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Opinion Val Demings is the coalition pick for vice president

House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff and Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) walk to the Senate floor on Jan. 28 during the Senate impeachment trial of President Trump. (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

This is part of a series where I make the best possible case for various vice-presidential contenders. Previous entries in the series can be found here.

Every presidential nominee must craft a coherent message while leading a coalition that is wide-ranging to the point of incoherence. Barack Obama’s “Hope and Change” message worked at high-dollar fundraisers, Midwestern union halls, African American churches and big arena rallies. Bill Clinton’s “New Democrat” pitch resonated with voters in Appalachia, New England, the West Coast and the outer South. But this is a hard task, one that nominees like John F. Kerry haven’t been able to pull off.

Joe Biden isn’t a once-in-a-generation talent like Obama, though he’s not quite as bland as Kerry. So if he’s going to stick the landing on this very strange election season, he’ll need some help.

That’s why he should pick Florida Rep. Val Demings as his running mate: She can reinforce Biden’s strengths while helping him better represent the party as a whole.

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On a biographical level, Demings is a great fit for the Biden campaign. As the child of a maid and a janitor and as a first-generation college student, she’d bolster Biden’s appeal as a working-class Democrat. Her background as a police chief might also resonate with some of the blue-collar former Democrats who have drifted toward the GOP in recent years. As an African American woman, she’d balance out the ticket demographically and would personally represent the party’s most loyal bloc of voters. And it doesn’t hurt that she’s from Florida, one of the key swing states.

She’d also reinforce his strengths on politics and policy.

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Biden wants to argue that Trump is an aberration — that he’s uniquely corrupt, incompetent and unempathetic. Demings has more practice advancing the “corrupt” part of that argument than almost anyone: She was one of the managers of Trump’s impeachment in the House.

She’d also mesh well with Biden on major policy issues. According to data-driven measures, Demings is right in the middle of the House Democratic Caucus — like Biden, she sits between the progressive firebrands in the Squad and moderates like Pennsylvania Rep. Conor Lamb. Demings could help lead major legislative pushes in a Biden administration without appearing to be compromising her core principles to serve on a ticket with him.

The Fix’s Aaron Blake analyzes whom former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden might pick as his running mate in 2020. (Video: The Washington Post)

Demings could also help Biden find a way forward on issues of race and criminal justice, an area where his record has been somewhat contentious. Poll after poll shows that race relations deteriorated after the police shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, and the numbers have never really recovered. At some point in his presidency, Biden will feel the pressure to do something on race, policing and criminal justice because of how important these issues are to core Democratic constituencies. And as an old white man who pushed the 1994 crime bill, he’s going to need help to sell whatever proposal he advances to both progressive and moderate voters. As a relatively moderate African American former police chief, Demings could steer him through these thorny areas and craft the sort of liberal-but-not-fully-progressive policy that Biden would actually want to push.

It’s true that Demings has spent less than four years in Congress, and it’s unusual to rocket from junior membership in the House to the vice presidency. And, as a relatively new House member, she may not have that much pull with Floridians outside her district. Age might also become an issue for a Biden-Demings ticket. Most Democrats say the president should ideally be in their 40s or 50s, but Biden and Demings are 77 and 63 years old, respectively. If Biden wants someone who can bury the age question — someone who will be able to step in at a moment’s notice and serve for four to eight years without a question about health or age — Demings may not be the best choice.

But the downsides are worth it, because Biden needs Demings’s help. He’s not a political savant or a once-in-a-generation talent. He’s an above-replacement-level senator who, like most politicians, simply isn’t equipped to adequately represent every piece of his party. But if he picks Demings, he’ll have a partner who can help him see past his blind spots and create a stronger version of Biden-ism. And that’s more than most running mates can do.

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