Our Revamped VP Rankings

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KEY POINTS FROM THIS ARTICLE

— Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and former National Security Adviser Susan Rice enter our list of Joe Biden’s vice presidential contenders.

— Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) drops off.

— The top names remain the same.

Biden’s VP contenders

Our friend, top vice presidential scholar Joel Goldstein, argues in a companion piece to this one that Joe Biden’s VP selection process is so fluid at this point that one cannot reasonably handicap the pick.

Joel is probably right, but what’s fun about that?

Biden’s list of contenders still seems to be fairly long: We have 11 names on this update, after we had 10 a couple of weeks ago. As we noted last week in a brief note, we wanted to revise our own list to include two contenders we didn’t include the first time: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) and former Obama administration National Security Adviser Susan Rice (D). They make their debuts around the middle of our list. We dropped one name from the list: Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), whose selection would jeopardize her Senate seat — Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH), a favorite for reelection, would appoint her successor — and doesn’t seem to fit the moment or address Biden’s electoral weaknesses. Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin of the New York Times reported a few days ago that Hassan “not seen as a major candidate.”

We left the order of the first three candidates the same, and slotted in Bottoms and Rice at fifth and seventh, respectively. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) is up to fourth place; she is the only Hispanic candidate on our list, and one of Biden’s weaknesses in polling so far appears to be with Hispanics. Lujan Grisham also has both federal and state-level experience, although to the bulk of the country, she’s an unknown. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is down a bit, to six (we went through her liabilities in detail when we first debuted the list).

Bottoms, an early and aggressive endorser of Biden during the primary, has become a major national figure in the midst of protests over police brutality. National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar made a good case for Bottoms recently, arguing that she might be the right fit for the moment and that her performances on big stages might mitigate her lack of state and federal-level experience. The recent shooting of Rayshard Brooks by an Atlanta police officer, which led to the resignation of Atlanta’s police chief and prompted Bottoms to order changes to the department’s use-of-force policies, does suggest a possible downside to picking Bottoms: rightly or wrongly, anything that happens in Atlanta will be under the national microscope if Biden picks Bottoms as his running mate.

One upside of selecting someone who is a member of Congress as opposed to a governor or a mayor is that if something negative or controversial happens in the member’s state or House district, they may be seen as less directly responsible for it than a sitting chief executive. Given the immense attention the nation has been paying to incidents of police brutality, any incident that might happen in the vice presidential nominee’s backyard could be a campaign headache. Also, any flareup in COVID-19 cases could reflect poorly on a gubernatorial or mayoral running mate. Of course, picking a governor or mayor doesn’t threaten party control of a Senate seat, which is a problem for some of these contenders.

Susan Rice, the other addition to our list, would be another non-traditional choice in that she has no elected officeholding experience. However, she does have high-level experience, serving stints as both ambassador to the United Nations and national security adviser during Barack Obama’s presidential administration. While Rice likely isn’t vetted in the traditional sense, she is used to being in the national spotlight, and Biden certainly knows her and may very well be comfortable with her. That said, there are downsides with Rice, too. She may not be prepared for the meatgrinder of a national campaign, and choosing Rice would force Biden’s campaign to have to re-litigate Obama’s foreign policy record, which could animate conservatives. Additionally, Rice would be a foreign policy-focused choice in an election that almost certainly will be more focused on domestic politics. One other note: Rice’s son is an outspoken Trump backer, which could be a source of annoyance to a Biden-Rice ticket and delight to conservative media producers.

If you’re curious for our thoughts on the other contenders, see our report from a couple of weeks ago or check out Table 1, our updated rankings of the VP possibilities. The New York Times, Washington Post, and Associated Press all have had recent reporting about Biden’s VP search that also helped inform our new rankings.

After this week’s changes, the top five names on our list are all nonwhite.

Table 1: Crystal Ball Democratic vice presidential rankings

Candidate Key VP Advantages Key VP Disadvantages
Kamala Harris
Senator, CA
•Often seen as Obama 2.0
•Prosecutorial ability could serve her well in VP debate
•Plausible future president
•Experience on big stage, vetted to more of a degree than many other VP contenders
•Too inevitable?
•Time as local DA, state AG may turn off liberals, who already may be wary of Biden on criminal justice reform
•Disappointing presidential campaign
•Sometimes tries to be all things to all people
Val Demings
Congresswoman, FL
•Police background may help defuse Trump’s “law and order” message
•May be perfectly suited for the moment
•Has turned in strong House election performances
•From electorally vital Orlando area
•Untested on national stage, not much elected experience
•Little-known nationally
•Does she have baggage from time as police chief?
•May not carry FL for the ticket, probably is not well known statewide
Tammy Duckworth
Senator, IL
•Inspiring life story as double amputee
•Military background could give her crossover appeal
•Succession in the Senate not an issue
•Safe pick
•Has kept a low profile in the Senate
•Biden won’t need help carrying IL
•Safe pick
Michelle Lujan Grisham
Governor, NM
•May energize Hispanic voters in states beyond NM
•Brings geographic diversity
•Wouldn’t pull the ticket too far left
•Criticized as too cozy with big pharma
•Never won an especially tough general election
•Though Trump is targeting it, NM is not central to Electoral College
•Little previous national platform
Keisha Lance Bottoms
Mayor, Atlanta
•Strong speaker and presence
•Could help in electorally-important Metro Atlanta
•Potentially good fit to address important issue of racial disparities in policing
•Early, aggressive backer of Biden in primary
•No federal or state political experience
•Might not be perceived as ready to be president
•Largely unvetted
•Connected to former Mayor Kasim Reed, whose administration has been under investigation
Elizabeth Warren
Senator, MA
•Focus on economic inequality may be timely
•Olive branch to progressives
•Could help with youth enthusiasm
•High name recognition
• Hardcore Sanders supporters don’t trust her
•May not do much to energize minorities
•Could at least temporarily jeopardize Democratic control of her Senate seat
•Not ideologically “simpatico” with Biden; they could clash in White House
Susan Rice
former U.S. National Security Advisor
•High-level executive branch experience
•Familiarity with Biden, top-level Democrats
•Experience with media pressure
•No campaign or elected office experience
•Foreign policy focus in a domestic policy-focused election
•Risks religating Obama-era foreign policy (e.g. Benghazi)
Tammy Baldwin
Senator, WI
•Led her state ticket in 2018
•Broadly acceptable to all wings of party
•First openly LGBT senator
•WI arguably a must-win state for Trump
•Her successor would be chosen in a 2021 special election
•Very liberal record in Congress
Gretchen Whitmer
Governor,
MI
•Popular governor from vital state
•Only 48 but has nearly 20 years of elected experience
•Pandemic has given her a higher profile and good approval ratings
•Optics of tapping a governor from a state struggling with the pandemic
•May have baggage from handling of crisis
•Has held executive office less than two years
•No federal experience
Gina Raimondo
Governor, RI
•Competent record as governor
•Would be 49 on Inauguration Day, so could be a Biden successor
•No-nonsense approach, centrism may appeal to suburban women
•Some of her reforms were criticized by the left; unpopular for much of tenure
•Won’t excite minority voters
•Private equity work may be suspect
•No federal experience
•Little-known nationally
Stacey Abrams
former Georgia House Minority Leader, GA
•May help minority turnout in states like GA, NC, and beyond
•Young, dynamic on the stump
•Emphasis on voting rights
•No experience in traditional VP feeder positions (governor or Congress)
•May be too much of a lightning rod after failing to concede narrow 2018 loss
•Too overt in wanting the job?

Staying the same as last time: Harris, Demings, Duckworth

New to list: Bottoms, Rice

Moving up from last time: Lujan Grisham

Moving down from last time: Warren, Baldwin, Raimondo, Whitmer, Abrams

Off list: Hassan