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Analysis

The most progressive (and expected, and swing-state-boosting) Biden VP picks

Senator Elizabeth Warren earlier this year.
Senator Elizabeth Warren earlier this year.JORDAN GALE/NYT

For all of the talk from some activists and columnists that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden needed to hurry up and pick his running mate this summer, it turned out that waiting was the right move.

Those rumored to be on Biden’s short list took the extra few weeks to help Biden raise more money. The extra time also meant that more of his potential picks were vetted more thoroughly in the press. Waiting also allows him to see if the political winds shift again.

So as Biden heads into the final week, it might be less useful for him to rank his top choices for his running mate in order, but, instead, frame each of the finalists in the context of their best attribute as a VP. That way he can pick the attribute he needs the most.

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Let’s consider:

The progressive option: Elizabeth Warren

Biden came out of the presidential primary season victorious, but also in a weird place with his own party politically. Since the Obama years, the Democratic Party has shifted leftward, younger, and seeking out more diverse voices. And while the field of presidential candidates reflected this shift, Biden branded himself as a centrist and demographically did not fit what the party’s base wanted.

By announcing he would pick a female running mate, Biden took Bernie Sanders, the biggest-name progressive name in the country, off the table. That leaves probably the second most well-known progressive in the nation, Warren, as the leading option, should Biden believe it is politically necessary to unite the party’s factions.

Progressive enthusiasm was an issue for Hillary Clinton in 2016. But Biden may look at the polls and decide that his party’s base is plenty fired up to remove Trump from office.

Best biographical option: Tammy Duckworth

If the aim is to find an aspirational choice, the Illinois senator is the obvious pick. Duckworth was a US Army helicopter pilot in Iraq. She won a Purple Heart for a mission there in 2004 where her helicopter was shot down and she lost both legs.

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Duckworth was born in Thailand to an American father and a Thai woman and she is the first Thai-American ever elected to Congress. At the same time, she can point to ancestors that date back to America’s founding.

After Iraq, she served as the director of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs before she went to Washington to serve as an assistant secretary in the US Department of Veterans Affairs.

She is relatively new in the Senate, but she has been a reliable Democratic vote. The downside: like Warren and Massachusetts, Illinois will likely vote for Biden in November anyway. But unlike Warren, she has not been through the intensity of a national campaign and has not been fully scrutinized on the big stage.

The savviest political option: Val Demings

The Florida US Representative didn’t enter 2020 as a household name, but she has since emerged to be a well-known elected official among Democrats. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi named her to be a House impeachment manager at the Senate trial earlier this year. And as a VP contender, the Black former police chief’s star has risen.

But her biggest attribute could be geography. She isn’t just from Florida, the nation’s largest swing state. Her Orlando-based district includes a good chunk of the I-4 corridor, the biggest political battleground of the critical state.

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If Biden puts Demings on the ticket, and if Demings can move Florida by just a few points here or there, then this decision could single-handedly make him president. After all, the math is clear that Florida is so large that all he needs to do is flip the state and one other out of a list of many and he will be president.

The swing state moderate option: Gretchen Whitmer

When news reports over the weekend said that Whitmer, the first-term Michigan governor, had secretly met with Biden in Delaware to discuss the VP job, it should have surprised no one.

The big shocker of the 2016 election is that Trump found a way to win in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, states that traditionally vote Democratic. Many Democrats feel that the path back to the White House involves first flipping these states back into the Democratic column. All three do have Democratic governors, but only one is a woman: Whitmer.

Whitmer ran as a moderate and with the pragmatic motto to “fix the damn roads.” Biden won’t create waves if he picked Whitmer, but he will disappoint many if he chooses her, a white woman, over a woman of color.

The personal connection option: Susan Rice

Unlike many presidential candidates who have to choose a vice president, Biden was one for two terms. Much has been said and written about the partnership between Biden and Obama, and it is only logical that Biden wants a working relationship with his running mate like Obama once had with him.

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But here is the thing: While Biden has been in Washington politics a long time, he really hasn’t worked directly with basically any of the other women on his short list. But he did work a lot with Susan Rice, throughout the Obama administration.

Rice would add more foreign policy chops to the ticket as well as diversity as a Black woman. While they reportedly disagreed on a number of foreign policy decisions inside of the White House, they got along well enough that she has made it this far.

Why wouldn’t he pick her? Since she has never run for office, there is the chance she is just bad at actually campaigning. Further, other than Senate confirmations she hasn’t really been vetted a public setting by political opponents during an election. Her background could be a curveball Biden may decide to just not deal with.

The expected option: Kamala Harris

There hasn’t really been a moment since the spring when Harris hasn’t been the top choice. It is almost to the point where if he didn’t pick her, some will see that as a personal snub.

No, California is not a swing state. But it does count for something that she won three statewide contests in the nation’s largest state. She also is only the second Black woman to be elected to the Senate.

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The biggest knock on Harris is that she doesn’t have an ideological anchor. But that is exactly what could make her a good fit for Biden. She can change her positions to fit where Biden and the country are at politically.

The surprise option: Anyone else

This is probably not the time for Biden to surprise anyone. In fact, other than the ability to raise money and receive kudos for picking someone qualified, Biden has every incentive to make his vice presidential choice a non-event. Why change anything in the campaign? He’s winning.

But there are a number of women who were briefly mentioned in the past who have dropped off the media short list. If he picks any of them, there will be news and analysis on whether it was smart or hasty. Names include Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan, Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, and former Georgia Democratic nominee for governor Stacey Abrams.

Then there is California US Representative Karen Bass. Just weeks ago, some in Biden’s inner circle reportedly put Bass, a well-liked progressive, ahead of Harris in the veepstakes. But since then, a number of revelations from praise for former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Scientology to even speaking to the actual Socialist party in the US, has meant she might be the biggest surprise of all if Biden still went with her.

She is also the perfect example of why waiting to make an announcement made sense.


James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.