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  • Ali Atia

Who will be Biden’s right-hand woman?

Joe Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee for the presidential election this November. In the midst of the chaos and turmoil wrought by the coronavirus outbreak, his only remaining opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), withdrew from the race last week, allowing Biden to begin in earnest his campaign for the general election. Now the former vice president faces an important decision – selecting his own second-in-command. Though his promise at the final primary debate in February to opt for a woman on the ticket narrows down the list of options, qualified candidates are abound. Among them are governors, senators, newcomers onto the political scene, and former opponents in the race for the nomination.

Biden has already outlined two of the main points he’s looking out for – ideological similarity and experience. Having held the position for eight years, he realises that a Commander-in-Chief and a vice president ought to agree on most issues. That means candidates who are situated too far to the left of the party are unlikely to be selected. Biden, who was a senator for over 30 years prior to his vice presidency, is distinctly aware of the importance of experience and the need for a running mate who will be “ready on Day 1 to be president of the United States of America.” And, as if to reassure critics who argue his age threatens his candidacy, Biden wants a VP who is younger than himself.

Biden is also likely to take other criteria such as electability into account, which means the region from which a candidate hails is an important factor. In 2016, most eyes were focused on the Midwest, where razor-thin margins in states like Wisconsin and Michigan helped to seal the election in President Trump’s favour. If this is the case, Biden still has a wealth of options – the Midwest is not lacking in moderate, experienced politicians.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, for instance, who has recently come into the limelight for her state’s response to the pandemic. Biden has described Whitmer as “an outstanding governor… one of the most talented people,” and she has worked with him in her capacity as co-chair of his national campaign. She would boost Biden’s electability in a state which President Trump eked out in 2016. Her politics are moderate and pragmatic, like Biden’s, and she has spoken out against policies such as Medicare-for-All.

Her competition is fierce, however – Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), is also a Midwesterner, and one whose endorsement provided Biden with a boost prior to Super Tuesday, is another viable option. Klobuchar’s moderate politics would serve to complement Biden’s, and she has time and again shown that she can win, managing a 24-point margin against her Republican opponent in 2018 where Hillary Clinton barely managed a 1.5-point win against the president.

A third option, perhaps lesser known but with a bombastic backstory is Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.). Born in Thailand to a US veteran of the Second World War, Duckworth would go on to serve herself, losing both legs as a result of injuries sustained after Iraqi insurgents downed her UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in 2004. She is a Midwesterner, a woman of colour, and a veteran – she seems to check all the boxes. Duckworth has also been outspoken in her criticisms of far-left politics, remarking that “you can’t win the White House without the Midwest, and I don’t think that you can go too far to the left and still win the Midwest,” in response to the election of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described democratic socialist, in 2018.

Biden does not lack options – to use Sen. Mitt Romney’s (D-UT) perhaps unfortunate phrasing during the 2012 election, there are “binders of women” for Biden to choose from. He may select Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), who recently appeared at one of his virtual fundraisers. Or Stacey Abrams, who lost Georgia’s gubernatorial race in 2018 by a thin margin and has touted herself as an “excellent” candidate for the position.

There are, however, some prominent names which are unlikely to appear on the ticket. Among them is Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Though she has been floated as an option by various prominent outlines, Warren is a septuagenarian herself – though younger than Biden, she does not represent the new generation of politicians who will soon be holding the reins. Her politics are not exactly, to use Biden’s phrasing, “simpatico” with his own. Furthermore, the empty seat she would leave in the Senate would be filled by a temporary Republican appointed by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker. This would not be a problem for Klobuchar and Duckworth, both of whom hail from states governed by a Democrat.

The name at the bottom of the ticket is unlikely to be the factor which makes or breaks the campaign – data on prior elections indicates that most vice-presidential picks will not have an impact to the extent that, for instance, Sarah Palin did as John McCain’s selection in 2008. Having a strong second-in-command is an important part of the job itself, however, and Biden’s unique perspective as a former vice president means he is sure to choose a second-in-command who will complement his strengths and shore up his weaknesses.

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