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Biden's top potential running mates bring unique strengths — and weaknesses

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.
Image: Democratic presidential candidates Biden and Warren pose together at the start of the fourth U.S. Democratic presidential candidates 2020 election debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio U.S.
Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren at the fourth Democratic presidential candidates 2020 election debate at in Westerville, Ohio, on Oct. 15, 2019.Shannon Stapleton / Reuters file

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden’s selection of a running mate matters more than any other VP pick we can remember — because of Biden’s age, because of the coronavirus, and because it could eventually produce the nation’s first female president.

Remember, Biden has guaranteed he’ll choose a woman to be his No. 2.

“Joe being 77, I think people are going to look to see who is the person who could be the next president,” former Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tells the New York Times.

Below is our early breakdown — in alphabetical order — of some of the top contenders to be Biden’s running mate. (Note: This isn’t an exhaustive list, and we’ll be breaking down more VP possibilities in the coming days.)

And some questions to ponder: How do you define experience in this Coronavirus Era? Is executive experience the only experience that matters? Can Biden really pick a sitting governor who’s handling the coronavirus in her state? And can he afford to pick a sitting senator who could be replaced — even temporarily — by a Republican?

Stacey Abrams (former Georgia House minority leader)

Strengths: She’s a dynamic campaigner and speaker, and she has the potential to galvanize African American voters. At 46 years of age, she would give youth to the Democratic ticket and would represent the next generation for the Democratic Party. She hails from an emerging battleground state in the important Sun Belt (Georgia), and she was born in arguably the most important battleground state of 2020 (Wisconsin).

Weaknesses: At a time when governing experience is more valued than ever in this Coronavirus Era, Abrams’ highest level of government service was as the minority leader in Georgia’s state House. She narrowly lost her one bid for statewide office when she ran for governor in 2018. And because she didn’t run for president in 2020, Abrams hasn’t been vetted nationally – either on her issue positions (she isn’t a backer of Medicare for All, for example) or her past controversies (like delinquent taxes).

Catherine Cortez Masto (U.S. senator, Nevada)

Strengths: As a Latina, she’d add a woman of color to the Democratic ticket. Cortez Masto hails from battleground Nevada, and she won her Senate seat getting 47 percent of the vote in 2016. She’s 56 years old, so she’s a generation younger than Biden.

Weaknesses: She hasn’t been vetted nationally and doesn’t have wide name recognition. She also currently serves as the chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is charged with winning back the Senate in 2020, and so Biden picking her as his vice president could set that effort back.

Kamala Harris (U.S. senator, California)

Strengths: Like Stacey Abrams, Harris has the potential to excite African-American voters and fulfill the request by Democrats like James Clyburn and John Lewis for Biden to pick a woman of color as VP. Unlike Abrams, she’s been vetted on a national scale and has won statewide office twice. And at age 55, Harris also would represent the next generation for Democrats.

Weaknesses: Ultimately, her presidential campaign fizzled, and she dropped out of the race on Dec.3. Harris hails from California, so a Biden-Harris ticket would be coastal (Delaware + California). Activists on the left unhappy with Biden’s criminal justice record likely wouldn’t be assuaged by his selection of Harris, who is also viewed by some liberals as having been insufficiently progressive during her time as a prosecutor and as California’s attorney general.

Amy Klobuchar (U.S. senator, Minnesota)

Strengths: Hailing from the Midwest, she would give a Biden ticket geographical diversity. Klobuchar has been a proven winner in Minnesota – a state Hillary Clinton carried by just 1.5 points in 2016 – getting 60 percent in her 2018 re-election bid. And despite a lack of fundraising and organizational success in her 2020 presidential campaign, Klobuchar ending up faring better and surviving longer than either Kamala Harris or Cory Booker did.

Weaknesses: Like Tim Kaine in 2016, Klobuchar represents the safe governing VP choice – and that kind of move didn’t help Democrats win four years ago. A white, mainstream Democrat, Klobuchar is unlikely to galvanize minority or progressive voters. She continues to be haunted by her “bad boss” reputation after stories surfaced about her mistreatment of staff. And the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP called on Klobuchar to suspend her presidential campaign after an AP investigation raised questions about whether an African-American teenager was wrongly convicted during her tenure as a prosecutor.

Elizabeth Warren (U.S. senator, Massachusetts)

Strengths: If Biden continues to struggle bringing progressive Democrats into the fold, Warren as his VP pick could be an important help. Her policy experience and plans could come in handy during this Coronavirus Era. And she does doesn’t shrink from a big fight.

Weaknesses: She isn’t a go-along, get-along person, which often is a big requirement of the VP job. At age 70, she’s younger than Biden, but wouldn’t signal a new generation for the party. Her liberal credentials could alienate moderate Romney-Clinton voters that Biden’s candidacy has attracted so far. President Trump would likely revisit the controversy over her past claims of Native American ancestry. And because Massachusetts has a Republican governor, Biden tapping Warren as his VP pick could cost the Democrats a Senate seat – at least for a few months.

Gretchen Whitmer (Governor, Michigan)

Strengths: She’s seen her national profile take off as a result of her response as governor to the coronavirus (as well as President Trump’s attacks on her). She’s governor of one of the most important battleground states of 2020, and she easily won election to the office in 2018 with 53 percent of the vote. Whitmer’s also 48 years old, so she’d give youth to the Biden ticket. Whitmer has been open about her experience with sexual assault, which could be notable if Biden’s past behavior toward women continues to come under scrutiny.

Weaknesses: She’s been governor for less than a year and a half. What’s more, if Biden picks her, he’d be taking her away from responding to her state’s coronavirus crisis. And as a white woman who comes from the more moderate/pragmatic wing of the party, she likely wouldn’t galvanize minority or progressive voters. Whitmer also has close ties to the insurance industry — her father was president and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, and BCBS lobbyists fundraised for her gubernatorial campaign.

A Tale of Two Chambers

The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate returns to work in Washington, D.C. today.

The Democratic-controlled House isn’t.

“Capitol Hill’s split screen reflects the unique responsibilities of each chamber, the political imperatives of the opposing parties that control them and the differing personalities of their respective leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch Connell (R-Ky.),” the Washington Post writes.

However, Pelosi and McConnell released a rare joint statement to refuse President Trump’s offer for rapid coronavirus testing for senators and members of Congress.

“Congress is grateful for the Administration’s generous offer to deploy rapid COVID-19 testing capabilities to Capitol Hill, but we respectfully decline the offer at this time. Our country’s testing capacities are continuing to scale up nationwide and Congress wants to keep directing resources to the front-line facilities where they can do the most good the most quickly,” Pelosi and McConnell wrote.

Meanwhile, Kasie Hunt and NBC’s Capitol Hill team describe how everything about the Capitol has to be rethought: “The elevators, the cafeterias, the cramped offices, the easy flow of the public in and out of the buildings. Seating in committee rooms has been dramatically rearranged to allow people to sit six feet apart. Masks will be required if social distancing can’t be maintained. Senators will have at most one staffer working with them in the hallways, and most staffers will still be working from home. And for reporters, the scrums that have defined the place suddenly are health dangers and won’t be allowed.”

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

1,167,241: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 90,466 more than Friday morning.)

68,076: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 4,564 more than Friday morning).

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

100,000: The number of deaths that the president now warns that the virus could cause in the United States.

More than 200: The number of hospitals in America that have furloughed workers as non-covid health care procedures have all but ceased.

Tweet of the day

Ad Watch from Ben Kamisar

Today’s Ad Watch features the Trump campaign’s new coronavirus ad — its first major TV spot aimed at defending the president on the issue.

The spot starts by immediately recounting the spat over Nancy Pelosi’s decision to tear up her draft of Trump’s State of the Union. And goes on from there, framing the president as bucking his critics to help write the “greatest comeback story.”

The bulk of the 60-second ad recounts the highlights of the federal government’s response, and includes praise from blue-state governors.

The campaign says the new spot will run as part of a seven-figure ad buy.

But as we explored last week on the MTP Blog, the pro-Trump effort has already been significantly outspent by Democratic groups that frame the Trump administration as asleep at the wheel. And the latest NBC/WSJ poll found Joe Biden with a 9-point edge with registered voters on the question of who would handle the virus response better, with a clear plurality (45 percent) saying Trump neither handled the threat seriously to start nor is handling it well now.

So it’s with messaging like this that the Trump administration hopes to turn those numbers around

The Lid: Just the facts

Don’t miss the pod from Friday, when we looked at the facts – and only the facts – of Tara Reade’s allegation against Joe Biden.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

The progressive Indivisible group is endorsing Joe Biden.

Biden accuser Tara Reade says she is “not sure” what exactly appears in the complaint she says she filed against Biden while he was a senator.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments by conference call starting today.

Tom Perez says he still expects the Democratic National Convention to be held in person. (But both parties are wondering how much conventions really matter, anyway.)

Tens of thousands of late-arriving ballots in Wisconsin have finally been counted.

Biden won the all-mail Kansas primary with 77 percent of the vote.

Trump often talks about his “super genius” uncle. The Washington Post profiles him.

Democrats in Washington have been rushing resources to their Senate candidates — but Doug Jones isn’t one of them so far.