News reports suggest former vice president Joe Biden might announce his running mate early should he get into the Democratic nomination race. That’s a great idea, especially if he names a progressive woman of color such as Stacey Abrams.
Biden would start the race in a good position, but he’s not invulnerable. The perception that he’s relatively moderate will likely hurt him among the resurgent and energetic Democratic left. The fact is, he’s a white man seeking to lead a party that is increasingly politically dominated by women and people of color. And he’ll turn 77 this November, which would make him among the oldest people ever to seek the presidency seriously.
It’s not at all a stretch to see progressive, nonwhite, female and millennial Democrats look at Biden and decide they want someone more like them. That’s where naming a vice president early could help him a lot.
An early vice-presidential pick would allow Biden to appeal to each of these groups by effectively telling them “the future is yours.” Picking a younger, progressive woman of color would be a classic ticket-balancing move. Coupled with a pledge to serve only one term — he would be 82 at the end of his first term — Biden could argue that he understands where today’s party is and will not stand in the way of a generational transfer of power.
That’s where Abrams comes in. Her energetic and almost victorious campaign for Georgia governor energized progressives nationwide. Beto O’Rourke might have attracted more headlines and money during the 2018 cycle, but Abrams comes in a close second as a new progressive heartthrob. She is only 45 years old, a year younger than O’Rourke. And the prospect of her becoming the nation’s second African American president one day would surely be a plus in both the primary and general elections within the black community.
Some will inevitably criticize her relative lack of governing experience, but in the age of President Trump, that seems to be a less valuable attribute. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) had less than three years’ experience in elected office when he launched his presidential bid, and fellow Republican candidates Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson had never served in elected office — along with the eventual winner, Trump. On the Democratic side, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) had been in the Senate only a bit more than two years when she announced her bid, although she had previously served six years as California attorney general and seven as San Francisco’s district attorney. Abrams’s more than 10 years in the Georgia House of Representatives, where she rose to become the Democratic leader, doesn’t look so paltry in comparison.
There are other notable Democratic women who could contend for the spot, such as Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), but both would both be over 70 by Election Day and over 74 when they would be able to be elected president themselves. And while the party has a number of impressive female representatives, most are too young or lack the same political edge that Abrams has.
There are nevertheless two women he could seriously consider in addition to Abrams: Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.). Duckworth is Asian American and lost both her legs in combat when serving in the Iraq War. She served as a congresswoman for four years and is in her third year as a U.S. senator, a similar amount of experience to what Richard M. Nixon had when he was picked as Dwight D. Eisenhower’s running mate in 1952. She’s also only 50 years old — old enough to have experience and young enough to represent a genuine change. She’s not the progressive household name that Abrams has become, but she is clearly on the left in the Democrats’ internal lineup.
Lujan Grisham offers a similar array of positives, minus Duckworth’s wartime experience. She was chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus during her five years in the House and comes from a distinguished political family. She was just elected as governor but has years of executive experience from appointments in prior gubernatorial administrations. She is conventionally progressive on virtually all issues and turns 60 this October. She might not excite the ActBlue or Daily Kos types, but she clearly meets their minimum criteria for ideological purity.
All eyes will be on Biden if and when he finally announces. He’ll meet his backers’ expectation if all he offers is himself and the argument that he can beat Trump. He would make a huge impact, and potentially gain serious ground on his rivals, if he breaks precedent and announces a ideologically, gender- and race-balanced ticket at the same time.