There’s a lot of talk that former vice president Joe Biden should pick a progressive or a person of color for his running mate if he does become the nominee. That’s an understandable and conventional view, but it’s wrong. He should instead emulate Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign and pick someone with a similar appeal to his own: Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
Clinton faced a challenge similar to that which Biden would face: how to win back blue-collar Democrats who had defected to the Republicans. He won the nomination by campaigning as a new type of Democrat — someone who shared the party’s traditional support for a strong government while recognizing that rising crime and welfare abuse were real problems. Biden’s calling card is that he can win back the same type of voters who defected to back Donald Trump in 2016, enabling Democrats to reclaim some of the former “blue wall” states in the Upper Midwest whose surprise defection elected Trump.
Clinton could have done the traditional thing and picked someone associated with the old Democratic Party as his running mate. That would have reassured those people that they wouldn’t be shunted aside during his administration. Instead, Clinton doubled down on his approach and picked someone who, like him, was a young, Southern reform Democrat: Sen. Al Gore of Tennessee.
This was an inspired selection. The ticket’s unity of type and message was its strength. Reagan Democrats could see the desire to change was real and were able to trust they wouldn’t get the same old tax-and-spend liberal Democrats they had rejected in three straight presidential elections. The Clinton-Gore ticket won back enough of those voters that it carried four Southern states and swept most of the Midwest, cementing its victory.
Klobuchar would do for Biden what Gore did for Clinton. Like Biden, she is a traditional center-left Democrat who builds bridges rather than walls. She is comfortable campaigning in moderate tones while being unafraid to dust it up with Republicans and highlight their differences. As she often said when she was a presidential candidate, she’s carried red and blue areas of her home state with ease in three straight elections. Blue-collar former Democrats won’t be scared by her, and she would reinforce Biden’s message of national healing.
She brings another advantage to Biden that Gore could not bring to Clinton. As a woman, she would have distinct appeal to blue-collar women, who are likelier to switch back from Trump than blue-collar men. She also has appeal for educated suburban women, another key Democratic constituency, as a successful lawyer and professional. Keeping those demographics in line is essential to Democratic victory in the fall, and Klobuchar adds to Biden’s underlying appeal for them.
Klobuchar’s relative youth and clear competence will also be strong assets for the septuagenarian Biden. His age and frequent verbal missteps will inevitably raise concerns that he might not be up to the job, or even that he might die or become incapacitated in office. The 59-year-old Klobuchar is of prime presidential age, and even her detractors will admit she knows the details of government inside and out. Unlike other possible picks, she could indisputably step into the Oval Office on day one.
Picking someone to his left would allow Trump to attack Biden for being a closet socialist. Selecting Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) would clearly delight many progressives but would then worry suburban moderates. Picking progressive heartthrob Stacey Abrams, a former state legislative leader from Georgia and defeated gubernatorial candidate, would unite the party but send chills down the spines of swing voters. Virtually anyone with a consistent profile who could energize progressives would also scare moderates.
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Nor does Biden need a person of color on the ticket to increase minority turnout. Biden’s political resurrection was fueled by black voter support. He doesn’t need a black vice president like Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) to spur their excitement. Picking a Latina might theoretically help him with Hispanic voters, but is there a seasoned Hispanic woman who can plausibly reassure voters worried about Biden’s stamina or competence? Picking a Hispanic man such as Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Tex.) or his twin brother, former HUD secretary and presidential candidate Julián Castro, would also create problems with the Democrats’ powerful female contingent. Better off not creating problems when you don’t have to.
The Democratic strategy for beating Trump is simple: unite the majority of Americans who have disapproved of his presidency for its entire term. That means running competent, decent people who won’t frighten voters away. Biden-Klobuchar is a perfect ticket for that task.
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