Whom Joe Biden picks for vice president matters less than that he picks her soon

An apparent Democratic nominee who can't campaign also can't play waiting games when it comes to selecting a running mate.
Image: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden addresses supporters at his South Carolina primary night rally in Columbia, South Carolina, U.S.
Joe Biden addresses supporters at his South Carolina primary night rally in Columbia on Feb. 29, 2020.Elizabeth Frantz / Reuters file
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By Ashley Pratte

Joe Biden is now the apparent Democratic nominee for president of the United States, and he finally can turn his full attention to the general election and defeating Donald Trump — but time isn't on his side.

The situation our country is facing because of the coronavirus is atypical; most Americans are on week four of staying at home, and there appears to be no end in sight to the restrictions caused by the pandemic. Unemployment is at an unbelievable high, infection rates continue to rise and the networks carry the president's news conferences nearly every day.

Meanwhile, the apparent Democratic nominee can't even give a speech in front of cheering supporters to celebrate his clear path to the nomination.

Sure, it's true that Biden leads Trump by 53 percent to 42 percent among registered voters nationally, according to new CNN-SSRS polling. And it's also true that, after spiking in late March, Trump's job approval ratings have once again slumped to the mid-40s in most polls.

But Biden can't simply hope that workers stuck at home, along with the vast numbers of unemployed, find Trump's daily briefings on the pandemic a good enough reason to vote against him seven long months from now. The former vice president needs to remind voters both that there's an election in November — something that feels both a long time from now and less vital than it once did — and why it's crucial that they vote for him instead of just voting against Trump in November.

And maybe, more than anything else, he needs to give liberals a reason to hang on to their sense of determination until then and, most of all, to hope for something better to come.

That is why he needs to announce his choice for vice president — now.

Normally, an apparent presidential nominee would wait until mid- to late summer to announce a vice presidential candidate to ratchet up the drama. Sen. John Kerry selected Sen. John Edwards on July 6, 2004, less three weeks before the start of the Democratic convention; Sen. Barack Obama announced his choice of Biden just two days before the start of the Democratic convention in 2008; and Hillary Clinton chose Sen. Tim Kaine three days before the convention in 2016.

Biden, however, just doesn't have that luxury: To keep the buzz around his apparent nomination, capitalize on Sen. Bernie Sanders' withdrawal and do something about the fact that he literally can't campaign, making a splashy vice presidential selection is his only move.

The momentum from a running mate announcement needs to be enough to carry him through the summer months, rather than boost him just before the convention, now scheduled for August. Hopefully, by then, we can all return to something approaching normal routines — including Biden, who thrives on personal interactions with voters. But in the meantime, it'd be ideal for him to have someone who can help him contend with the virtual realities of campaign life.

It's encouraging that, on a call with donors Wednesday, Biden shared that he is finalizing "a mechanism to be able to vet the vice presidential potential picks," which the campaign can be less secretive about in the wake of Sanders' withdrawal. And he said that he has had conversations with Obama about how to go about selecting a vice presidential candidate and that Obama's advice was "find the yin to your yang" and someone who has experience in the areas he is lacking.

Having served as vice president himself, Biden clearly understands the importance of the role and how it can help a presidential candidate consolidate voters. And in one of the most recent debates, Biden committed himself to selecting a female vice president to much appreciation, enthusiasm and support from voters — which he emphasized Wednesday, as well.

Biden's running mate would still need to be someone who is campaign tested and could handle attacks and criticisms from Trump — of which there will assuredly be an endless amount — and the pressures of the national spotlight, especially in the midst of an international health crisis. In addition, as Obama said, the candidate would have to shore up areas where Biden is lacking — particularly his lack of technological savvy, which is suddenly more important than ever.

Whomever he selects would have to be able take his campaign further into the 21st century than he could alone, with more virtual happy hours and events (as all in-person campaign events have been suspended until further notice) and a broader spread on social media than the typical Clinton or Obama campaign alums have been known for to date.

So, keeping that in mind, whom should Biden select? A few great options have already been bandied about: Sen. Kamala Harris of California, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and former first lady Michelle Obama.

Let's get this out of the way first: Michelle Obama is a pipe dream, I know. But reading her book "Becoming" makes it evident that she belongs in public service. During her time as first lady, she was a champion for education, for the underprivileged, for service members, for women and for children. Her time in that role made her a witness to the inner workings of the Oval Office, which would allow her to hit the ground running as vice president. She also knows a thing or two about social media and how to use it to her advantage — something Biden could benefit from.

Harris, is, of course, a more obvious choice, despite her sparring with Biden in the first Democratic debate. Arguably, though, Harris made Biden a stronger candidate by broaching the busing issue early and making him address it head on — a tendency of hers that could come in handy for him as the campaign wears on. And when it comes to credentials, she's got everything needed to make any presidential candidate's running mate checklist: government experience, state experience and being up for a challenge and for acting as the attack dog. Plus, when Harris started attacking Trump, she really got under his skin.

Next is Abrams, who ran an impressive gubernatorial campaign in a very red state — Georgia — and moved it to purple, which is no easy feat. While she has been elected only to the state Legislature, she has proven that she can weather tough storms and not crack under pressure. She rose in the national spotlight quickly after her 2018 campaign, sparked excitement within the Democratic Party and remains a go-to within Democratic circles for speaking engagements and public appearances. Voters are naturally drawn to her and the enthusiasm she elicits — which could really bring needed grassroots enthusiasm to Biden's candidacy. What's more, she's already said she wants the job, if asked.

Then there's Whitmer, who has entered the national spotlight only since delivering the Democratic response to the State of the Union this year — a tough speech, which she nailed. Since then, she's grown as a leader in Michigan, which has become a COVID-19 hot spot, and as a target for Trump's online ire, which she's handled with aplomb. She may yet be fairly unknown, but her poise under pressure and leadership are to be admired, and her Midwestern roots would be helpful to Biden in the swing suburban areas where Trump bested Clinton in 2016.

While each of these women bring their own strengths and weaknesses, they would all be fantastic picks for Biden in his fight to beat Trump — especially during this very atypical virtual presidential race. Mostly, though, he just needs to pick: The earlier he does so, the more momentum he can build in a time when there's saturation coverage of the pandemic and the president leading the country (albeit poorly) during it.