Joe Biden is not expected to announce his VP pick until the summer, but the audition process has intensified—and grown increasingly public. Potential picks are openly jockeying for the role. Strategists, left-leaning groups, and party leaders are lobbying the campaign. And Biden, 77, is weighing not just what the women on his shortlist could bring to the ticket politically, but how they would lead the Democratic party after what would likely be his single term in office should he win. “We’d be electing somebody in his late 70s,” former North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp told the New York Times on Sunday. “This is really auditioning to be the next leader of the Democratic Party.” Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid concurred, telling the Times, “I think people are going to look to see who is the person who could be the next president.”
Biden himself has suggested he would only serve four years if he defeats Donald Trump, casting his would-be presidency as a mission to wrest the White House from an unfit leader, clean up the messes he left behind, and restore something like normalcy to the United States government before handing the reins to the next generation. “I view myself as a transition candidate,” Biden said in a recent online fundraiser. “You got to get more people on the bench that are ready to go in.”
Some recent polls have suggested that Elizabeth Warren, with whom he authored an op-ed last week calling for increased accountability when it comes to coronavirus relief funding, is the preferred choice among Democrats. The Massachusetts senator, one of Biden’s former primary rivals, is a strong progressive with broad appeal; her selection could energize the younger, more liberal voters whom Biden has struggled to captivate. Those voters have been skeptical of the moderate’s suggestion, following Bernie Sanders’ withdrawal from the race, that he would embrace at least parts of the progressive agenda. Picking Warren could signal, for at least some progressives, a commitment to those issues.
But there are concerns among Democrats about choosing Warren, including over what such a selection would mean for their hopes to turn the Senate blue; as the Times notes, Warren heading to the White House would give Massachusetts’ Republican governor a chance to appoint someone to her seat in the upper chamber. Other former 2020 contenders Amy Klobuchar and Kamala Harris have also emerged as candidates to round out the ticket; both have good relationships with Biden, have been among the most prominent surrogates for his campaign, and as senators are viewed as ready to govern on day one. Harris, in particular, could be an appealing choice. Top Biden allies, including the powerful Representative James Clyburn, whose endorsement helped Biden become the presumptive nominee, have called for the ex-veep to pick a black woman as his running mate. Harris, like others said to be in consideration, has made clear she wants the role. “I’d be honored to serve with Joe,” Harris said last month. But no potential running mate has been as vocal as Stacey Abrams, who has mounted a public campaign for the position. “I would put my capacity to win an election as the VP running mate alongside anyone’s,” the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate told the Atlantic recently.
If it’s unusual for the selection process to play out in the open as much as it is, it’s perhaps fitting for this highly unusual campaign. Set against the backdrop of the coronavirus crisis, which has forced the race almost entirely online, the stakes are high both to defeat Trump and to stabilize a reeling nation. Democrats’ efforts are complicated not only by inter-party divisions and ongoing second-guessing about the lessons they should draw from 2016, but by Tara Reade’s allegation of sexual misconduct against their candidate. Whoever Biden picks—whether it is one of the bigger-name Democrats, or someone like Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, whose profile has risen as she stands up to Trump over his shambolic response to the COVID pandemic—will be thrust into the role of defending Biden against that claim, which he has denied, even as they prepare to shoulder the mantle of the party for the forseable future.
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