PROVIDENCE – At every step of Governor Gina Raimondo’s political career, she’s had to answer questions about where her ambition would take her.
When she was still a candidate for the typically sleepy office of state treasurer in 2010, local Democrats were already buzzing about her prospects of being Rhode Island’s first female governor.
When it looked as though Hillary Clinton was a lock to become president in 2016, allies and critics alike wondered whether she’d accept a role in the administration.
And when she endorsed Michael Bloomberg’s short-lived presidential campaign earlier this year, the questions about whether she might be vice presidential material quickly followed.
Raimondo hasn’t always picked the winning horse in national politics, but her star has never been brighter in the eyes of Democratic powerbrokers. Now, with presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden pledging to select a woman as his running mate, Raimondo increasingly finds herself answering questions about whether she is being vetted for the job.
And while it appears unlikely that Raimondo is a frontrunner to join the ticket, experts with past experience in the vice presidential selection process say her resumé – a three-time statewide winner with an approval rating that has never been higher – makes her a credible candidate.
“She’s got a set of credentials that are pretty significant,” said David Axelrod, who helped craft Barack Obama’s successful campaign for president in 2008, and then worked as a top advisor in the White House. “And every governor, at this juncture, has additional bona fides because they’ve been leading through this [coronavirus] crisis.”
Raimondo has so far dodged questions about whether she is being considered for vice president, but The New York Times reported over the weekend that she has had a conversation with Biden’s vetting team. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who The Times reported is assisting Biden’s campaign with the search, was in the same class of Rhodes Scholars as Raimondo, in 1993.
During a press conference on Monday, Raimondo declined to comment on whether she has spoken to Biden’s campaign, but said, “I am 150 percent focused on doing my job in Rhode Island, and spending no time on politics.”
“I have the job I want, which is being governor of Rhode Island,” she said.
Raimondo is term-limited in 2022, and Axelrod said her role as the longest-serving active female governor in the country, coupled with her “interesting background” as a lawyer, venture capitalist, and lead architect of Rhode Island’s pension reform law while she was treasurer, gives her good reason to be on Biden’s list.
Axelrod, who said he doesn’t have direct knowledge of Biden’s thinking, acknowledged that it’s possible for Biden to have a long list of potential running mates. While Obama ultimately tapped Biden to join the ticket in 2008, Axelrod said the campaign vetted as many as 30 candidates.
“He is uniquely suited to understand the role of the vice president, and as such, my guess is he's doing a lot of thinking,” Axelrod said.
Aside from committing to selecting a woman as his running mate, Biden has not publicly tipped his hand about who he favors for the job. US Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Tammy Baldwin have all been identified as potential candidates, along with US Representative Val Demings of Florida and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms.
While Raimondo may not have as much name recognition as Harris, Warren, and Klobuchar, all of whom debated Biden as candidates for president, her deep experience as an executive stands out, according to Tad Devine, a veteran Democratic consultant who has a home on Block Island.
Devine, who was US Senator Lloyd Bentsen’s campaign manager in 1988 when Bentsen was tapped to be Michael Dukakis’ presidential running mate, said Raimondo’s handling of the coronavirus crisis has proven that “she’s a really serious person who deserves a serious look” from Biden.
In a region that has been hardest hit by the contagious disease, Raimondo has helped make Rhode Island the nation’s leader in testing. Her decisive actions have led to a dramatic boost in her polling numbers, which have seen her jump from being one of the least popular governors in the country in January to one of the most trusted governors by April.
“Gina Raimondo won elections, but she hadn’t won the hearts and minds of people in the state,” Devine said. “I think, in the last few months, that has changed.”
Devine said the top three factors that most presidential candidates consider when selecting a vice president are politics, the rigorous background check process, and how they get along with the potential running mate.
"If you're going to get selected, you better get a check in all three all of them,” Devine said.
Jennifer Duffy, a longtime political analyst, said she believes Raimondo would be a strong candidate for vice president, but she “doesn’t get Biden anything geographically or demographically that he doesn’t already have.”
Duffy also said progressives would be unlikely to embrace Raimondo, who was critical of US Senator Bernie Sanders’ run for president, and has carved out a niche as a moderate voice within the party.
“I don’t think her selection is an impossibility,” Duffy said. “It’s just pretty far down the list of likely scenarios.”
Raimondo does bring other strengths.
She has proven to be a dynamic fund-raiser, first in Rhode Island politics, and then nationally when she served as chairwoman of the Democratic Governors Association last year. With Raimondo at the helm, the Democrats smashed fund-raising records, captured the governor’s office in Kentucky, and held on to the office in Louisiana. And her centrist approach has even drawn praise from conservative pundits like George Will, who wrote a column in May suggesting that a Biden-Raimondo ticket “would restore adult supervision in Washington.”
Michael Halle, who worked as a senior advisor for Pete Buttigieg’s campaign for president, goes a step further with his praise for Raimondo, calling her “the best governor in the country right now.”
While Biden has a deep understanding of how Washington, D.C., works, Halle said Raimondo’s experience running a state would make her the “most complementary partner” of any potential running mate.
“She’s the opposite of D.C.,” Halle said. “She runs at problems and gets stuff done, even if it means breaking some eggs along the way.”