The more immediate question is timing. I’m a Republican political consultant, which means I normally spend time thinking about how Democrats campaign and respond to tactics from our side. But I am no fan of this president and so I’ve been thinking about how to beat him. And the best move Biden can make in this dark hour of our history is to name his running mate very soon.
Sooner is better because Biden’s party may not even have an in-person convention this summer, which means the general election campaign is already underway. A common bug, not feature, of conventions is that they give runner ups a chance to steal the show. The longer Biden waits for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to embrace his candidacy, the longer his party’s divisions linger. Biden should name his VP as soon as possible and build momentum for the ticket while President Trump continues to damage himself with his daily coronavirus “briefings.”
Now, to the choice: Given Biden’s age, this decision carries more weight than any in memory. If he wins this fall, Biden may not seek a second term. He has a rich set of choices, each with her own assets and liabilities. To my way of thinking, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota is far and away Biden’s best choice if he wants to win in November. But let’s first consider the other leading contenders:
Elizabeth Warren — The two-term Massachusetts senator is well-known and well-vetted and was the best day-to-day campaigner in the Democratic race. She is also the strongest proxy for Sanders if Biden is keen to unify the party behind him. A Warren pick would revive the GOP’s war cry of “socialism,” which Republicans were already salivating about when Sanders looked like the nominee. But she is a legitimate political force and more than capable of stepping into the big job.
Kamala D. Harris — Whatever else her brief campaign for the nomination accomplished, Harris is now the most prominent African American politician in the country. As a U.S. senator and former attorney general of the largest state, she meets the presidential test. Her connection to California donors is a big plus. But she remains a politician who struggled to get out of her own way, and reinforced the belief, common in California, that she is contrived, and poll driven. Republicans would target Harris as a partisan-base pick who cannot appeal broadly to swing voters. If Biden picks a black woman, he’ll pick Harris. But she may not help him.
Stacey Abrams — Young, progressive and African American, Stacey Abrams narrowly lost a race for the governor’s job in Georgia two years ago. Among progressives, she is broadly popular but remains mostly unknown and untested on the big stage of American politics. And while she may have a bright future, Republicans will have a field day with her history of not paying taxes on time and an unresolved investigation into her 2018 campaign.
Two years ago, Klobuchar would have been unfamiliar to 90 percent of the country. But her unlikely campaign (she never did better than third) catapulted her into consideration for the number-two job. Klobuchar would lend Biden a partner with a quick sense of humor and the killer instinct in debates.
She has her story down, the daughter of a teacher and a newspaperman with roots in the ore mines of the Iron Range. That gives her some working-class cred in a hyper-populist age. A lawyer and a former prosecutor, she has a résumé that independent voters respect. At 59, Klobuchar is a generation younger than Biden, but it is easy to forget that she has been in the Senate six years longer than Warren. Among her first jobs in Washington? Interning for vice president Walter Mondale.
Klobuchar is also a bridge to college-educated suburban voters who voted for Democrats in 2018, and she would help Biden hold her home state of Minnesota, which has been edging rightward lately. She can appeal to swing voters who are uncomfortable with liberals but appalled by the current management in the White House. Which is why she’s the choice many Republicans fear most.
It’s too soon to know if Biden erred by locking himself into a female running mate. The world has changed greatly in the past six weeks; Biden may now wish he had left himself room to tap governors-turned-virus-managers such as Andrew M. Cuomo of New York, Gavin Newsom of California or Jay Inslee of Washington. Biden’s promise seems to leave them sidelined.
But this is not the year to offer Americans someone new. Naming someone they know and doing it soon would be a shrewd move.