Media launch veepstakes chatter: Biden needs a woman, but which one?

I found myself thinking over the weekend that with Joe Biden now favored to win the nomination, it won’t be long before the press starts the quadrennial veepstakes ritual.

And yesterday—boom!—it arrived in spades.

The coronavirus may be spreading worldwide, Wall Street may be having a bloodbath, and Biden has yet to beat Bernie Sanders in Michigan and other key states. But nothing stops the VP speculation.

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There’s an added twist this year, which is the widespread expectation—and, in some quarters, demand—that the Democratic running mate will be a woman.

As the New York Times put it, “prominent Democrats began publicly insisting that the ticket include a woman, preferably a black woman.”

There is a pressure campaign, to be sure, but it also makes good political sense for a 77-year-old nominee to pick someone who can take over the presidency—and, in a year when four women were knocked out of the race, to choose someone of a different gender.

“There must be a woman on this ticket,” Cecile Richards, the longtime abortion rights activist who helped found Supermajority, told the paper. I guess that’s what activists do.

Given that there have been exactly two female VP nominees—Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sarah Palin in 2008—a woman who actually won the vice presidency would be a definite milestone, even if Elizabeth Warren supporters are still fuming about alleged sexism.

Needless to say, a woman at that level of the White House would also be a strong contender to succeed a septuagenarian president, who might serve only one term. (Sanders also says he’ll consider a woman if he wins the nomination fight.)

The Times, turning it on the president, says “such a choice could generate enthusiasm from female voters who make up the backbone of the party and sharpen their contrast with Mr. Trump, who has been accused of sexual misconduct by nearly a dozen women.”

Now comes the inevitable journalistic parlor game: Who?

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Washington Post Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt says the search should start with Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand, “who gained stature and name recognition” during the campaign. The problem: “They all lost, and they all had time to rub at least some voters the wrong way.”

I’m not sure Warren is a great pick because she’s 70 (not much of a youth movement there) and so much more progressive (she backs Medicare-for-All, which Biden has denounced).

Harris might seem like a long shot after she eviscerated Biden on the debate stage over busing in the 1970s. But the former VP is said to like her because she was friendly with his late son Beau.

Hiatt then floats such governors as Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island and Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico, as well as Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, his new national co-chair. He throws in some mayors as well.

  

My take: If Biden selects someone who most of America has never heard of, he starts out behind. The media vetting of whether that person is qualified to assume the presidency would start from scratch, and all kinds of things pop up. That hurt John McCain when he picked the relatively inexperienced Sarah Palin in 2008, and makes the choice a wild card.

The Week does some handicapping: Warren “would help excite women — above all highly educated professional women,” but that she “dramatically underperformed” in the campaign. Klobuchar would “bolster Biden’s moderate bona fides,” but “failed to generate much enthusiasm among voters.”

Harris “exudes energy and compassion” and having a woman of color would be a plus.

As for Stacey Abrams, she’s not ready for prime time “as an author, voting-rights activist, former Georgia state representative, failed candidate for governor, and a celebrity of sorts among woke progressives and academics.”

In the end, running mates don’t matter all that much. Donald Trump didn’t win because of Mike Pence, Hillary Clinton didn’t lose because of Tim Kaine, and Barack Obama didn’t win because of Biden. But given Biden’s age and the Democratic hunger for a woman on the ticket, whoever gets the nod might matter more this year than in the recent past.

Footnote: Axios goes further with Biden’s “secret governing plan”: basically an assortment of names being floated for top jobs. They include John Kerry, Susan Rice, Mike Bloomberg, Jamie Dimon, Warren and Pete Buttigieg.

But one you can basically count on: If Biden wins, adviser Ron Klain, his chief of staff as VP—and the Obama czar for the Ebola outbreak—will be White House chief of staff.