to the United Nation from 2009 to 2013 and National Security Advisor to Obama from 2013 to 2017. She never has run for public office but there was speculation she might run for U.S. Senate against Susan Collins in Maine this year. She opted out of that race. Her name was mentioned prominently as a possible replacement for Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State in 2012, but she took herself out of consideration after a controversy related to the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi. Rice is African American and could be a factor in energizing an increased black voter turnout as the VP nominee. A risk could be that her presence would revive the Benghazi debate that was so damaging to the Clinton campaign. There is nothing in Rice’s resumé that indicates any direct involvement in or emphasis on the issues of the economy, education, or healthcare.
U.S. SENATOR ELIZABETH WARREN, Massachusetts
For a short time this Spring, she took the polling lead in the Democratic Primary. It didn’t last. She wound up finishing a distant third behind Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders in her home state and then dropped out. She’s extremely intelligent. At the start of the Primary season her advocacy of “health care for all” was close to Sanders’ position on the issue. Over time, she shifted toward a position closer to but still distant from Biden’s. Her home state is safe for Biden and it’s hard to see where else she might have an impact on the race. There are those who believe she could help bring the progressive wing of the party into line. But the hardline Sanders people blame her for undermining the Sanders effort. Depending on your view of the size and strength of the progressive wing, you can assess her potential impact. She served as head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in the Obama campaign and can point to solid credentials on issues relating to the economy. A serious complicator is that the Republican governor of Massachusetts would appoint her replacement at a time when the Democrats are desperate to retake control of the Senate.
GOVERNOR GRETCHEN WHITMER, Michigan
Of the big three “flip state” targets, Michigan stands out as possibly already in the Biden column. It voted twice for Obama and Biden before shifting to Trump in what now appears to have been more of an anti-Clinton vote. An analysis of the Biden – Sanders vote in this year’s Primary, when compared to the Clinton – Sanders vote and the Clinton – Trump vote give strong indication this state will be reclaimed by the Democrat with a reasonable campaign effort. Add to that the strong Democratic showing in statewide races in 2018. Whitmer has a strong resumé to recommend her for consideration and she probably can campaign effectively in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Minnesota. In Michigan the game may be to increase the turnout among African American voters, rather than trying to get 2016 Trump voters to switch. It’s not unreasonable to think both can be achieved. Whitmer defeated the Republican state Attorney General handily in the Governor’s race in 2018. She was elected to the Michigan House of Representative in 2000 and served there until 2006, when she was elected to the State Senate. As governor, she has focused on healthcare and infrastructure. Her position on healthcare is close to Biden’s and she has been a vocal advocate for education. She achieved national notoriety for taking on Trump on the issues of the coronavirus response and the protests that followed the killing of George Floyd.
U.S. SENATOR AMY KLOBUCHAR, Minnesota
She withdrew her name from consideration this week, suggesting it would be more appropriate to nominate a woman of color. Klobuchar came from far outside at the beginning of the primary season to win many fans and supporters by the time she dropped out, endorsed Biden and then swung her home state to him in the primary. She was dogged early by questions about her record as a prosecutor before winning a seat in the Senate. Then, as she appeared to be the front runner in the VP race, a story broke that claimed years ago she refused to prosecute the police officer who no is charged with the murder of George Floyd. It was a bogus story. She had left the prosecutor’s office for the senate before that happened. But fueled by the internet the story gained traction. In the current environment, that was it. I will always suspect the story was planted by operatives around one of the other candidates. Be that as it may, she’s out and we need to consider the remaining candidates as Biden and his team work through the selection process.
There are other names floating around but these seem to be the top tier, generously defined. Assuming the vetting doesn’t turn up dirty laundry to disqualify any of these, the decision comes down to 1) does Biden need help to energize an increased turnout among African Americans; 2) can any of these candidates energize a Latinx voter turnout to match the African American vote; 3) which if any can convince a small number of voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin to switch their votes from 2016; 4) who is most credible as a possible President. The candidate who can accomplish any one of these could work. Hit the mark on more than one and start writing the acceptance speech.