If Joe Biden doesn’t want to blow his lead in most polls, he will follow Bill Clinton’s lead in picking a running mate.
Biden should choose a vice presidential nominee who reinforces his main message, just as Clinton, in 1992, chose Al Gore to reinforce Clinton’s message as a somewhat centrist Democrat and an avatar of a new generation of leaders.
Clinton, like Biden, was under pressure from the leftmost elements in the Democratic Party to pick a more liberal running mate. In Clinton’s case, the conventional wisdom also suggested a veep choice who also was older and from outside the South. The idea was to promote geographical, experiential, and ideological balance.
Instead, Clinton went with someone, Gore, of his same age group, philosophical approach, and region. The pairing worked like a political charm. It sent reassuring messages to centrists and “swing” voters and amplified Clinton’s image as a can-do, post-partisan, policy-wonkish reformer.
Likewise, Biden shouldn’t dilute his message. Biden is leading handily in most polls not because he is selling some popular ideology or particular agenda but because he promises a return to “normalcy” and a change to a more comfortable, steady tone.
The activist left wing of Biden’s party is too eager to defeat President Trump to sit on its hands, no matter whom he chooses as his co-pilot. But the swing voters, as ever, are soccer moms, a portion of blue-collar whites, and family-oriented (and culturally centrist) Hispanic women. They may be tired of Trump’s volatility and vindictiveness, but they aren’t in the mood for some sort of liberal revolution, either. They want steadiness, not an ideological crusade.
Voters such as these are ripe for Biden’s picking, but if he scares them by weakly bowing to, or, worse, actively embracing the riot-excusing, extreme race-baiting, social-transforming, huge-government-growing Left, they might stay home from the polls by the millions. Because of Biden’s age, they will see his vice presidential choice as a much more likely president than most running mates are, so they will watch the choice more closely than usual for signs of radicalism.
Allow an observation, please: Activists on the Left often fail to understand which of their politicians really turn off swing voters. Even if nominally friendly conservatives try to tell them which ones are political anathema, they refuse to listen. The continuing Democratic fascination with Sens. Elizabeth Warren and especially Kamala Harris are proof of this. Both anecdotally and in polling data, Harris to Middle America is worse than the worst nails on the worst chalkboards amplified by the loudest microphones.
Likewise, Rep. Karen Bass of California, with her pro-Castro musings, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, with her rantings against Mount Rushmore and President George Washington, will be easy for Republicans to caricature in ways that keep swing voters home from the polls.
If Biden wants to win, he needs someone who reinforces his image of steady moderation and competent pragmatism. (He’s actually extremely liberal by historical standards, but that’s not his image.) The only two people reported anywhere near his veep “shortlist” who fit that description are Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who consistently denounces those who turn protests into violent riots, and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, who has a business-friendly reputation.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota filled the bill, too, but she took herself out of the running. Alabama’s U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell, who represents Selma and has an air of personal graciousness, never seems to have been seriously considered.
Yet Biden will be making a big mistake if he lists leftward with his choice. Republicans eagerly wait to exploit his coming mistake.