Joe Biden isn’t likely to ask my advice on whom to pick as his running mate, since I’m neither a Democrat nor a likely Biden voter. I am, however, an American who wants his nation to be led by worthy and inspiring leaders, regardless of their party or political views. In that spirit I offer the sincere opinion that Biden’s best bet for vice president is a long shot most Americans haven’t heard of: Florida Representative Val Demings.
Biden has pledged to put a woman on the ticket. The conventional wisdom, reflected in betting markets and opinion polls, is that he’ll pick one of the senators who ran against him for the Democratic nomination — Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, or Amy Klobuchar. Why should he bypass them for Demings, who is largely unknown and has been in Congress for less than four years? Here are six reasons:
1. Her personal background is deeply stirring. Demings, the youngest of seven children, is a Black woman who was born in the Jim Crow South and grew up poor in a rural district of Duval County, Fla. Her father worked in an orange grove and mowed lawns; her mother was a housemaid. Demings was raised in a two-bedroom house that lacked an indoor bathroom, and she didn’t attend an integrated school until the sixth grade. She began working when she was 14, washing dishes in a nursing home. She was the first in her family to graduate from college, where she earned a degree in criminology. She joined the Orlando Police Department in 1983, and spent 27 years as a cop — the last four of them as Orlando’s first female chief of police. Demings’s life story is an American dream come true.
2. Her police career is a valuable asset. At a time when questions of policing, race, and criminal justice have become so salient in American politics, Demings’s many years on the force would give the Democratic ticket a unique moral authority. With Orlando’s former chief of police as a running mate, Biden would reassure moderate blue-collar voters, especially independents and disaffected Republicans, that his administration would bring seasoned experience to law and order issues. And who better to impart an aura of steadiness in a crisis than a long-time cop who has responded to countless emergencies?
3. Her home state is a key electoral battleground. Of the six states decided by margins of 1.5 percent or less in 2016, Florida controls by far the most votes (29) in the Electoral College. If Biden is to win the White House, he almost certainly must carry Florida, which has backed the winner in 13 of the 14 presidential races since 1964.
4. Her tenure in Congress has been short but impressive. Though only a two-term congresswoman, Demings has landed coveted assignments on the Homeland Security, Intelligence, and Judiciary committees. Her performance during the impeachment hearings was focused and sober; she came across as more interested in eliciting information than striking a pose. Then again, her opening statement as the Judiciary Committee began marking up articles of impeachment was a moving declaration of confidence in America: “I am a descendant of slaves,” she said. “Despite America’s complicated history, my faith is in the Constitution.” Demings was one of the seven House managers appointed to make the case against President Trump in the Senate trial. If Biden wants a running mate who can galvanize anti-Trump voters without coming across as alienating and extremist, Demings is his candidate.
5. Her voting record is — for a Democrat — middle-of-the-road. Though clearly a committed liberal, Demings is not a hardcore progressive. A data-based analysis of her voting record shows that she is more conservative than 61 percent of House Democrats. By current Democratic standards, she is a centrist. That fits well with Biden’s return-to-normalcy pitch, and would help him resist the fierce leftward pressure he faces from the Bernie Sanders/Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wing of the party.
6. Her private life is wholesome and likable. She has been married for 32 years to Jerry Demings — a fellow police officer and former chief of police who is now mayor of Orange County, Fla. — and together they have three children, five grandchildren, and a shared passion for riding motorcycles. Her natural authority has been apparent since she first donned an orange shoulder belt as a “school patrol” member in grade school. Though no one in public life escapes criticism, her career appears to be free of sordid scandals. And at 63, Demings is 14 years younger than Biden, whose age and mental fitness concern many voters.
Demings has little national name recognition, but that would change rapidly if she were selected as Biden’s running mate. Her accomplishments and talents would add luster to the Democratic ticket. Biden couldn’t make a more inspired choice.
Jeff Jacoby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jeff_jacoby. To subscribe to Arguable, his weekly newsletter, go to bitly.com/Arguable.