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It’s decision time for Joe Biden: His VP pick could make history, with Harris, Rice among top contenders

  • August 10, 2020

WASHINGTON – The week Joe Biden will announce his running mate has finally arrived.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Susan Rice, former national security adviser to President Barack Obama, have emerged as the top contenders. Either one would make history as the first Black woman to be a running mate.

Biden, who has made it clear earlier he’ll choose a woman as his running mate, is also considering Rep. Karen Bass of California, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Rep. Val Demings of Florida, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.

“He has a very difficult decision to make, for sure,” said Niambi Carter, an associate professor of political science at Howard University. “But it’s almost an embarrassment of riches.”

The stakes are high for whichever woman Biden chooses as his running mate, as the former vice president’s age has been a main target for President Donald Trump, who has attempted to raise doubt on his cognitive ability. Biden may also try to send a message to certain voting blocs, particularly Black or other voters of color, if he decides to choose a non-white running mate.

But Carter suggested Biden needs to find someone who excites the younger and more progressive wings of the Democratic Party concerned the presumptive nominee was a capitulation to moderates.

“I think the biggest issue is the fact that there are many who aren’t impressed with Joe Biden as a candidate, quite frankly, not only because of his age, but I also think there are those who think his politics are out of touch with the median Democratic voter, particularly younger voters,” Carter said. “He’s going to have to have someone who can excite them.”

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Biden, 77, will be the oldest president ever elected if he wins in November. By Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, 2021, Biden will be 78. Voters and pundits will likely look more carefully at who will be able to succeed Biden due to his age.

Through the course of the vice presidential vetting process, politicians, activists and voters have advocated that Biden choose a woman of color as his running mate.

Biden has come under fire for comments he’s made about the Black community. In addition, She The People, which advocates for women of color, outlined concerns in July about Biden’s outreach to women of color, particularly in battleground states. One way to gain support among the crucial voting bloc was for Biden to pick a woman of color as his running mate, the She the People memo stated.

African American voters particularly want Biden to choose a Black woman as his running mate.

Chyrl Laird, author of “Steadfast Democrats: How Social Forces Shape Black Political Behavior,” said choosing a Black woman would help energize and mobilize that voting bloc.

“Not only would it speak to the Black party base of the Democratic Party, but it will speak specifically to the linchpin of that party base, which is Black women,” she said. 

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But it’s unclear whether Biden’s pick will help his election chances.

Traditionally, vice presidential candidates haven’t been shown to win an election or even a state, so the priority is to avoid problems, said Jack Pitney, politics professor at Claremont McKenna College in California. He cited criticism and distractions that surrounded Democrat Walter Mondale’s choice of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, Republican George H.W. Bush’s choice of Dan Quayle in 1988 and Republican John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin in 2008.

“In the election, the vice presidential candidate can help a little or hurt a lot,” Pitney said. “If a candidate were to ask me for one sentence of advice, I would say, ‘Above all, do no harm.’”

Biden has repeatedly said that he is looking for a running mate that is “simpatico” with him and has previously asked Obama for advice on what is best to look for in a vice presidential candidate.

Each contender can bring their own expertise to the administration, such as Rice with foreign policy, Duckworth with the military, and Harris as a prosecutor.

However, some on Biden’s shortlist have also come under recent scrutiny for their record and past statements.

Bass has come under fire for her positions on Scientology as well as calling Cuba’s Fidel Castro’s death “a great loss” after he died in 2016. Rice, who has never held an elected office, has also been criticized for her lack of campaign experience.

Harris, who ran for president in the 2020 cycle, has also been criticized by Biden-ally and former Sen. Chris Dodd for having “no remorse” over her clash with the former vice president on his civil rights record during the first primary debate, Politico reported. In addition, CNBC reported some Biden allies have labeled Harris as being too ambitious with the fear she only wants to be president.

Pitney compared criticism of Harris for having too much ambition to “handing out speeding tickets at the Indianapolis 500.”

“The most important thing is pick somebody who doesn’t do any harm and pick somebody who can be president,” Pitney said.

Whoever Biden chooses could leave factions of the party feeling left out.

“I think there are going to be hurt feelings either way,” Carter said. “I don’t know that anybody is going to walk away all the way happy. I think there are a couple of selections that are going to mitigate the unhappiness.”

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