Surely in his three runs for president — 2020, 2008, and 1988 — Joe Biden has had plenty of time to imagine being introduced as the Democratic nominee for president in front of thousands, clasping the hand of his running mate, and taking in the cheers and adulation of a convention crowd.
He’s finally overcome the hardest hurdle: defeating his primary opponents, and in this cycle there were 24. But with social distancing on the minds of many, there won’t be any large crowds or hand clasping any time soon. And the spread of the coronavirus may also be changing the calculus of who he picks as his running mate.
A vice president for eight years himself, Biden no doubt has some thoughts about what he wants in a second-in-command. He has talked at length about how the chemistry between himself and Barack Obama was vital to a working relationship. Biden has also signaled that he wants his candidacy and presidency to serve as something of a bridge to a new generation. And then there was his explicit promise to pick a woman.
Now thrown into that mix is being a leader amidst a pandemic, which may elevate some choices over others.
Governors and mayors, not senators
For all of the talk about Senators Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar being perfect running mates for Biden (and there is plenty of that talk), one of the most dramatic changes in American politics over the past month has been the shift in power away from Washington and to leaders of states and cities.
Before the coronavirus, politics was basically all national. Now the action is a state-by-state patchwork of decisions — in harmony or at odds with the White House.
Governors are interesting again and so are mayors. Since Biden’s vice presidential pick will presumably be squaring off against Mike Pence, who has led the White House coronavirus task force, would it make sense to pick a senator who has been far from decision making, or an elected official who has had to make hard choices about lockdowns, curfews, obtaining face, masks and closing schools?
The coronavirus is not just bad for members of Congress who want to be picked, but also for those not holding public office right now, including former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams and even Michelle Obama. Biden said this week he would pick Michelle Obama in a “heartbeat” if she were open to the idea. (Easy to say when she has repeatedly said she is not.)
Health care background
Also suddenly helpful to a potential vice presidential pick’s resume: any background in health care or public health. Granted the vice president won’t be scrubbing in at a hospital, but if they can speak with authority on the health crisis either on the micro or macro level it could lend more credibility to the case Biden is making about the need for competence in leadership.
Biden’s team might resurface the names of former US Secretaries of Health and Human Services, for example. Kathleen Sebelius, a former Kansas governor and HHS secretary, could get a call.
Three specific names on the rise
So here are three names of people who have seen their chances of being Biden’s running mate improve over the past month. This doesn’t mean they will be picked, but it does mean they are likely higher on Biden’s list than they were in early March.
The most obvious is Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan. Because she is the only female governor from “The Big Three” swing states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, she was widely assumed to be on Biden’s list months ago.
But now Whitmer has emerged as among the most prominent Democrats to go toe-to-toe with the Trump administration — and President Trump himself — over its handling of the pandemic. And she is arguably the highest-profile woman to do so. It’s notable that Lansing was among the first places to see a state house rally from Trump supporters wanting to open up their state.
Another person to watch is Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. As Georgia becomes the first state to really begin to reopen, Bottoms has been the one sounding the alarm and is about to get even more national press as she diverges from the state’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp. Bottoms is 50, graduated from an historically black college, and comes from an emerging swing state with two US Senate contests this year. Oh, and here is another bonus point: she was among the early endorsers of Biden last summer.
Last is a wild card of sorts. There is only one female doctor in Congress and she is among the group of freshman Democrats who flipped a red district in 2018. Representative Kim Schrier of Washington state defeated Republican Dino Rossi last year on a platform partly centered on health care. Like Biden, she doesn’t fully back Medicare for All.
The downside: While she comes from a swing district, she doesn’t come from a swing state. It is unclear if she can help Biden win, say, Wisconsin. But if he wanted to double down on a health background and a woman who has flipped places from red to blue, it’s possible Schrier might suddenly get a look.
James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.