Democratic vice-presidential hopefuls sprinted for the finish Sunday as the 2020 veepstakes entered the home stretch in what could be the most crucial running-mate selection since World War II.
Not since 1944, when an ailing President Franklin Delano Roosevelt dumped incumbent Vice President Henry Wallace and selected Sen. Harry S. Truman as his second-in-command, has the decision been so widely viewed as the choosing of an heir apparent, given former Vice President Joseph R. Biden’s age and the open speculation surrounding his cognitive abilities.
“It is consequential in that for Joe Biden, his VP pick is in many ways his political living will,” said Trump senior campaign adviser Jason Miller on “Fox News Sunday.” “He’s already said he’s going to be a transition candidate for the next generation. He’s refused to say whether he’ll run again. So it really does matter who is picked.”
With the 77-year-old Mr. Biden expected to undertake final one-on-one interviews this week, Rep. Karen Bass of California and Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois proved their mettle by braving appearances on “Fox News Sunday” with Chris Wallace, a notoriously tough interviewer.
Others sought friendlier environs.
Former Georgia legislator Stacey Abrams took aim at President Trump on CNN’s “State of the Union,” while Sen. Kamala Harris, California Democrat, may have pulled off the coup de grace of the season with an eleventh-hour endorsement by Ben Crump, attorney for the George Floyd family.
“This is a time for steely-eyed public servants who play no games and demand results,” said Mr. Crump in a Saturday op-ed on CNN. “It’s time for Sen. Kamala Harris to join Joe Biden’s ticket and, God willing, help him actualize the next phase of this movement from the White House.”
Meanwhile, Rep. Val Demings, Florida Democrat, received a shout-out on Saturday from Clinton White House special counsel Lanny Davis, who cited her law-enforcement background as Orlando’s first police chief and her pull in a must-win swing state.
“Val Demings is not only impressive in her ability to get Republican and independent moderate and conservative voters in the Corridor” between Orlando and Tampa, said Mr. Davis in an op-ed in the Hill. “Also, due to her reputation for tough law enforcement, her presence on the ticket is an effective antidote to Trump’s non-subtle, demagogic ‘law and order’ theme.”
The Sunday shows were especially critical for Ms. Bass, who suffered a political hit Saturday when Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, said that if elected vice president, she would be “the highest-ranking Castro sympathizer in the history of the United States government.”
He pointed to her November 2016 statement on Communist dictator Fidel Castro’s death that said, “The passing of the comandante en jefe is a great loss to the people of Cuba,” and to her eight trips to Cuba in the 1970s.
On Sunday, Ms. Bass said the words that no vice-president hopeful wants to utter with a selection just days away: “I don’t consider myself a Castro supporter,” adding that she “wouldn’t do that again” after speaking about it with her Florida colleagues.
“I don’t think that is a toxic expression in California, but let me just say, Chuck, lesson learned,” Ms. Bass told interviewer Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “Wouldn’t do that again. Talked immediately to my colleagues from Florida and realized that that was something that just shouldn’t have been said.”
On the other hand, the Castro controversy drew attention to her and away from Ms. Duckworth, a combat veteran who lost both legs in the Iraq War, who used her “Fox News Sunday” interview to praise Mr. Biden and take shots at Mr. Trump.
“Any one of us can step up and do the job,” Ms. Duckworth said of herself and others on the reputed short list of hopefuls. “It’s about bringing the country together. It’s about getting a real response to this pandemic that President Trump has so miserably failed at.”
Ms. Harris jumped to the top of many betting pools when Politico mistakenly reported July 28 that she was selected on Aug. 1 — the website later said it had accidentally posted “placeholder” text — followed by a stealthy Associated Press photo of Mr. Biden’s handwritten notes on Ms. Harris.
Under the name “Kamala Harris,” the notes said, “Do not hold grudges,” “Campaigned with me & Jill,” “Talented,” “Great help to campaign,” and “Great respect for her.”
Mr. Biden’s high regard for her comes despite issues with her on multiple fronts. In one of several heated exchanges during the Democratic primary debates, Ms. Harris, while insisting she wasn’t, all but accused Mr. Biden of being racist for waxing nostalgic about being able to work with two pro-segregation senators.
But on the other hand, many progressives deride her record as California attorney general, accusing her of being soft on police misconduct and of engaging in anti-drug crackdowns and opposing marijuana legalization — stances she now repudiates.
As far as the British sportsbook Betfair is concerned, Ms. Harris is the favorite. She leads the field with an “implied probability” of 63.7%, followed by former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice at 23.1%, Ms. Bass at 9.1%, and Ms. Duckworth at 7.7%.
Another unique aspect of the 2020 veepstakes: All the frontrunners are women. Mr. Biden has long said he will choose a female running mate, and after the Black Lives Matter protests following Mr. Floyd’s May 25 death, black women have surged to the forefront of the speculation.
Even so, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat and a progressive favorite, remains in the hunt, with Betfair placing her at 6.7%.
Lanhee Chen, a Hoover Institution fellow who was involved in the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan to run as Republican Mitt Romney’s running mate in 2012, said the relationship between the presidential nominee and potential running mate was the decisive factor in that case and often is in others.
“Is there trust there? Does the presidential nominee know the VP nominee is going to be out there on message, making the right case? I think that’s going to be the most important factor,” Mr. Chen said, adding that he thinks Ms. Demings would be the best pick, thanks to her law-and-order background but predicting that Mr. Biden would select Ms. Harris, describing her as the safe pick.
“It’s a safe campaign and that’s what they’ve tended toward so far,” Mr. Chen said.
Ms. Duckworth made it clear she was a team player, saying that she would be happy to serve in any capacity in a Biden administration and that she thought all the potential candidates were qualified to handle the job — or step into the role of commander-in-chief.
“I think any one of the women whose names have been mentioned being considered are fabulous women and well prepared to step up and do the job of vice president or step up and take over as president if needed,” Ms. Duckworth said.
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