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The Biden Veepstakes: Where Do We Stand?

Larry Sabato and his team at the University of Virginia have done a deep dive into the leaders and losers in the Biden Veepstakes, and they have come to some interesting conclusions.

It seems like ages ago that we last talked about Joe Biden’s search for a running mate. When the news cycle moves like it has lately, it’s easy to forget about some of the things that were on the forefront not too long ago.

But it’s June, and Joe Biden still hasn’t announced a VP candidate. We’ve moved from Lockdown Spring to Protest Summer and we don’t know any more about who will join Biden on the ticket that we did the last time we were all safe and sound.

Larry Sabato and his team at the University of Virginia have done a deep dive into the leaders and losers in the Biden Veepstakes, and they have come to some interesting conclusions.

For a while, many pundits put Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar at or near the top of the list for Biden. I had a feeling she was a prime choice too. But Sabato insightfully notes that the George Floyd event may have sabotaged Klobuchar’s chances even though she didn’t have anything to do with the incident.

At the top of Sabato’s list are two African-American women (and thank God neither of them is named Stacey Abrams). California Senator Kamala Harris and Florida Congresswoman Val Demings occupy the top two spots according to Sabato.

The Sabato team brings up the racial and geographical balance of a Biden-Harris ticket, and they note that her age and recent experience in the presidential campaign make her appear to be the most ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

They also note the double-edged sword of Harris’ history as a prosecutor:

Harris’ background as a prosecutor — she was California’s attorney general for six years and San Francisco’s district attorney before that — could be both a positive and a negative. Reformers may be skeptical of her background, which could compound suspicions of Biden, a supporter of the now-discredited 1994 crime bill, which the Trump campaign used to sow doubts about Hillary Clinton among black voters and surely will use against Biden too.

On the other hand, a Biden-Harris ticket could navigate the treacherous waters of protest politics, allowing them to sympathize with the plight of the protesters without seeming to defend the excesses of rioters. Democrats are always wary of Republican “law and order” messaging, and it’s been impossible in recent days not to think of Donald Trump as a redux of 1968’s Richard Nixon and George Wallace, who both campaigned as opponents of social unrest in an explosive year. That said, there are major differences: For one thing, Trump is the incumbent (Lyndon Johnson was the retiring incumbent in 1968); for another, early numbers don’t suggest Trump is benefiting politically from the disorder and his attempts to capitalize on it, although that of course could change.

Demings is a surprising name, but she has some attractive qualities. Again, there’s a regional and demographic balance having her on the ticket, and she’s a former police chief, which gives her obvious law enforcement credibility. Florida is a swing state, but Sabato notes that Demings may not have enough name ID in the state, much less nationally.

The second tier of possibilities includes three senators: Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI). Duckworth and Baldwin have attractive qualities in terms of demography: Baldwin is the first openly gay senator, while Duckworth is Asian-American and a disabled veteran. Additionally, Baldwin is from a crucial swing state in Wisconsin. However, name ID and succession questions plague both Baldwin and Duckworth.

And then there’s Warren. She may be the most well-known – or notorious, depending your perspective – candidates in the veepstakes. She works well as a concession to more left-leaning Democrats, even though the Sanders crowd doesn’t care for her. The other side of the ideological coin is that she could drag the ticket too far to the left, and don’t forget that her age is a factor that could work against her.

Another tier of candidates round out Sabato’s top ten:

Three governors, and a prominent former gubernatorial candidate, round out the list. Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-RI) has governed the Ocean State as something of a centrist. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) would bring diversity to the ticket, and she has federal experience as a member of the U.S. House. She is also now the one major Hispanic candidate, as Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) dropped out (Cortez Masto would have ranked highly on our list if she wanted the job). Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) has achieved a significant amount of national prominence because of coronavirus, although she suffered a bad headline recently when her husband seemed to try to use her position to retrieve their family boat (in the VP search, everything matters). And finally, former state House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams (D-GA) became a major national figure during and following her narrow gubernatorial loss, and she has not been shy about wanting the job. But her lack of experience in any of the traditional VP feeder positions (governor, senator, or U.S. House representative) significantly hurts her position in our eyes.

Sabato also mentions some longshot, honorable mention possibilities, like Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and former Gov. Janet Napolitano (D-AZ). Potential running mates like these may move up in the rankings as time passes – after all, the last few weeks have shown how fluid the veepstakes can be.

With no timeline that we know of for an announcement, who knows when we’ll hear from Biden. No matter what, this race for the Democrats’ VP candidate has been far from boring. Stay tuned…

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