Joe Biden is now the prohibitive favorite to be the Democratic nominee for president. He’s been dominant since Super Tuesday, notching primary wins in 19 states including Texas, Michigan, and Florida. His senescence was barely noticeable in his last debate. The unfolding coronavirus pandemic has given his campaign a merciful break from the spotlight and eliminated most of his public appearances, minimizing his opportunities to make off-the-cuff remarks. For much of the past week he’s been free to strategize about his next moves, including who might comprise his hypothetical cabinet.
His most pressing choice is that of a running mate. Biden promised on Sunday that it would be a woman, leading to the usual (and usually overblown) speculation about who’d best make up for his weaknesses: a younger black candidate from California like Kamala Harris? A progressive like Elizabeth Warren? A battle-tested midwestern moderate like Amy Klobuchar? But while party leaders seem to favor the former vice-president choosing one of his old opponents, polling points to a more electorally shrewd option: Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia legislator. During her 2018 run for governor, Abrams brought the Democrats closer to controlling the Georgia statehouse than anyone in 15 years. And she’s been a favorite for the position for a while: A year ago, rumors circulated that Biden might name Abrams as his running mate before a single debate was held or any voters went to the polls.
Now there’s data to back up the option’s merits. Data for Progress, a progressive think tank, was commissioned recently by Way to Win, a women-led donor network, to figure out which hypothetical Biden-led ticket would fare best against President Trump and Vice-President Pence in November. A March 12 survey of 4,998 likely voters conducted online pitted the Republican ticket against Democratic ones featuring five different VP options, according to NBC News: Abrams, Harris, Warren, Klobuchar, and Senator Cory Booker. (The latter is now moot for obvious reasons.) In a memo about the findings, Progress founder Sean McElwee wrote, “A Biden-Abrams ticket would beat a Trump-Pence ticket and perform competitively with other hypothetical tickets, while also over-performing with key groups that constitute the Democratic Party’s base.”
Compelling arguments for this possibility abound. Abrams’s knack for mobilizing voters is apparent, and her lack of a clear next step in elected office — she’s spent the past year and a half doing voting-rights advocacy work in the South — means she’s technically available. She has clearly articulated political ambitions, having said she wants to be president one day. Serving as VP to a man who’d be 78 by the time he swore into office makes that a clear possibility sooner rather than later. But according to Data for Progress, a Biden-Abrams ticket also performed best among black voters and women of color, two of the Democratic Party’s most reliable constituencies. It was a close second among self-identified progressives to a hypothetical Biden-Warren ticket. And it tied with Biden-Klobuchar among independents.
Abrams’s relative inexperience and lower profile no doubt influence these impressive outcomes. She hasn’t endured the bruising presidential primary from which the others just emerged, and has no comparable record to speak of as a federal lawmaker, for better and for worse. Her closest analog is a more civic-minded post-2018 Beto O’Rourke, who came surprisingly close to ousting Ted Cruz from his U.S. senate seat in Texas. But where O’Rourke, then a little-known congressman, parlayed the resulting goodwill into an ill-conceived run for the White House, Abrams has lent her cachet to pushing for expanded voting rights and positioned herself as a willing VP option for whoever ends up being the nominee.
Now she’s poised to make the kind of history whose symbolism still resonates for many people, despite typically getting overstated as a vehicle for broader equality. No black woman has ever appeared on a major-party presidential ticket. No woman has served as vice-president. She could change both, and evidence suggests she’d be a bigger help to Biden’s chances in November than most. As with Biden’s 2020 trajectory from clear front-runner to laggard to prohibitive favorite again, we might be a lot closer to where we were a year ago in the running-mate selection process than we thought.