vision 2020

Who Should Be Joe Biden’s Running Mate (If There Is One)?

Surprise! Photo-Illustration: Intelligencer/Courtesy of Biden and Yang Campaigns

It’s not unusual to wonder if a presidential candidate who has no clear path to the nomination is actually “running to be vice-president,” as my colleague Sarah Jones said of Pete Buttigieg in a chat yesterday. And it’s not unprecedented for a nominee to choose a running mate from the ranks of former rivals. (Most recently, Barack Obama did that in 2008. And so did Ronald Reagan in 1980, which led to the dual Bush presidencies.)

But would-be veeps don’t usually talk about it publicly. In this respect, Andrew Yang is unusual, as the Washington Post reports:

Yang later said he would be willing to join someone else’s ticket as a vice president if he ultimately did not win the Democratic presidential nomination.

“Of course. I’m not someone who’s had some crazy, native desire to be president of the United States since I was a kid, ‘cause I’m not insane,” Yang said to laughter. “I’m a parent. I’m a patriot. I just want to help solve the problems of this era.”

Without divulging which other candidate with whom he is most closely aligned, Yang claimed, of all the Democratic presidential hopefuls, only former vice president Joe Biden had pulled him aside to talk about concerns over automation and the “fourth industrial revolution.”

“I’m definitely open to working with Joe,” Yang said in response to a question about whether he’d serve as Biden’s vice president. “We’ve actually talked about it.”

Now, Joe Biden is the sort of person who probably flatters every pol he talks to with that sort of suggestion. But an unconventional running mate like Yang would in fact provide some balance for the man who spent 44 years (the number of years Yang has been alive) serving in or presiding over the United States Senate. I somehow doubt Biden’s policy brain trust is going to sign off on Yang’s signature Universal Basic Income proposal, though. But perhaps Biden should be thinking long and hard about a veep. Before he announced his candidacy, his people put it out there that he might name a young running mate during the campaign to deal with questions about his age. And shortly before he joined the field, Team Biden created major buzz by suggesting that former Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams (who is 45) might form a ticket with him from the get-go (Abrams soon scotched the idea, at least for the time being).

With Biden’s age still a concern, and with Uncle Joe probably needing something to refresh his candidacy during the long grind toward the nomination, he should still consider an early running-mate announcement, if he can talk the right kind of person into doing what he did in 2008. But even if Biden doesn’t move on this project unless and until he’s nailed down the top spot on the ticket, as is more likely, his choice of a partner is significant, if only because he so clearly represents a Democratic political generation that will soon “pass the torch” (as rival Eric Swalwell put it in a stark allusion to Biden’s age in the first candidates’ debate) to a younger cohort. Yang aside, here are some ideas:


This still makes some sense, even if it doesn’t happen before Biden is the putative nominee, as my colleague Jonathan Chait observed earlier:

“Balance” is an overrated trope in vice-presidential selection, but candidates do have different qualities and the degree to which Abrams’s complements Biden’s is very striking: old/young, white/black, male/female, North/South, experience/potential.

Abrams would obviously enhance Biden’s strength among African-Americans, which is critical to his nomination campaign and may matter nearly as much in a general election, given the importance of black voter falloff in 2016. She’d also likely put her home state of Georgia in play (it may be anyway), with its 16 electoral votes and two Senate races, while helping the ticket in Florida and North Carolina. Her expertise in voter mobilization would be of great value generally. But there would be some editorial-page carping over her lack of elected-official experience above the level of state legislator, and like other names that sound good in theory, she’d have to survive vetting. It’s also not clear she’d want the job.

If only because his name has come up as a possible Elizabeth Warren running mate, Andrew Gillum of Florida, the African-American former mayor of Tallahassee, might be on Biden’s list, too; like Abrams, he came within a whisker of a big gubernatorial win in 2018. But he doesn’t offer gender balance, which may be significant for Biden given chronic Democratic heartburn over the lost opportunity to elect a woman as president in 2016.


Mayor Pete doesn’t offer gender diversity either, nor racial/ethnic diversity for that matter, but since he’s openly gay and married, it’s not like he’d represent a doubling down on plain vanilla if Biden were to choose him. He’s from the Midwest, arguably where 2020 will be decided; he’s a military veteran and an observant and outspoken Christian; and at 37, he’s less than half Biden’s age. Presumably Biden’s popularity with black voters would insulate Buttigieg from any blowback over his shaky record in police-minority relations. Gender aside, probably the biggest problem with Biden-Buttigieg is that Mayor Pete’s recent emergence as a Fighting Moderate makes him less suitable as a party-unity figure if fellow moderate Biden has won the nomination.


Kamala Harris — who is African-American and Asian-American and represents famously multicultural California — is the natural object of veep speculation if a white man wins the Democratic presidential nomination. The main immediate problem with Biden-Harris is the awkward moments they shared in the first presidential candidate debate, when the latter upbraided the former concerning his position on school busing back in the day. Presumably, though, this was less heated than what Mike Pence privately said about Donald Trump in October 2016 when the Access Hollywood video nearly blew up their campaign. So they can probably get over it. More problematic, perhaps, are the hits Harris has taken for her less-than-scintillating performances in subsequent debates, and the overall downward trajectory of her own campaign.


If the Democratic presidential contest winds up being a slugfest between Biden and Warren, as appears to be a solid possibility at present, then forming a “unity ticket” with both of them makes some sense, so long as the primaries don’t get too down and dirty. You’d have gender and ideological balance, for sure. But you’d also have two septuagenarians, and if the ticket won, Democrats would at least temporarily lose a Senate seat from Massachusetts (the state’s governor, Charlie Baker, is a Republican, albeit barely). There might be the additional problem of Warren being tempted to roll her eyes when The Boss is speaking, instead of looking at him worshipfully the way Pence looks at Trump.


If Biden doesn’t go with one of his rivals (or Abrams), the most likely thing for him to do would be to lift up someone who helps the ticket and provides balance, like perhaps a relatively progressive woman from the Midwest. Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer is an obvious enough possibility that she has been led to rule out the whole idea. But there are others, such as Dayton mayor Nan Whaley, who made a national name for herself after the gun massacre in her city earlier this year. If Biden doesn’t move on the veep choice before the end of the primaries, we’ll start to hear more names.


There is, of course, a relatively progressive midwestern woman who would provide racial as well as gender balance. She’s more than 20 years younger than Uncle Joe, but she actually has White House experience and 100 percent name ID. On top of everything else, picking Michelle Obama as his running mate might make it possible to repurpose lots of campaign merch, with a bit of modification. And it’s the one thing sure to get her husband out there on the campaign trail in a big way.

In an appearance on Stephen Colbert’s show last month, Biden joked about putting Michelle Obama on his ticket. Or maybe it wasn’t a joke. Maybe it was a trial balloon.

Who Should Be Joe Biden’s Running Mate (If There Is One)?