By Carol J. Williams & Linda Kramer Jenning
Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden is bestowed with an embarrassment of riches in his quest to identify the ideal running mate. The accomplished women rumored to be at the top of his Veep short list deserve to be there even if he hadn’t pledged to put a woman on the ticket.
While Biden’s eventual choice might have gained extra cred if chosen from among all possible contenders of both genders, his decision to choose a woman was timely and important after a record number of women sought the nomination that now will be his. The sheer number of women whose names have been in the veep mix underscores the growing political clout and savvy of women office holders, even if we remain far from gender parity in government.
The coronavirus pandemic has upended traditional campaigning and is likely to prevent Team Biden from addressing voters other than virtually from their home offices and basements. That puts a premium on a vice presidential candidate who can energize and connect with voters over the Internet and balance the 77-year-old Biden’s strengths and weaknesses.
Senators Kamala Harris of California and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota are, in our collective estimation, the most qualified to do that. Both bring extensive criminal justice experience to the office and impressive accomplishments in the Republican-controlled Senate.
We see these two as running neck-and-neck in the Veep Sweepstakes. We give Harris a slight edge over Klobuchar to be recommended by Biden’s newly appointed vetting committee on grounds that she adds racial diversity to the ticket and is the more charismatic figure. It should help that one of the four vetting committee leaders is Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.
The person who will partner with Biden needs to emanate integrity and honesty to attract moderate Republicans disaffected by Trump’s war on truth, the divisiveness and incivility he stokes and the crisis management failures that have tanked the U.S. economy and left COVID-19 to inflict the world’s deadliest toll on Americans.
Biden made his promise to choose a woman as his running mate before the severity of the pandemic was obvious to much of the country. It was a move that propelled him to decisive victories on Super Tuesday as many women were dismayed by their preferred candidates having to drop out because of fundraising hurdles and disappointing early primaries. Biden’s pledge to bring one of these hopefuls into his quest for the Oval Office raised our hopes that she would then have a springboard to the presidency in 2024.
Our choice of Harris as the strongest and most exciting contender does not reflect recent polls in which Democrats prefer Sen. Elizabeth Warren by a hefty margin. Despite all the energized progressives that want Warren, we worry that she remains too far left to help pull the votes of moderates and anti-Trump Republicans that could seal the deal for a Biden victory. We also agree with those saying Biden will improve his chances by selecting a woman of color and those actively lobbying to push him in that direction. African American women have been some of the most determined foot soldiers of the Democratic Party and are credited with making the difference in many tight races where turning out the vote proved pivotal. It simply is time, and we hope Biden and his advisers agree.
We have compiled what we calculate are the Top 10 contenders from among more than 30 names being tossed out by political analysts and media pundits. We offer our personal views on who we agree are the top three – Harris and Klobuchar and a more distant third-place Sen. Elizabeth Warren. We diverge on the merits of our next rankings: former National Security Advisor Susan Rice and former Georgia state legislator Stacey Abrams, then place the bottom five much farther down on the scale of likeliness to be the VP candidate.
Women around the world have been the ones to suffer the consequences of wars provoked by chauvinist leaders, from the Balkans to the Middle East and Southeast Asia. It’s time for the United States to hand over leadership to one of these eminently qualified women.
This is a subjective ranking by two women journalists with long careers in national politics and foreign policy. We invite our readers to comment with their own assessments as to who is up and who is down, whether youth or race should be the primary consideration and which of the perceived frontrunners would best strengthen Biden’s prospects of victory in November.
1. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, 55
CJW: Harris brings intelligence, charisma and diversity to the ticket. The first-term senator previously served as California attorney general and as prosecutor in the Bay Area. She is an articulate debater and at 55 is young enough to turn a VP apprenticeship into the first female U.S. presidency after 2024.
LKJ: She’s a proven campaigner with a strong criminal justice background and solid victories in the nation’s most populous state. In this election season, being telegenic will be important when candidates must campaign via the Internet. That Harris clashed with Biden during the debates can be a plus in demonstrating party unity now. That doesn’t mean she can’t challenge him behind the scenes and steer him to other viewpoints. Who wants another Pence who roboticly does whatever he’s told?
2. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, 59
LKJ: The veteran senator from Minnesota comes across as practical, hardworking and smart. She might not be as telegenic as Harris, but she has a sly sense of humor that could appeal to voters and seems like a simpatico fit for Biden. She might be more likely to attract Republican crossover votes than Harris. She also brings a background in criminal justice before she was elected to the Senate.
CJW: The third-term senator from Minnesota is as smart and experienced as Harris but would also bring wit and Midwest swing-state popularity to Biden’s side. As a moderate, she could put independents and disaffected Republicans at ease in crossing over to a Democratic leadership to unite our divided country and repair the damage inflicted on our institutions and international standing.
3. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, 70
CJW: Warren is energetic, speaks truth to power, has corruption and corporate greed in her sights and is probably the best woman in the running to attract support from ardent progressives left behind by Bernie Sanders’ primary defeats. But her Senate seat would be filled by Massachusetts’ Republican governor if she were to leave it for the VP office. And she turns 71 next month – not exactly passing the torch to a new generation of Democrats.
LKJ: On the national debate stage, Warren stood out as whip smart and able to weave personal story with facts and figures to make compelling points. She strikes me as energetic, highly capable – someone who can step into pandemonium and sort it out. Her age should not be an issue. But the question of how much she can compromise her ideals to work with Biden is a question. The progressives who supported her are a highly motivated block that could make a difference in November.
4. Susan Rice, former National Security Adviser and UN Ambassador, 55
CJW: President Obama’s national security advisor and UN ambassador is a Rhodes Scholar and the most experienced foreign policy expert on Biden’s short list. She carries some baggage from incomplete public disclosures on the 2012 terrorist attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, but that misstep pales in comparison with the Trump administration’s four-year distortion of undesirable news.
LKJ: She’s never been elected to public office but held positions in the Obama and Clinton administrations. She strikes me as a thinker more than an ideologue. Rice is an effective speaker and successful writer. She is someone you can talk to and who knows how to listen. She and Biden have worked together before and that familiarity would be a plus as running mates. But would she energize voters?
5. Stacey Abrams of Georgia, 46
LKJ: Abrams has star power — that’s why she was chosen to give the Democrats’ response to Trump’s 2019 State of the Union. She served a decade in the Georgia House, including six years as minority leader. Is that the kind of experience needed for someone a heartbeat away from the presidency? She’s shown herself to be a quick learner, an inspiring speaker, and devoted to getting out the vote. In an election that will rely heavily on campaigning via Zoom and making sure people vote, she may have strengths that Biden needs – including the moxie to stand up and say she wants the job.
CJW: The former Georgia state legislator is smart, feisty and would likely attract black voters and young progressives. At 46 she is the youngest candidate thought to be in contention. But she has the least experience in public office and failed to beat the GOP’s miserably weak Gov. Brian Kemp in her only run for statewide office. Harris, Klobuchar or Warren would bring better strengths to Biden’s ticket.
The following five possibilities may be stronger as Cabinet choices. Here’s our take on where they stand in the VP hunt:
6. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, 48
CJW: Gretchen Whitmer comes to national attention thanks to Trump’s bullying and egging on armed opponents of her orders locking down Michigan to contain one of the nation’s deadliest spreads of COVID-19. Unless her state’s virus outbreak is turned around sooner than the experts are predicting, she will need to be at home dealing with that crisis, not campaigning for Biden.
LKJ; Whitmer has made a splash standing up to Trump as Michigan confronted the coronavirus, but that has been a mixed bag and shouldn’t be the only reason to consider her for the No. 2 spot.
7. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, 56
LKJ: Catherine Cortez Masto served as attorney general in Nevada before winning the Senate seat of retiring Sen. Harry Reid. Reid likes her and his voice probably carries weight with Biden.
CJW: Cortez Masto isn’t well known beyond Nevada, but as one of the few Latina figures whose name comes up in the Veep sweeps she would bring a crucial constituency to Biden.
8. Rep. Val Demings of Florida, 63
LKJ: Among the next tier of contenders, Val Demings is not a household name, but I admire Demings for her law enforcement experience in Florida and for the way she handled herself in the impeachment hearings.
CJW: Demings of Florida would boost Biden’s chances with Southern blacks, and she was impressive in her prosecutorial role in the impeachment of Trump. But there are better candidates in the running who would bring those pluses to the Democratic ticket.
9. Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, 52
Tammy Duckworth, a U.S. Army veteran who lost both legs when her helicopter was shot down by Iraqi insurgents in 2004, could lure military voters who are appalled by Trump’s interference in disciplinary and judicial matters to rescue violators of the rules of engagement from accountability. She would be a great Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
LKJ: Duckworth has a compelling personal story that will resonate with every veteran and member of our military and cuts across party lines. She served in the House before being elected to the Senate from Illinois, besting the Republican incumbent by 15 points. But has she been a standout senator?
10. Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, 58
LKJ: Baldwin campaigned for Obama, and Obama campaigned for the Wisconsin senator. She brings 27 years of experience in public office, serving in the Wisconsin Assembly before she was elected to the U.S. House and then U.S. Senate. She is the first openly gay woman elected to the Senate.
CJW: Baldwin has the least name familiarity of the 10 women we considered leading the crowded, if mostly undeclared, pack. The advantages she would bring to the Biden campaign are her battleground state of Wisconsin and a voice for the LGBT communities across the country.
LKJ: In 2016, a strong anti-Washington, anti-establishment outpouring helped Trump win. Will Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic along with other major errors by his administration convince voters this year that we need people in office who know how government works and can get things done? Will experience be valued over bluster? Will intelligence be valued over loyalty? All of these possible running mates have experience and intelligence, and each in different ways would bring what Biden needs and what this country needs in its leaders.
CJW: Opinion polls are all over the map as to who would provide the perfect enhancement of the Democratic presidential ticket. All the political calculus may mean less than the question of who Biden believes would be his best partner in healing the wounds of America, our divided, dysfunctional and isolated nation.
I like the analysis in a NYTimes story, that there are three kinds of choices for vice president. One for August (like Palin, a quick shot of energy to start the campaign); one for October (a scrappy fighter and attack dog in the homestretch); and one for January (a trusted partner for governing). I’d put the front runners for Biden in these slots: 1) Stacey Abrams, 2) Harris and Warren, 3) Klobuchar. Best if a candidate at least excels in two categories, as Biden did (2 and 3).