May 29, 2020 158 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 the Surge, in which we reopen the Cold Case of whom “Psycho Joe” will “Pick” to be his running mate. So many unanswered & obvious questions. Read story!

The last time we ranked possible VPs, Stacey Abrams was No. 1, impressing us with her charmingly open lobbying for the job. Since then, Abrams has dropped a few slots, and a couple of scandalous governors have jumped onto our radar, one whose husband has a boat and another who purchased jewelry. But there’s only one No. 1, and you may have heard of her.

Elizabeth Warren.
Elizabeth Warren. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Scott Eisen/Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week Up from last week #6

1. Elizabeth Warren

When a risk might be the safe choice after all.

The Surge has long been doubtful of Warren’s chances of being selected. She and Biden have too long a history of mistrust, going back to a banking battle in the 1990s. More broadly, it goes against everything we know about the Democratic Party to think it, as an institution, might take anything even approaching a risk when it’s sitting on a cushy, early polling lead. For Warren to be selected, there will have to be a sudden paradigm shift in the way establishment Democrats think: Specifically, they will have to trust that suburban moderates, lapsed Republicans, and older voters will not run away screaming if Biden spends his first major decision trying to shore up disengaged younger, more progressive voters. And there are some indications this might be happening! Stan Greenberg, Bill Clinton’s former pollster and far from a leftist advocate, has been pushing Warren to the Biden campaign, telling them that “Warren is the obvious solution” to unifying the Democratic Party behind Joe’s candidacy. And as for their personal relationship? The two have reportedly grown closer since Biden called Warren following her older brother’s death from COVID-19. They even wrote an op-ed together, which is how people in Washington announce they’re friends. The two may never exactly share the same politics. But if they can each trust, as one source told CNN, that the other is in politics “for the right reasons,” then the important part is out of the way. 

Rank 2

Last Week

2. Kamala Harris

When the safe choice might be a risk after all.

Now let’s consider how we expect Democrats to respond to the numbers in front of them. It’s not just that enthusiasm for Biden among stereotypical “white hipster Bernie-loving communist Brooklyn podcaster INGRATE” young voters is the problem, as media narratives can make it out to be. Biden’s support among young voters of color is soft, too. The most Democratic Party possible thing the Biden campaign could do, then, is to select Kamala Harris—already a VP front-runner with whom Biden feels comfortable—because she is a black woman who can produce “viral internet moments.” It would be a projection of what the people running the Democratic Party think young voters of color want, in spite of recent evidence from the Democratic presidential primary that Kamala Harris failed to fire up the voters she would be tasked with firing up. In other words, she remains very much a front-runner.

Rank 3

Last Week Down from last week #1

3. Stacey Abrams

Not a bad time to have a voting rights expert on the ticket!

The COVID-19 pandemic means that voting rights won’t just be one of several subplots of the 2020 election. Voting rights are the 2020 election. The president, his campaign, and his allies across the country have demonstrated hyperbolic levels of hostility toward blue, purple, and purpling states trying to expand access to mail-in ballots in the midst of a global health crisis. It is going to be a dogfight in state legislatures and courts through November—and past November, if Trump blames a would-be loss on absentee voting expansions and treats the election as illegitimate. In normal times, where voter suppression is but one of many ills in an election season, you might want Stacey Abrams—perhaps the best-known voting rights crusader in the country—to combat it from her helm leading her voting rights organization, Fair Fight. This election cycle, though, where access to the ballot is the story, you may want to give her the bullhorn that comes with a spot on the presidential ticket.

Rank 4

Last Week Down from last week #3

4. Amy Klobuchar

Yeeeeeeeeeah she’s got a problem.

Were we doing this list a week ago, we might have given Klobuchar the top slot. The Biden campaign is reportedly vetting her, they get along, she’s loyal, she’s extremely qualified, she’s from the Midwest, and they have the exact same politics. Well, thank God we didn’t do this list last week! Klobuchar would have always been an eye-roll of a pick to young, progressive, and black voters. But following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis this week, and the protests that ensued, we cannot see a world in which it makes sense to select a former Hennepin County attorney whose controversial prosecutorial record against black people, and lax prosecutorial record against police, was already a liability. Klobuchar, in fits and starts, has been trying to stay ahead of this latest police brutality. But selecting her now wouldn’t just be a disappointment to deflated Democratic constituencies. It would be like going out of one’s way to strike a nerve.

Rank 5

Last Week Down from last week #4

5. Gretchen Whitmer

Dumb Local News Scandal That Could Nevertheless Hurt VP Chances: Part I.

Establishment paradigm shifts. Voting rights. Police brutality. Those first four entries were kind of heavy, no? Now let’s talk about Gretchen Whitmer’s husband and his boat. Whitmer, you’ll recall, has been the target of (some genuinely frightening) protests against her pandemic lockdown orders in Michigan. The strictness of some of them made her highly vulnerable to vague hypocrisy infractions. So when her husband last week asked a dock company to get his boat in the water ahead of Memorial Day weekend, and was first refused because of the backlog, and then tried to play the ol’ do-you-know-who-I-am card, Whitmer found herself in a full-fledged national scandal. She tried to explain that her husband was just attempting to make a light joke, but I am the governor’s husband and I am requesting special treatment didn’t get the uproarious laughs it usually gets from stressed small businesses in economic depressions. It would be twisted and unfair that a man ham-fistedly trying to get a toy in the water hurt his wife’s chances at career advancement—and thus, likely.

Rank 6

Last Week

6. Michelle Lujan Grisham

Dumb Local News Scandal That Could Nevertheless Hurt VP Chances: Part II.

Michelle Lujan Grisham is the governor of New Mexico and a former congresswoman and chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Joe Biden has a Latino voter problem and is considering her—the first Democratic Latina elected state chief executive in U.S. history—for the vice presidency. Despite these accomplishments, Lujan is under fire from Republicans back home for purchasing jewelry from a local store while businesses were closed. According to the governor’s spokeswoman, she asked an employee of a jewelry store whom she knew if she could buy jewelry remotely. The employee went to the store, picked it up, left it outside her home, and then a friend of Lujan Grisham’s picked it up for the governor. Lujan Grisham probably should not have asked anyone to go anywhere for a nonessential good when she was telling her constituents to stay home, but also, eh? And yet: All the Surge can see is an October presidential race in which Trump is literally guillotining inspectors general outside the White House while holding up a copy of the New York Times front page that, for the seventh straight day, leads with a story about “Jewelrygate.”

Rank 7

Last Week

7. Val Demings

The Florida play.

Building up hopes about winning Florida is psychologically treacherous for Democrats, but Biden has been polling fairly well in President Donald Trump’s adopted home state, in part based on his surprising strength among older voters. Does he want to use his vice presidential pick to go for the kill there, though? If he does, one candidate who’s reportedly undergoing an “intense vetting” from the Biden campaign is Rep. Val Demings, a former Orlando police chief who’s known nationally, to the modest extent she’s known nationally, for her role as impeachment manager in the Senate trial of Donald J. Trump. Politico reports that she’s caught the attention of donors too. But she has a couple of vulnerabilities, aside from a lack of name recognition. Having been Orlando police chief isn’t a winning résumé item to all, and Biden has said he wants to prioritize a running mate who’s been through the fire of running a statewide or national campaign, which Demings hasn’t. But she does represent a swing-y part of central Florida, the heartbreak state that may be too hard for Democrats to resist going all-in on.