Back before he had to wear a mask to leave his house, before protests convulsed the nation's cities,made a promise: "There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow. I would pick a woman to be my vice-president."
Now, it's about time for Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, to make that pick.
Wired magazine editor-in-chief Nicholas Thompson asked, "How important is Joe Biden's vice presidential pick?"
"It's very important; it's probably one of the most important things he'll do between now and Election Day," said Alyssa Mastromonaco. She and Dan Pfeiffer are both known to listeners of "Pod Save America," and are ready to debut a new podcast about the vice-presidential pick called "That's the Ticket."
In 2004 Mastomonaco helped lead the search for a running mate for John Kerry. In 2008 she did the same for Senator Barack Obama — a search that led to Biden.
Pfeiffer was a senior aide to Mr. Obama during his campaigns and in the White House.
"There are five moments that truly matter in any presidential campaign: The convention speech, the three debates, and the vice presidential selection," Pfeiffer said. "In this campaign, the convention could happen on Zoom; it may not have the impact it normally would. It's not fully obvious that Trump's ever gonna debate Biden. So, this may end up being one of the most important vice presidential selections in American political history."
Ashowed Democratic voters strongly supporting Senator Elizabeth Warren for vice president almost two-to-one over Senator Kamala Harris (36% vs. 19%), followed by former Georgia State Representative Stacey Abrams (14%), and Senator Amy Klobuchar (13%).
Trailing them are former Obama administration officials (Susan Rice, Sally Yates), members of Congress (Tammy Duckworth, Catherine Cortez Masto, Tammy Baldwin, Val Demings), and governors (Gretchen Whitmer, Michelle Lujan Grisham), all in the single digits.
That was May. This is June.
"Thompson asked, "We're in a moment of intense protest out on the streets. How does that affect Joe Biden's vice presidential thinking?"
"In the wake of these protests following the murder of George Floyd, of course the vice president is watching this," Mastromonaco said. "He sees the hurt and the suffering in the country. And of course, I think it plays into his thoughts about picking a vice president."
Pfeiffer said, "I think to the extent that there was pressure for diversity on the ticket, that pressure is going to be increased."
Cornell Belcher, a longtime Democratic pollster and progressive political strategist, said, "Right now, if you understand what's happening on the streets, justice must be an urgent issue. And I think you have to put a candidate on that ticket who is credible in that space."
Belcher believes the odds just got a lot longer for Senator Klobuchar, a former prosecutor in Minneapolis, where the killing of Floyd touched off the protests.
"Politics isn't about what's fair," he said. "And I could make the argument that this conversation is unfair to Senator Klobuchar, which I actually think it is. But the political reality is, I think she's a harder pick today, because if you picked her today, you start off in a position of having to inoculate and explain. And if you're explaining, you're losing."
So, whose stock has risen?
"Senator Harris is larger today than she was a month ago," Belcher said. "I don't think there's another sitting senator who's been more vocal and been more spot-on in the conversations about inequality and justice and the discrimination that is within the system. Those images of Senator Harris in the protest itself, I think that's a powerful image. She's presented well at this time."
Pfeiffer said, "If you were to say to me, 'Who is the most obvious choice to help you win the election,' then I would probably say Kamala Harris. If you ask me, like, 'Who gives you the most upside, the greatest potential to be a game-changer,' I would say Stacey Abrams. If you ask me 'Who would be the best person to step in as president on Day One,' it would be Elizabeth Warren."
Mastromonaco agreed: "Yes, that is correct."
Add to the possible shortlist: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms; Florida Representative Val Demings; and Susan Rice, who was President Obama's National Security Adviser. All are reportedly being vetted by the Biden campaign.
For the view from a former adversary, Thompson asked Stuart Stevens, a Republican strategist who ran Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign), "Give me the one word that should be most important to Joe Biden, as he makes this choice."
"Electability," Stevens replied. "Beating Trump."
Stevens has now joined The Lincoln Project, a group of "Never-Trumpers" who have been putting out ads opposing the president's re-election. Stevens said, "My theory of the race is that it's about non-white turnout intensity. And I think the picking of Harris would play to that. But the not-picking of Harris would definitely be a negative for that cause."
There's a school of thought that Biden should be concerned about whether his pick helps appeal to Trump voters. Stevens points out that Mr. Trump got less than 50% of the popular vote.
Thompson asked, "What about all the Obama Trump voters – people who backed Obama in 2008, 2012, and then Trump in '16? How do you win them back, and can the vice presidential candidate help with them?"
"You know, I wouldn't spend a minute thinking about getting anybody who voted for Donald Trump," Stevens replied. "First of all, if everybody voted, you get 46.1%. Second of all, that's not really true, because a lot of those Trump voters — we don't talk about this because it's kind of morbid — but they're dead. He did very well with older voters; probably a million of those are no longer with us."
Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher said, "I don't want to talk about Trump voters anymore. I don't! If they voted for Trump, God bless 'em. They're not a swing voter."
Thompson asked, "So, you don't actually think that Biden needs any Trump voters?"
"If you're thinking about Trump voters, you're dead wrong. It's why we'll lose."
Then there's chemistry. Biden might have a unique perspective on who he'd like beside him as vice president.
According to Pfeiffer, "Joe Biden, when Barack Obama asked him to be his vice president, cut a deal where Obama agreed to have lunch with Joe Biden, just the two of them, once a week, every week they were both in town. And so, I do think Joe Biden is going to think about this in the context of, 'Who is the person I wanna have lunch with every single week for the next four to eight years of my life?' And that sounds absurd, but it's also a proxy for the bigger question of, 'Is this a person I can work well together? Will we be partners,' like Joe Biden was to Barack Obama?"
Biden will turn 78 just after the November election. If he wins, he would be the oldest president ever to take office.
"Some people think that Biden will be a transitional president," said Thompson. "Maybe he'll only serve one term. So, the candidate he picks as vice president may well be the next Democratic presidential nominee. Should the voters be holding that in account? And should Biden be thinking about that a lot as he makes his choice?"
"I think voters are holding that in account," said Belcher. "It's important that he pick someone that they think can step into the job immediately. 'Cause look, it's uncomfortable, but voters are a little bit worried about Biden's age. But it's important that they actually pick someone who settles that discomfort."
Biden has said he hopes to announce his pick around August 1. Stuart Stevens believes there's only one thing that should matter: winning.
Thompson asked, "Is there anybody Biden could choose as vice president, who would make you want to sit out the election?"
"No," Stevens replied. "He could pick you, and I'd vote for him!"
For more info:
- "Pod Save America" podcast
- Cornell Belcher, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University
- Follow Stuart Stevens on Twitter
- "It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump" by Stuart Stevens (Knopf), in Hardcover, eBook and Audio formats, available August 4 via Amazon
- The Lincoln Project
Story produced by Alan Golds. Editor: Ed Givnish.
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