During the final Democratic primary debate in March, Joe Biden pledged that if he were to win the party’s presidential nomination, he would choose a woman as his vice-presidential candidate.
A lot has happened since then, not the least of which is Biden securing the required Democratic Convention delegates to become his party’s presumptive nominee. Even before that point, however, speculation swirled around a dozen or so contenders to be Biden’s running mate.
Buzz around the various candidates has risen and fallen as the nation has been buffeted by a viral pandemic, economic disruption and mass protests and racial tension.
If the former vice-president follows through with his pledge, it would mark only the third time a major party has selected a woman for the number two spot – four years after Hillary Clinton became the first woman to be a presidential nominee.
The move would suggest the Democrats are looking to secure the advantage they have among female voters according to polls, and perhaps insulate Biden from allegations that he engaged in unwanted physical contact with women.
Biden has said he will announce his choice in early August. In the meantime, here are the current top contenders – and how they stack up.
Kamala Harris is widely considered the front-runner for Biden’s vice-presidential slot. She has a resume that includes time in the US Senate and as California’s attorney general, as well as San Francisco’s district attorney. She has a diverse background, with a mother from India and father from Jamaica. She’s at least been somewhat vetted by the national media, given that she ran for president last year and was considered, for a time, as a top-tier candidate.
She did have a dust-up with Biden in the first primary debate last June, where she suggested his past views against desegregating schools through mandatory busing was hurtful, but that was a lifetime ago in modern US politics.
Harris brings access to California money (she raised $2m for Biden in a recent virtual event), she’s quick on her feet, and she would satisfy those who are calling for Biden to add a black woman to the ticket. She has won praise from a wide range of Democrats for being an outspoken advocate for police reform during the recent mass demonstrations. Biden-Harris felt like the obvious ticket a year ago – and it still does.
Just a few months ago, there wasn’t a lot of buzz around Gretchen Whitmer, a former state legislator in her second year as Michigan’s governor. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, and she became the face of her state’s response, which included occasional criticism of what she viewed as the federal government’s lacklustre handling of the outbreak. That made her a target for Donald Trump’s vitriol – and elevated her national profile.
Her decision to enact sweeping social distancing and business-shutdown measures as Michigan became one of the top US hotspots of the coronavirus outbreak also led to several angry conservative-organised protests in her state, boosting her standing among Democrats.
In 2016 Hillary Clinton narrowly lost Michigan to Donald Trump – one of the upsets that helped decide the election. If Biden hopes to avoid a similar outcome, he might decide to put a Michigan native on the ticket.
Tammy Duckworth, the junior senator from Illinois, has a CV that jumps off the page. She lost both her legs when the Army helicopter she was piloting was shot down by insurgents in Iraq. She stayed in the military and retired with the rank of lieutenant colonel, before becoming an assistant secretary in President Barack Obama’s Department of Veteran Affairs.
Duckworth served in the House of Representatives and then won her Senate seat in 2016. She is the first Thai-American woman elected to Congress, as well as the first double-amputee woman. In 2018 she became the first woman to give birth while serving in the Senate.
Illinois is a safe Democratic state, but its proximity to key Midwest battlegrounds – as well as her middle-of-the-road politics – could make her an attractive pick for Biden.
Elizabeth Warren’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination is a story of what might have been. Her “I have a plan for that” mantra seemed to strike a chord with Democrats, and she led the polls for months in mid-2019, drawing enthusiastic crowds and cruising through the early debates with seeming ease. Then her support faded, as many progressives drifted back to Bernie Sanders, while moderates opted for younger candidates like Pete Buttigieg.
Many progressives expected her to endorse Sanders when she dropped out of the race in early March, so her decision to hold back may have earned her some appreciation from the Biden team.
Now they have the opportunity to return the favour by offering Warren the running-mate spot. While there was some friction between the Sanders and Warren camps, Warren would still be a significant signal that Biden wants to reach out to his party’s left wing – and govern as more of a progressive than he let on during the campaign.
With the nation facing a serious economic crisis, Warren could lend some liberal policy heft to the Democratic ticket.
Four years ago, Hillary Clinton was lambasted for never campaigning in Wisconsin during the general election, then losing the pivotal state to Donald Trump as her Midwest Democratic “blue wall” crumbled. Democrats have pledged not to repeat that mistake, going so far as to pick Milwaukee as the site of their (now delayed) national convention.
If Biden wants to lean into the whole “don’t ignore Wisconsin” theme, he couldn’t do much better than to pick an actual Wisconsinite as his running mate. Tammy Baldwin is in her second