May 01, 2020 186 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, your weekly newsletter ranking the best household cleaner cocktails. All recipes today will involve our ingredient of the week: a sweet, tart Lemon Pledge simple syrup that will “dust off” all those icky coronaviruses floating around your body.


OK then! Looks like we’re ranking Biden potential running mates again instead. The last time we did this was March 20, just after Biden had publicly committed to picking a woman to be his veep and just before Tara Reade’s allegations against Biden were aired on a podcast. So, yes, some things have changed. But Biden still has a long list of women to choose from and many competing factors to sort through. But with the help of an icky former Senate Banking Committee chairman who’s now a lobbyist, he’s certain to make the right decision for the people.

Stacey Abrams.
Stacey Abrams. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week Up from last week #3

1. Stacey Abrams

A new kind of vice presidential candidate.

Is she the most likely to get picked? Eh. The lack of federal or executive experience is a big issue for a would-be understudy when the candidate at the top of the ticket would be 137 years old by his second year in office. But Abrams is running the most interesting vice presidential campaign that we’ve ever seen: a public one. She has eschewed the tedious “who, me?” routine for unabashed self-advocacy. She’s described herself as an “excellent” running mate selection and has expressed “concern” were Biden not to select a woman of color. The way Abrams thinks of this is that she’ll inevitably be overlooked if she doesn’t do this, and that her path rests on creating a pressure campaign that would make it difficult for Biden not to pick her. She is trying to take power, instead of participating in a Victorian courtship ritual in which one politely hopes to have it granted to them—and, naturally, some Democrats find this abhorrent. Not everything she’s doing is a break from the norm, though: She’s got the Biden campaign’s talking points on Tara Reade down pat.

Rank 2

Last Week Down from last week #1

2. Kamala Harris

Is there a good reason not to pick her?

The California senator doesn’t need to put herself out there so much as hope that when the clock runs out, Biden hasn’t thought of a better idea. Though she may not represent a swing state, Harris still checks the most boxes as a woman of color with statewide and federal experience who can camouflage as both a progressive and as RoboCop. She’s doing the surrogate work, participating in a virtual Biden town hall this week addressing the racial disparities of the coronavirus pandemic, and she’s done the money work, setting up a joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee and introducing the cash-disadvantaged nominee to donors. Now it’s just a matter of finding a good operative to leak dirt on any other fanciful notion Biden might get taken with.

Rank 3

Last Week Down from last week #2

3. Amy Klobuchar

Laying the mini-Biden on thick.

All political considerations aside, the Klob has got to be whom Biden would want to pick, right? They have the exact same politics. They get the exact same high off of saying that “Medicare for All” would cost an impractical $32 trillion. Their shared idea of a good time is a working lunch with Sens. Susan Collins and Roy Blunt to discuss practical solutions to rural hospital funding. There is no more ruthless dig in their shared lexicon than saying to Sen. Bernie Sanders, “at least I’m a Democrat!” Klobuchar’s pathway involves convincing Biden that crucial political calculations like “excitement” do not in fact exist, and that his priority should be picking someone else who fantasizes about getting the word “COMPROMISE” tastefully tattooed on her wrist. Going on Joe Biden’s Here’s the Deal podcast to swap John McCain stories is a good start.

Rank 4

Last Week Up from last week #6

4. Gretchen Whitmer

Master of the “who, me?” approach.

The anti-Abrams in this vice presidential race has been Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who’s become both a Democratic star and a Fox News villain during these ‘rona times. She is leading the pack in terms of her ability to aw-shucks away questions about the vice presidency. When Politico asked her, for example, how Biden’s running mate would campaign while managing their official capacities at this important time, she dialed up the humility to scorching levels: “Beats me! I don’t know. I mean, I’m not running for anything. I just know that, you know, you don’t run for that. That is a selection of the top of the ticket, and everyone else should be just busy doing their jobs.” On its face, that’s one “Gee golly!” away from a perfect 10. But since she gave, intentionally or not, the subtle dig at Abrams for not even having an elected job, we’ll round up.

Rank 5

Last Week

5. Catherine Cortez Masto

A quick fix to a big problem.

One of Biden’s most glaring weaknesses within the Democratic coalition has been with Latino voters. A recent poll conducted by Latino Decisions found weak enthusiasm for Biden, and there’s concern that the party—if you can believe it!—might be taking Latino support for granted. That same poll, however, found that the enthusiasm would shoot up were Biden to select Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, the first Latina to serve in the Senate, as his running mate. Cortez Masto has a powerful ally in the man she replaced in the Senate. Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who still pulls a lot of strings in his retirement, has been advocating for her—and according to one March report, Biden told Reid that Cortez Masto was in his “top 3.” Cortez Masto does, however, have her plate full already as chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in a year when the Democrats might actually have a chance to win back the Senate.

Rank 6

Last Week Down from last week #4

6. Elizabeth Warren

Give him some of that lib money.

It’s still difficult to see how Biden selects someone with whom he has no chemistry and is fundamentally at odds over basic ideology. Especially when she’s white and from a safely blue state. But Warren, who wants the gig, does have a couple of cards to play. Several polls have shown her to be one of, if not the most, popular choices for a running mate and—despite a few troll accounts who enjoy tweeting snake emojis at her—the most popular of the available options among Sanders supporters. Some of that may “just” be her higher name recognition … but high support with high name recognition is a big asset. Warren also has something that’s sorely missing from the Biden operation: a strong, small-donor fundraising list. The Biden campaign, Politico reports, has taken note that Warren consistently plugs in her media appearances without having to be asked. “She’s doing it on her own,” a Biden adviser said, creepily. If she can help Biden raise loads of noncorrupt money to narrow his fundraising deficit with the Trump campaign, well, maybe it doesn’t matter so much that he likes banks and she doesn’t.

Rank 7

Last Week

7. Keisha Lance Bottoms

The Clyburn advantage.

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn maintains a certain amount of clout within Biden’s apparatus because of that time he, uh, singlehandedly won the flailing Biden campaign the Democratic presidential nomination. Clyburn has been pushing the campaign to pick a black woman from Georgia, and it’s not Stacey Abrams. “There’s something to be said,” Clyburn said of Abrams, in a typically understated dagger, “for somebody who has been out there.” Instead, Clyburn notes “there is a young lady right there in Georgia who I think would make a tremendous VP candidate, and that’s the mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms.” Bottoms was an early supporter of, and active surrogate for, the Biden campaign, through the good times and the bad. She is, however, unknown nationally, and the Biden campaign will be hesitant to pick someone who has to go through the national public vetting process from scratch. But if Jim Clyburn is going to throw your name out without prompting, it’s pretty likely you’ll at least get a look from the campaign and—more importantly—a slot on the Surge.