March 20, 2020 228 days to Nov 03, 2020
The Surge

Slate’s guide to the presidential candidates everyone’s talking about this week.

Welcome to this week’s edition of Coronavirus Surge, written in deep isolation. The Surge has barely left the house in a week but hasn’t gone loopy yet. Perhaps that’s because the conversations have been great. It turns out that the sofa has spirited opinions on 19th-century British literature, while the lamp is a strident medievalist. Oh lamp, you churl!

A brief recap from this past Sunday’s debate, which took place in a haunted, abandoned CNN studio two days before Joe Biden effectively shut the door on Bernie Sanders in Tuesday’s primaries: The topic was women, and Biden said (to paraphrase) I’m picking one of those girl folks as my running mate—lots of great gals out there to choose from. And just like that, this week’s Surge theme was born.

Don’t worry: We will not visit the “veepstakes” each week for the next few months, only from time to time. Next week we might rank, who knows, potatoes? Sweatpants? But here’s an early look at the list of women from whom Biden is likely choosing.

Kamala Harris.
Kamala Harris. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images.

Rank 1

1. Kamala Harris

The obvious option.

Kamala Harris is a smart, charismatic black woman with high name recognition who is not old and is qualified to serve as president on Day One, and while she is not of “the left,” per se, her politics are muddled enough to not come across as a concerted middle finger to the left. Whew! We haven’t seen this many checked boxes since all the way back in early ’19, when Kamala Harris was a shoo-in to win the Democratic presidential primary. What are the downsides? Well, she did try last June to execute Biden on national television with a debate maneuver that Biden’s campaign interpreted as a cheap shot. She also waited until the coast was clear—i.e., until after the California primary—to endorse Biden, when doing so at a moment of more personal risk might have earned her more cred, and more leverage, with the campaign. If this seems like us straining, though, it probably is. She’s the obvious favorite. And when has Kamala Harris being the on-paper favorite to whom pundits are prematurely throwing the prize not panned out?

Rank 2

2. Amy Klobuchar

The clone option.

One of the eternal running-mate decisions is whether to balance the ticket, as Barack Obama did in picking an old-hand, experienced guy like Biden in 2008, or to reinforce what’s at the top of the ticket, as Bill Clinton did in selecting another young New Democrat, then-Sen. Al Gore. If Biden chooses to reinforce what he already has—an experienced, pragmatic hand and a return to normalcy—Klob is the obvious choice. She and Biden were two of the closest analogues in the race, only a generation apart: committed Democrats who nevertheless measure their value on the amount of legislation they’re able to pass with bipartisan backing. Klobuchar also has a strong electoral record with working-class whites in the Upper Midwest, a useful thing to have on the ticket in an election that will hinge on Wisconsin, and she could competently pick up right where Biden left off as president should Something Happen. Klobuchar would, however, be a direct middle finger to the left, and she is also one of the whitest persons to have ever existed. Also: Do you want to take a Minnesota special Senate election for granted when there could be recession backlash against the sitting administration?

Rank 3

3. Stacey Abrams

The excitement option.

The former Georgia House minority leader, whose narrow loss in the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial race captivated Democrats across the country, is simultaneously the freshest Biden veep choice—and the original one. Before Biden even announced his candidacy, he had met with Abrams and, according to some reporting, floated choosing her as an out-of-the-gate running mate. Abrams apparently chose not to spend all of her growing political capital on becoming a gimmick at the time but is by all accounts available for the job now. Abrams is one of the most effective communicators in Democratic politics, an inspirational figure with appeal across the Democratic spectrum who could add electricity to a ticket that may have an enthusiasm problem. She is, however, inexperienced at the federal level and hasn’t been vetted on the national stage. She’s a candidate that would make more sense if, come midsummer, the Biden campaign feels it needs a sharp boost to stay competitive.

Rank 4

4. Elizabeth Warren

The left option.

Or say it’s midsummer, and all of the progressive shit talk over the past year about how nominating Joe Biden would sap the left-liberal energy within the party is reflected in the numbers. Your answer, then, is Warren, even if she doesn’t meaningfully mitigate the age issue with the ticket. This pick, though, would seem to create the most intra-ticket strife. Though Biden and Warren have spoken multiple times since the Massachusetts senator dropped out of the race, and he’s adopted her bankruptcy reform position as a show of good faith, they seem incompatible as political identities. How would she hold her tongue when Biden announces, well, literally any appointee to any regulatory agency in the executive branch? Would she participate in high-dollar fundraisers? How would she carry out her duties in a “normal,” business-as-usual Democratic administration that her campaign was organized around overthrowing? All of these questions also raise the most obvious one: Would she even want the job?

Rank 5

5. Tammy Baldwin

The Wisconsin option.

Need to win Wisconsin, the most difficult of the three ex–“Blue Wall” states (along with Michigan and Pennsylvania) to flip back? Perhaps, then, pick the popular Democratic senator from Wisconsin. She’s progressive without alienating moderates, qualified for the job, and would add more history to the ticket beyond serving as the first female vice president: She would be the first openly gay vice president as well. On the other hand, there would be a certain Tim Kaine–iness to this pick. There are not, at the moment, legions of people running in the streets rending their garments in apoplectic frenzies screaming “TAMMY BALDWIN OR BUST” into cops’ faces. Maybe that will change when the coronavirus passes? But there’s a “special Senate election in Wisconsin during a recession while a Democrat is president” situation here, too.

Rank 6

6. Gretchen Whitmer

The governor option. Also, the Michigan option.

The Michigan governor is an emerging star in Democratic politics who comfortably flipped the governor’s mansion in 2018 and was “rewarded” this year by the national party with delivering Democrats’ State of the Union response. Her endorsement and campaigning for Joe Biden ahead of the Michigan primary earlier this month helped him crush Bernie Sanders’ hopes for the nomination, earning her serious goodwill from the Biden orbit. As a governor, she has the executive experience she would need to take over the presidency, and also as a governor, her ascent to the vice presidency wouldn’t risk Democrats a critical Senate seat in a 2021 special election. Would Whitmer be interested in the role, though? She did say in an interview this week that the running mate “is not going to be me,” but that’s what they all say. She vowed, instead, to help Biden with the selection and vetting process. We could either take her at her word, or wildly speculate that she’s running the Cheney Play. So she’s definitely running the Cheney Play.

Rank 7

7. Michelle Obama

The winning option.

I mean, do Democrats want to win? Well, here’s how you win it: Put Michelle Obama on the ticket. You put Michelle Obama on the ticket, you win! You win the presidential election! The problem? Michelle Obama, by all indications, would rather backstroke in a pool of pure coronavirus than ever return to politics. There is probably a better chance of Barack Obama accepting the vice presidential nomination than Michelle, and if he did, she would divorce him. She knows how stupid all of this is! It’s a knowledge that’s hard to unlearn.