For Biden's running mate, the safest pick might be the safe bet

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Former Vice President Joe Biden Holds Iowa Campaign Events
Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at the Jackson County Fairgrounds in Maquoketa, Iowa on Oct. 30, 2019.Daniel Acker / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Carrie Dann and Melissa Holzberg

WASHINGTON — With 18 days until the Democratic convention begins, it’s anyone’s guess whom Joe Biden picks as his running mate.

Kamala Harris? Elizabeth Warren? Karen Bass? Susan Rice? Val Demings? Someone else?

But at least if recent history is any guide, the safe bet is that Biden’s selection will be pretty conventional — when it comes to experience, qualifications and name identification.

For the most part, candidates who are ahead in the presidential contest go with the safe, conventional choice — whether that ultimately works out for them or not. (And by “conventional,” we mean “unsurprising” or “less politically risky.” If Biden picks a woman of color, it would make history, of course.)

Think Joe Biden for Barack Obama in 2008. Or Tim Kaine for Hillary Clinton in ’16.

And the candidates who are behind try something else.

Consider Joe Lieberman for Al Gore in 2000. Or Sarah Palin for John McCain in 2008. Or even Paul Ryan for Mitt Romney in 2012, or Jack Kemp for Bob Dole in 1996.

Those nominees all tried to shake up the race in which they were clearly behind.

But that also brings us to one of our favorite lessons about veepstakes: Since we’ve all been covering American politics, the VP choice ultimately doesn’t matter in who wins or loses.

After all, if it truly did matter, then Michael Dukakis (with his pick of Lloyd Bentsen) would have beaten George H.W. Bush (with Dan Quayle).

John Lewis’ final words

The late Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., wrote an essay for the New York Times that was requested to be published on the day of his funeral, which takes place today in Atlanta.

Here are Lewis’ final words:

“When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war. So I say to you, walk with the wind, brothers and sisters, and let the spirit of peace and the power of everlasting love be your guide.”

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

4,377,969: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 70,016 more cases than yesterday morning.)

152,247: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 1,446 more than yesterday morning.)

53.83 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

$8 billion: The amount in the Senate Republican coronavirus aid bill dedicated to military weaponry, prompting anger from Democrats.

More than $1,200: What President Trump says direct payments to Americans may end up being in the relief bill, although he’s facing resistance on that spending from within his own party.

570 percent: How much stock in Kodak soared after the administration announced a deal with the photography innovator to produce ingredients for generic drugs.

About 20 percent: The share of prisoners in New Jersey who could be freed to avoid the virus under new legislation

2020 Vision: Democrats outline schedule for upcoming convention

The Democratic National Committee on Wednesday night outlined its agenda for the (mostly virtual) convention that begins on Aug. 17, per NBC’s Marianna Sotomayor.

Monday, Aug. 17: opening ceremonies, committee reports, select speakers

Tuesday, Aug. 18: keynote address, nominating and seconding speeches, roll call vote for the nominee

Wednesday, Aug. 19: vice presidential nomination, vice presidential speech

Thursday, Aug, 20: acceptance speech by presidential nominee

Ad watch from Ben Kamisar

Today’s Ad Watch is a bit of a breath of fresh air.

Kansas’ GOP Senate primary has been filled with high stakes, brutal attacks and some possible Democratic meddling. But this new ad from businessman Bob Hamilton forgets most of that for a moment.

The goofy spot starts with two men fishing talking about Hamilton, the “crazy, Trump supporting, America loving, flag-waving conservative,” only for the man himself to fly by to show off his waterskiing skills and love for Trump. Hamilton skis by them, waving an American flag with both hands and using only his foot to hold onto the rope, all while being towed by a boat flying a Trump flag.

It does include a brief dig at the frontrunners in the race, Roger Marshall and Kris Kobach. But the tone certainly stands out amid the tough attack ads that have blanketed the airwaves.

And it’s also a reminder that while Marshall and Kobach have taken center stage, Hamilton has actually spent more on the airwaves than both campaigns combined, according to Advertising Analytics. That’s been a bit of a thorn in the side of Marshall and his supporters, considering Hamilton has spent some of that money attacking the party establishment’s pick for the seat.

Mask, please!

After Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, tested positive for the coronavirus on Wednesday – after refusing to wear a mask throughout the Capitol during the pandemic – a new mask mandate has been put into effect for the House.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that effective Wednesday, all people who enter House office buildings will wear a face covering at all times. Additionally, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows told reporters that the White House is offering to supply rapid coronavirus testing to Congress. “If Leader McConnell and Speaker Pelosi look to that initiative, we'd be glad to help with that. I just talked to Leader McCarthy and offered the availability of some additional testing capacity so that members can conduct their business, since they have to be here on a on a regular basis.”

(And do check out the quotes in Politico from congressional aides who are outraged by the lack of masks and safety on Capitol Hill.)

As for negotiations on coronavirus relief, Republicans and Democrats aren’t close to a deal. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that after their third day of talks with Democrats, “We don’t have an agreement on anything.” And the $600 weekly federal unemployment benefit expires on Friday.

The Lid: Tech wreck

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, when we looked at Americans’ growing wariness of Big Tech.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Joe Biden’s campaign is up on the TV airwaves in Ohio, NBC’s Mike Memoli reports.

And the Lincoln Project is calling Sen. Susan Collins a “Trump stooge” in a new ad campaign.

Trump wants a more generous coronavirus aid package for renters and the unemployed, but he’s getting a frosty reception from some Republicans.

Here’s the latest on the feds v. Portland.

Politico looks into Chris Dodd’s role as one of Biden’s top veep-vetters.

A founder of pro-Trump group Turning Point USA has died from complications related to coronavirus.

The Washington Post asks if Democrats are making the right investments to woo Latinos.

Justice Ginsburg is back in the hospital for a nonsurgical procedure.

The Boston Globe endorsed Ed Markey. Joe Kennedy’s not happy about it.