‘I would be an excellent running mate’: Straightforward approach defines 1st phase of veepstakes
Former Vice President Joe Biden has vowed to select a female running mate.
As former Vice President Joe Biden now turns toward choosing a partner for his presidential ticket, some of his potential choices aren’t holding back -- even as the trail turns virtual amid the COVID-19 crisis which has upended nearly every facet of American life and politics.
In a campaign unlike any other in modern political history, it should come as no surprise that the search for Biden’s own running mate isn’t playing by the rules that governed previous elections. A presumptive nominee has never eliminated half the possible candidates from the start by committing to choosing a female running mate, as Biden has, and in a striking shift, many of the candidates being floated as possible vice presidents now openly say they’d take the job -- with some even lobbying for the position.
"I would be an excellent running mate," Stacey Abrams, who ran for governor of Georgia in 2018 said in an interview with Elle magazine.
"I have the capacity to attract voters by motivating typically ignored communities. I have a strong history of executive and management experience in the private, public, and nonprofit sectors. I’ve spent 25 years in independent study of foreign policy. I am ready to help advance an agenda of restoring America’s place in the world," Abrams continued, with some of the most brazen comments yet on the topic.
When asked if she would take on the vice presidency if asked by Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren responded with one word: "Yes."
"If asked, I would be absolutely honored to serve in such a critical role during such a critical time for our nation," Florida Representative Val Demings said in a recent radio interview.
Some, like Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and California Sen. Kamala Harrishave taken a more traditional route, couching their language---noting the honor it would be to serve in the second highest office in the nation, but stressing their focus on the coronavirus pandemic still gripping the nation.
So far, only Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer,, a co-chairwoman of Biden’s campaign, has publicly said that she will not be the person tapped for the ticket.
"I'm going to help him vet and make sure he has a great running mate. It's not going to be me, but I'm going to make sure he has the rounded out ticket that can win," Whitmer said in an interview in March.
Despite her denials, Biden says Whitmer is on his list of possible candidates and even featured the Michigan governor on his new podcast, "Here's the Deal" -- launched as the coronavirus pandemic has brought traditional campaigning to a halt.
The podcast offers perhaps an unexpected window into Biden’s vice presidential search, with an opportunity to hear conversations between Biden and such prospective candidates like Whitmer and Klobuchar and get even a small preview of what a presidential partnership might look like.
'Straightforward about what they want'
Vetting a potential running mate is typically a cloak and dagger process, with candidates going to great lengths to avoid the prying eyes of the media trying to track down the latest rumors and stake out their every move during the process--be it a late drive through the nation’s capital in a Ford Bronco with tinted windows (Al Gore), being "smuggled" to a hotel in Minneapolis (Biden), or even a walk through the woods to designated pick up location (Paul Ryan).
"A lot of times people are a little bit more coy," Joel Goldstein, a vice presidential scholar at St. Louis University told ABC News. "Either they've been told not to talk about the fact that they're being vetted or they'll say, ‘Well, you know I don't expect that I'll be chosen.’"
If Biden sticks to his pledge--something he said he intends to do--2020 will mark the third time in U.S. History a woman has served as the vice presidential nominee for a major political party.
Many women have been previously floated for the position--Former Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, former Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, Former U.N. Secretary Nikki Haley and former Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin were all in consideration in the last three cycles, with some like Sebelius making it on the shortlist of candidates, but with a quieter approach to the speculation.
"I think that Barack has a wide variety of great possibilities and choices," Sebelius said in a non-committal answer on the vice presidential search in 2008.
However, given that the 2020 presidential cycle saw the largest number of women seeking the highest office in the country to date, and with several of those candidates now in the running to be Biden’s vice president, it comes as no surprise to some that they are being direct.
"These women have already proven that they aren't shy, because they ran for president and did so extremely effectively, and with a lot of strength and smarts and frankly, bravery," Meredith Kelly, the former communications director for New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s presidential campaign told ABC News.
"On the other hand, you know, it is definitely progress for women to be so straightforward about what they want and what they believe they deserve and are qualified for in the workplace generally, but certainly in terms of going after the vice presidency."
"I think voters respect honesty. So I think that what you've seen is just a refreshing amount of women who are saying…"Yeah, that'd be an honor, that'd be great," said Lily Adams, Harris’ former communications director of her presidential campaign.
That ‘refreshing’ honesty comes after a number of the female candidates said they still reckoned with sexism in the presidential race--trying to strike the right balance of ambition and approachability in the eyes of voters, something Warren reflected upon when announcing her exit from the race.
"In the past when women have sought power, they're considered calculating or they're considered, you know-- ambition is a dirty word," Kelly said, adding that the candidacy of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the historic number of women who ran in 2020 have started to "dispense with that notion."
Showing what 'needs to be done'
The straight talk from candidates like Warren and Abrams could strategically benefit each in different ways, according to Goldstein. Democrats have chosen a sitting senator for vice president 13 out of the last 15 cycles, going back to 1960, and a candidate who hasn’t previously held or currently hold office on the national stage rarely makes the list.
"Abrams, and Demings are sort of unlikely based on those measures. So, they may perceive that they need to sort of create a bit of a buzz and to sort of be a little bit more public about it, because, you know, they may be somewhat long shots," Goldstein said.
Warren also faces her own set of challenges. Biden has placed a high priority on a running mate who is "simpatico" with him, and while Biden has undertaken more left leaning policies, including some championed by Warren, the progressive known for her plans may feel a need to openly express her enthusiasm for the position, Goldstein suggested.
"She and Biden have not been necessarily on the same wavelength in the past. And there's been some perceptions of some distance maybe. And so maybe what she's doing is signaling upfront that yes, she's all in," Goldstein said.
Another challenge for Warren could be her age, as Biden would be the oldest president ever elected. Biden has argued himself that this fact heightens the importance of his vice presidential pick, which could pose a problem for the 70 year-old senator.
While Biden has more than 40 years in public service under his belt, the former vice president is just that--a "former," and in a tough spot as the coronavirus dominates the country's attention.
"There's only so much you can do from your living room without executive power," Kelly said.
"I do think the Biden team is doing their best," She continued. "They're just in a hard position."
While Biden has been sidelined to some extent, the coronavirus has presented an opportunity for many of the possible candidates for the vice presidency to take on a leadership role, releasing policy proposals on how to deal with the health and economic challenges facing the country.
Warren, Klobuchar, and Harris have all focused their efforts during coronavirus on issues like expanding vote-by-mail, domestic violence, student debt and child care, joining with other elected officials and releasing their own plans, including some that have gotten the attention and support of Biden.
Whitmer’s leadership role amid the health crisis has drawn national attention, and praise from Biden, who said the Michigan governor "made the [VP] list in my mind two months ago," earlier this month.
"I think it's important for any leader in this moment to just say, "this is what I think needs to be done," Adams said. "You're seeing no shortage of that."
In the midst of all the speculation, the inescapable realities of COVID-19 hangs over the process. As the coronavirus continues to keep Americans at home, candidates are left to campaign through a screen when they would usually hit the trail as a part of their audition to preview what a partnership with Biden would look like.
"Something that the Biden folks would be interested in [is to] see how did the two do together?" Goldstein said. "Do they play this number two role well? Are they promoting Biden enough, are they effective?"
"You lose all of those opportunities right now or at least, you can't do them in quite the same way," Goldstein said. "It may give people greater incentive not be coy."
Some of the traditional ways candidates are tested are indeed still on the table--albeit in a modified format. In early April, Sen. Harris co-hosted a virtual fundraiser for the former vice president, and drew praise from Biden, who said he was "lucky" to have a "partnership" with the California senator.
Warren too has taken to the virtual trail on behalf of Biden, pushing for people to show their support for presumptive Democratic nominee during a recent livestream with singer Miley Cyrus just days after she formally endorsed the former vice president.
Regardless of who is chosen as veep, for Kelly, the decision to pick a female running mate will move the ball forward, and get one step closer to seeing a woman in the White House.
"Whether it's fair or not, women are patient. Women recognize progress when they see it and we should appreciate the progress that we have coming for us with, hopefully, a Biden and a female vice president in the White House."
This report was featured in the Wednesday, April 22, 2020, episode of “Start Here,” ABC News’ daily news podcast.
"Start Here" offers a straightforward look at the day's top stories in 20 minutes. Listen for free every weekday on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, the ABC News app or wherever you get your podcasts.
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