Below, we look at the best argument for and against some of the big names thought to be in contention.
Kamala D. Harris
Best argument for: Checking the most boxes and doing no harm. Biden is polling as a clear and steady favorite in the 2020 election, which may tempt him to make the safest pick. Logic has long suggested that candidate would be Harris. The senator from California brings diversity to the ticket, and she’s one of two candidates in the running with experience campaigning for president, which means she has dealt with something amounting to the scrutiny that would come with being a VP pick. She’s the only Black woman in the country who is a sitting governor or U.S. senator. Any other Black candidate on this list would be an unorthodox pick, in that they would come from the House (Val Demings, Karen Bass) or have never held elective office (Susan E. Rice).
Best argument against: Her past as a prosecutor and Biden antagonist. The benefit of Harris’s diversity could be somewhat offset by concerns in the Black community about her past as a tough-on-crime prosecutor, which has earned some derision among that vital Democratic constituency. She also had a high-profile tussle with Biden during the Democratic primaries, in which she attacked his past position on busing — raising the specter of a Biden liability on race issues — and then later revealed that her position wasn’t all that different. Politico has reported that former senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), a key member of Biden’s VP search committee, has complained that Harris shows “no remorse” for the attack and that he felt it was a cheap shot — something of an odd criticism, given this is generally how primaries work. Whether Biden holds similar views is unclear, though, and it’s hardly unheard-of for presidential nominees to pick former foes.
Best argument for: Appealing to the liberal wing of the party. Nobody on this list has the liberal bona fides of Warren, and she would be a more-than-capable stand-in if Biden feels as though he has to keep supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) behind his candidacy. The senator from Massachusetts is also the only potential VP pick besides Harris who has been vetted as a presidential candidate. This might be less of a consideration today, though, as polls indicate that the Sanders wing is very much on board; a recent poll of battleground states showed that Warren primary supporters back Biden over Trump 96 percent to 0 percent and that Sanders backers support him 87 percent to 4 percent. That’s considerably better than in 2016, when between 6 percent and 12 percent of Sanders supporters voted for Trump in the general election, according to studies.
Best argument against: Being too liberal and not diverse enough. Perhaps the leading White candidate in the field, Warren has been a favorite foil of President Trump, who often focuses on her past claims to Native American ancestry — a controversy Warren has struggled to put behind her. The Trump campaign has also zeroed in on painting Biden as beholden to the leftists in his party, as something of a Trojan horse for them. Picking Warren would sure seem to play into that attack, however well it works. Perhaps most important, though, picking Warren would also risk turning off Black Democrats who have demanded that Biden make a more diverse pick. That effort yielded a letter signed by more than 100 prominent Black men on Monday and a letter signed by more than 700 prominent Black women last week.
Susan E. Rice
Best argument for: A governing partner. Biden values personal relationships, and nobody on this list has closer ties to him than Rice does. The two worked together in the Obama administration, when Biden was VP and Rice was national security adviser. As The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan and Karen DeYoung reported recently, Biden allies see this as Rice’s chief asset, though it could just as well make her a logical pick for a top Cabinet post.
Best argument against: Benghazi and her message discipline. Some Democrats scoff at the idea that the 2012 attack on two U.S. facilities by Islamic militants could be rekindled as a campaign issue, but it’s an entirely fair question. Regardless of what you think about the issue and how it reflected upon Hillary Clinton, Rice has already forfeited a job because of it: becoming Clinton’s successor as secretary of state. And it wasn’t just Rice’s dodgy initial claims that the attack was a spontaneous response to an anti-Islam video; she also has a pattern of questionable, unhelpful and false claims on some high-profile issues. As The Post’s Dana Milbank reported in 2012, Rice was, for a time, sidelined from the Obama campaign in 2008 for this tendency.
Best argument for: Experience and issues. More so than any candidate on this list, the California congresswoman has a long history of dealing with issues such as policing practices — long before it was in vogue for much of the party. She is also a governing pick, having served as the speaker of the California State Assembly during the financial crisis, where her performance earned bipartisan praise. As Bass has reminded us, she led a legislative branch in a state that constitutes the fifth-largest economy in the world. People may not know her as much out East, but when it comes to experience, Bass brings more than other House members do.
Best argument against: Some extreme ties. Recent reports have revealed that Bass spoke approvingly of the Church of Scientology when it opened a new headquarters in Los Angeles a decade ago. She has also eulogized a member of the Communist Party USA and had kind words for Cuban dictator Fidel Castro upon his death — along with a history with Cuba dating to her youth. All of that would be further mined by Biden’s opponents.
Best argument for: Florida and diversity. Florida gave George W. Bush the presidency in 2000 by a margin of 537 votes, Barack Obama carried it by one point in 2012, and then Trump won it by one percentage point in 2016. Polls of the 2020 race there suggest Biden has a consistent, single-digit advantage. If he won the state and its 29 electoral votes, Trump’s path to victory would be significantly curtailed. It’s not clear that a representative of one of Florida’s 27 districts would help much, but as we’ve seen in Florida, every little bit counts. The congresswoman is also someone who Biden might reason could bridge gaps between the Black community and law enforcement, given her past as Orlando police chief.
Best argument against: Questions about that law enforcement past. Demings brings something different from former prosecutor pols like Harris and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), but it cuts both ways. Holding such municipal office — particularly in law enforcement — can be a minefield, and Demings’s record of siding with her officers when they were accused of misconduct looms large. There are aspects of her record that could certainly help. But Demings presents plenty of unknowns — not least because she has served only two terms in Congress and it’s difficult to fully vet her record in Orlando in a few months. If the idea is to do no harm, she may not fit.
Best argument for: An incomparable résumé. There has never been someone quite like the senator from Illinois in U.S. politics. The daughter of a woman of Chinese descent who was born in Thailand, Duckworth checks the diversity box (though perhaps not in the way that Black Democrats would like). She is also a war veteran and Purple Heart recipient who lost both of her legs in service of her country. She is one of just three statewide officeholders on this list, with experience running tough races for both the House and Senate. Duckworth may not be well-known nationally, but she would be a groundbreaking VP pick. And as the New York Times’s Matt Flegenheimer wrote this month, she might be the Biden-est pick in the running.
Best argument against: Her messaging. As the Times’s story also documented, Duckworth isn’t as practiced or smooth in her public speaking as many other politicians, and that reared its head recently when she suggested that removing statues of George Washington merited discussion. Setting aside the overzealous reaction by the likes of Fox News’s Tucker Carlson questioning her patriotism, it wasn’t terribly confidence-inspiring, especially given this was a topical issue on which you would think Duckworth would have been prepared to offer a response more in line with Biden’s stance.
Best argument for: Michigan, Michigan, Michigan. There are some conflicting signals with the Michigan governor. We just learned that she interviewed for the job and appears to be on Biden’s shortlist, after seeming to fade from contention. But we also just learned she’s slated to speak Monday at the Democratic National Convention, while the VP pick is set to speak Wednesday. Her appeal is perhaps clearer and more basic than any other candidate on this list: Michigan is one of the most vital states in this election, alongside Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. She’s reasonably popular there, and picking a governor could also appeal to Biden.
Best argument against: Racial and ideological diversity. One of two White candidates thought to be in contention, Whitmer, unlike Warren, doesn’t add much ideological diversity. That means she would risk alienating two crucial parts of the Democratic Party. That needs to be balanced against whatever benefit might come in such a crucial state.
Michelle Lujan Grisham
Best argument for: Unique diversity and political track record. The New Mexico governor is the only Latina thought to be in contention, and that’s also a voting bloc of increasingly vital importance for Democrats. Turnout among Hispanics is more volatile and less overwhelmingly Democratic than among Black voters, meaning a Hispanic VP pick could logically provide a bigger boost. Picking her would make it more difficult to criticize not picking a Black woman, given the historic nature of choosing a Latina. She also has an extensive record in various roles, including leading her state’s health department, serving in the House and now being governor. There’s plenty in her record for Democrats to like, including most recently with New Mexico’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Best argument against: The unknown factor. Grisham has been perhaps the most low-profile contender on this list, and New Mexico isn’t exactly a focal point of national politics. The governor might be a more ideal pick for a Cabinet job.