July 31, 2020 95 days to Nov 03, 2020
The Surge

Slate’s guide to the 2020 races and politicians everyone’s talking about this week.

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, in which we will say goodbye to another group of regulars—the vice presidential candidates—and hope to discover a new set of things to regularly rank in your favorite political newsletter.

Joe Biden said this week that he will announce his running mate the first week of August, which starts tomorrow. That’s right, the one interesting thing that’s going to happen in this dull campaign from home is about to happen. In our final VP ranking, we find a few women who’ve shot up the rankings in July, as well as some also-rans we include to fill the space! We also type the name Chris Dodd far too many times for a list of potentially history-making women. But for all of the possible choices, the real question at the heart of the selection is: Does Kamala Harris get it or not?

Kamala Harris.
Kamala Harris. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Alexander Drago-Pool/Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week

1. Kamala Harris

We finish where we started.

This is our fifth Surge edition ranking vice presidential hopefuls. Our proprietary, secret, and flawless formula has placed Harris first in three of these lists and second in the other two. She checked the most boxes at the start, and just days before the selection is announced, no one else has managed to check more. Is there any way she isn’t picked? No. Wait—Yes. For one, Joe Biden could be privy to some information that the Surge is not. Second, there is the issue of Chris Dodd, Ted Kennedy’s old grab-ass partner from the Senate who’s co-leading Biden’s search committee and who was reportedly disgusted with Harris’ lack of remorse for her attack on Biden in last year’s first presidential debate. He’s been pushing alternatives. Relatedly, as CNBC reported this week, a group of donors has been “waging a campaign behind the scenes” against Harris, questioning her “loyalty” and arguing that “she’s too ambitious and that she will be solely focused on becoming president herself.” The report generated some reasonable eye-rolling—anyone he picks is going to be wildly ambitious and interested in becoming president. But ascertaining a running mate’s loyalty is particularly important for Biden: He would be entering office as an effective lame duck, and he does need to know that his vice president won’t distance herself from the administration the instant controversy arises. So is Biden buying into any of these concerns? Earlier this week at an event in Delaware, a photographer snapped a picture of Biden’s written talking points. Atop the list were the words “Kamala Harris,” followed by a series of defenses of her. He was either being courteous, or he was offering the first argument for the woman he’d selected as his running mate.

Rank 2

Last Week

2. Karen Bass

It’s about time.

The California congresswoman wasn’t in the running mate mix until relatively recently. It was long overdue. Bass, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, is respected on the Hill by both Democrats and Republicans. She is a staunch progressive who has the endorsement of conservative columnist George Will. She’s a calm, reassuring presence who’s focused more on legislating than messaging for the cameras. To wit, she was the architect of Democrats’ Justice in Policing Act this summer following the killing of George Floyd. It does not appear to be a mistake, either, that her stock has risen concurrently with the anti-Harris push from elements of Biden’s team and donors. For this, we return to Chris Dodd, whose “concerns about Harris were so deep that he’s helped elevate California Rep. Karen Bass during the vetting process, urging Biden to pick her because ‘she’s a loyal No. 2. And that’s what Biden really wants,’ ” Politico reported a donor as saying. So there you have it: It’s either got to be Harris or Bass. Alternately: It could be another person.

Rank 3

Last Week Up from last week #7

3. Susan Rice

Another person!

Since our latest ranking, the telltale sign of rising running mate odds—vague muttering in the press—has been off the charts for former U.N. Ambassador and White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice. “Privately,” Politico reported this week, “some in California Sen. Kamala Harris’ world have indicated that Rice could be Harris’ most formidable rival for the vice presidential slot.” It makes absolute sense that Biden would want Susan Rice as a governing partner. When someone who’s served in the White House like Biden thinks of “ready to be president on Day One,” he’s not thinking about a person who can negotiate a budget with Congress. He’s thinking about a person with the requisite foreign policy experience to run the world. No other contender can match what Rice has there. What Rice doesn’t have, though, is all of the other stuff: things like having run for any office before or a political constituency. There are also some more specific issues with Rice. She’ll give Republicans an opportunity to relitigate Benghazi (whatever, have at it), and Republicans will also have a field day with her son, who’s been an outspoken college Republican spreading the MAGA gospel. But the major impediment is whether Biden, and those around him, feels comfortable picking a nonpolitician who does not come with a tested voting bloc for the second-highest political job in the country.

Rank 4

Last Week

4. Tammy Duckworth

Oh, the things they will say.

Earlier this month, Tucker Carlson picked a fight with Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth over her calls for a national conversation about removing statues. Over multiple nights, the Fox News host called her a “coward,” a “fraud,” and a “deeply silly and unimpressive person” who hates America. Duckworth, a Purple Heart recipient who lost both of her legs in Iraq, responded tersely via Twitter: “Does Tucker Carlson want to walk a mile in my legs and then tell me whether or not I love America?” Her stock has risen in the running mate process ever since. Duckworth is a well-liked Democratic senator from the Midwest (not the swingy Midwest, but Midwest anyway!) who, as a Thai American, brings diversity to the ticket and who can focus attention on insane national security issues, like the Russian bounties on American soldiers in Afghanistan that Trump doesn’t seem to care about. And yeah, the Tucker Carlsons and Donald Trumps of the world will say so much stupid shit about her.

Rank 5

Last Week Down from last week #2

5. Elizabeth Warren

Not really a +10 kind of pick.

Joe Biden has a wide lead in current polling as formerly Democrat-skeptical blocs like suburban voters, white voters with college degrees, and white seniors are disgusted with Donald Trump and either like or don’t find actively frightening Joe Biden. The Trump campaign recognizes that it’s difficult to convince voters that Biden is a radical leftist, and so they’ve tacked toward warning that he’s just an aloof puppet of the radical leftists who’ve overrun his party. When “don’t rock the boat” is the imperative, it is difficult to see Joe Biden selecting as his running mate a progressive who, unfairly or not, would give oxygen to the Trump campaign’s otherwise dismissible Trojan horse narrative and potentially scare away those living their Suburban Lifestyle Dream. Everything the Surge knows about Joe Biden and the Democratic Party says that he won’t pick Elizabeth Warren as his running mate. That’s why it would be so fun if he did!

Rank 6

Last Week Down from last week #4

6. Michelle Lujan Grisham

If there is one group Biden needs to shore up …

The Biden campaign may feel that hatred of Trump will be enough to ensure that younger, more left-leaning voters turn out, even if they’re not too psyched about Biden himself. But lagging Latino enthusiasm is an issue that Biden would do well to address, especially if he wants to lock up Florida and Arizona. The Biden campaign recognizes this and has been investing recently in Spanish-language outreach. But to really make a difference, he could select a Latina governor and former chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as his running mate. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, despite not getting as much press as her rivals recently, would directly address a soft spot in what’s otherwise shaping up to be a broad Democratic coalition. It’s a matter, though, of whether Biden wants to give Republicans and the press the opportunity to define someone who’s almost entirely unknown on the national stage when, instead, keeping the focus on Trump being an idiot has proved to be a compelling strategy.

Rank 7

Last Week

7. Michelle Obama

Just saying, it would be cool to lock up the election in August.

We’ll end our final running mate edition of the Surge (RIP) the way we ended the first one: Michelle Obama should be Biden’s running mate choice because the election would be ~over~. It would be done! Michelle Obama would secure the election for Joe Biden the minute she was announced. She doesn’t want to do it … but it would be a lot cooler if she did. That’s all. Oh, one more thing: We will now type the names Stacey Abrams, Gretchen Whitmer, Tammy Baldwin, Val Demings, Keisha Lance Bottoms, Gina Raimondo, Nancy Pelosi, Hillary Clinton, Jill Biden, Chelsea Clinton, Maggie Hassan, Oprah Winfrey, Megan Rapinoe, Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, and Bari Weiss so that when he picks one of them, we can say that we predicted it. And with that, congratulations to whichever woman whose name wasn’t typed in this edition on becoming Joe Biden’s running mate.