Practically every analysis of Joe Biden’s choice for vice president ranks California Sen. Kamala Harris at or near the top. She checks the most race and gender boxes in the Democratic search for Biden’s running mate, and yet there is a sense that she may be fading in the stretch.
The best evidence of that is the sudden emergence of Congresswoman Karen Bass of Los Angeles on the veep list. Why would a second Californian be on the vetting list if Harris were a shoo-in?
Several of the half dozen or so women on Biden’s supposed short list have serious defects. Progressives would love him to go with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, but she is white in a party now fixated on race. When the onetime leading candidate Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar fell on her sword, she said Biden should pick a woman of color. That would leave Warren, who was a poor candidate in the primaries anyway, out in the cold.
Republicans are growing desperate as President Trump’s numbers crater; they need Biden to make a big mistake. If it were Warren, we’d see millions spent on ads about her long academic record of trying foist herself off as an American Indian, even to the extent of stealing recipes from New York restaurants and passing them off as her “native” Cherokee recipes in a cookbook book she helped co-author called Pow Wow Chow. Warren would be a godsend to the Trump campaign.
So would Harris, but for a different reason. The fact is that Republicans must suppress the African American vote in places like Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee, Atlanta, for Trump to squeeze by again. How better to do this than remind people that Harris called Biden a quasi racist in their first debate for his opposition to school bussing in Delaware, while she was the “little girl” benefitting from busing. That exchange may have decimated the Biden campaign in the early states; Republicans can be expected to run it widely in TV spots if Harris is the running mate.
Two minority but not African American women are on the supposed short list. New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham clearly would strengthen Biden with Latino voters, and might make the difference in the key state of Arizona.
But the Democratic Party is controlled by a New York-Washington media, money and political triumvirate that looks on Latinos with suspicion; little attention is paid the Latino minority by establishment liberals although the next census will show that they outnumber African Americans in this country. And Latino voters are thought to be too conservative, especially on social issues like abortion rights. Lujan Grisham will probably not make the final cut.
Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois is also supposedly on the short list. She has a very impressive resume, having lost both her legs as a US Army pilot in Iraq. By almost any measure she would be the perfect choice, except for one thing: she is part Asian. As we just saw in California, there is considerable competition between Asian and African Americans on issues like the need for Asian quotas in higher education to make more room for blacks and browns. If Biden’s problem is that he needs a huge turnout of African American voters – which Hillary Clinton did not get – then Duckworth does nothing for him. She may well not make the final cut.
So it probably comes down to one of five black women: Harris and Bass, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Florida Congresswoman Val Demings, and former National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
But Mayor Bottoms has no federal experience; Congresswoman Demings is a former police chief at a time of Democratic hysteria over the police; Rice has controversy over her days in the Obama Administration.
That leaves Bass. Unlike Sen. Harris, she actually has a record as a legislator. She was Speaker of the California Assembly during the Great Recession and was elected to Congress in 2010. She worked on legislation to counter the Ebola crisis in Africa and worked on a bipartisan bill to stop sex trafficking. She also has a family tragedy very similar to Biden’s; her only child, a daughter, and her son-in-law were killed in an automobile accident in 2006.
It may also be a bit of a signal that Bass, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, was chosen by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to author the Democrats’ police reform bill that passed the House last week. Was this Pelosi’s signal that she favors Bass?
The only apparent hiccup for Bass is her lavish praise of Fidel Castro on his death in 2016. “The passing of the comandante en jefe is a great loss to the people of Cuba,” she gushed at the time. But for the increasingly left wing and progressive Democrats, Comandante Fidel is somewhat of a nostalgic figure, so will this really matter? In Florida perhaps.
The historic role of the vice presidential choice is to do no harm. Other than when Sen. Lyndon Johnson helped carry Texas for the Kennedy-Johnson ticket in 1960, there is little evidence that the veep choice has had much of an impact.
Could this year be different? One thing seems obvious; every one of Biden’s prospective choices seems to have a drawback. As decision time approaches perhaps he will be forced to find the one with the least negatives.