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Joe Biden close to picking running mate: Here are the top contenders

In a U.S. election year that has seen the coronavirus pandemic upend primary voting as well as the conventions of the two political parties, the vice-presidential pick might be more widely anticipated than in past years. Democratic nominee Joe Biden is expected to make his choice some time in the coming week.

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who has served as vice-president himself, has a number of contenders and factors to consider in the search for his running mate. The candidates include senators, congresswomen, governors, a mayor, a former UN ambassador and a former state legislator. (CBC)

In a U.S. election year that has seen the coronavirus pandemic upend primary voting as well as the conventions of both the Democrat and Republican parties, Joe Biden’s vice-presidential choice might be more widely anticipated than in past election years.

The Democratic presidential candidate has said his selection for running mate will be announced the first week of August.

He has promised to pick a female running mate, and in the wake of the George Floyd protests and subsequent conversations about representation in roles of power, there has been hope in some Democratic quarters that he will choose a qualified Black woman.

John Nance Garner, Franklin Roosevelt’s vice-president from 1933 to 1941, once said the job wasn’t “worth a bucket of warm piss,” because of its often ceremonial role in the large shadow of the president. But with the likes of Biden and Dick Cheney in recent years, each of whom had decades of D.C. experience, the authority and scope of the role has expanded.

The vice-president is called upon to break tie votes in the Senate and is first in the line of succession should a president become incapacitated or not be able to fulfil their duties.

The need for a vice-president to be ready to immediately occupy the Oval Office — and Biden will turn 78 in late November — has meant that the vast majority in modern times have had previous congressional experience, with the exceptions of ex-governors Nelson Rockefeller and Spiro Agnew.

These factors could prove too formidable for Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and ex-Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacy Abrams, accomplished Black women mentioned as potential candidates who have not served on Capitol Hill.

WATCH l Biden has several considerations to assess in his VP pick:

Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has not yet picked a running mate, but some of his supporters say picking a Black woman would be a major campaign boost. 2:31

Political scientists have long debated how much the choice of vice-president moves the needle in a significant way in terms of votes, but there are considerations to the selection.

Barack Obama, still relatively new to Washington, wanted an experienced hand and mentor in Biden, while Donald Trump sought to shore up support from reluctant conservatives by picking evangelical Christian Mike Pence.

There has never been a female vice-president in the U.S., with previous candidates Geraldine Ferraro (1984) and Sarah Palin (2008) a part of losing tickets.

Here’s a snapshot of some of the women who have been floated as possible candidates in multiple reports from political journalists in the U.S.:

Tammy Baldwin

(Senate Television/ The Associated Press)

Baldwin, 58, has a lower profile than the likes of potential candidates Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, but outranks them in terms of congressional seniority. After spending a few years as a lawyer in a private practice, Baldwin bounced from her state’s assembly to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1999 and then the Senate in 2012.

Baldwin represents Wisconsin, thought to be one of the competitive states from the 2016 election that Biden will likely need to wrest from Trump to reach the 270 electoral college votes needed to become president.

While a Baldwin pick could disappoint those hoping Biden selects a person of colour, it could also inspire LGBTQ voters — Baldwin made history as the first openly gay woman to serve in Congress.

Rep. Karen Bass

(Greg Nash/The Associated Press)

Biden has often lamented the loss of a bipartisan spirit in Congress. The calm Bass — who considers herself a progressive but has earned praise from liberals and largely avoided attacks from arch-conservative politicians and commentators — could therefore be an appealing choice.

Bass, 66, is a five-term congresswoman. Prior to coming to Washington, she was the first Black woman to serve as speaker of the California state assembly. Her committee assignments in D.C. have reflected a broad base of subjects that would serve an administration well — homeland security, global human rights, the internet and intellectual property among them — and she is currently the Congressional Black Caucus chair.

Bass has spent most of her life in Southern California, raised by working-class parents and coming of age during tumultuous times with the Watts riots in the mid-1960s and the 1968 assassination of candidate Robert Kennedy, the first political campaign she volunteered on. Prior to her political career, she worked as a physician’s assistant and community organizer. 

Rep. Val Demings

(Mandel Ngan/The Associated Press)

The Floridian Demings, 63, has raised her profile significantly in the past year by serving on two committees that played crucial roles in the House’s impeachment of Donald Trump, the judiciary and intelligence panels.

Demings, the youngest of seven children, was a social worker before joining the police academy, rising through the ranks and becoming the Orlando Police Department’s first female chief in 2007. It was a challenging post and one prone to criticism as the force has grappled with a long record of excessive-force allegations, including during her tenure, which ended in 2011.

In her second crack at trying for a seat in the U.S. House, she won in 2016.

Her husband, also a former police officer, is mayor of Orange County in central Florida. As it has been since 2000, Florida is expected to be fiercely contested for its 29 electoral college votes, the third-highest haul of any state.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth

U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) arrives for the fourth day of the Senate impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., January 24, (Erin Scott/Reuters)

Duckworth, 52, has a compelling personal story and would help bolster the Biden campaign’s national security credentials. She is a Purple Heart recipient who lost her legs when an army helicopter was shot down in Iraq in 2004.

Born in Thailand, from there Duckworth’s life has taken an Obama-like geographic path, moving to Indonesia, Hawaii and Illinois.

WATCH l Trump, Biden trade barbs:

Donald Trump accused his Democratic rival Joe Biden of being soft on China as the president announced an executive order that he said will hold Beijing accountable for its oppressive actions against the people of Hong Kong. Earlier Tuesday, Biden attacked Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, accusing the president of presenting Americans with a ‘false choice’ between protecting their health and protecting the economy. 1:45

She served in both the Illinois and Obama governments in various posts before launching a successful bid for a House seat in 2012, with a further victory four years later seeing her reach the Senate.

While picking Duckworth could blunt criticism that the Democrats are a party of “coastal elites,” Illinois has safely been in the Democratic column in presidential elections since 1992, and Duckworth has not been on the forefront of civil justice issues like Harris and Bass.

While some of the VP candidates have grandchildren, Duckworth is mother to two children under the age of six.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

(Eddie Moore/The Albuquerque Journal/The Associated Press)

While she hasn’t received as much attention as some candidates, Lujan Grisham is as qualified as any.

New Mexico’s governor since 2019, she previously worked as her state’s health secretary, potentially making her a key point person in a Washington administration that would still have to be focused on the coronavirus. In between those those state duties, she was in D.C. as a member of U.S. House between 2013 and 2018, including two years when she led the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

The Pew Research Center estimates the number of eligible Latino voters this year is expected to reach 32 million, with a significant presence in competitive Florida and Arizona. Trump grabbed just eight per cent of the Black vote in 2016 but took a healthier 28 per cent of the Latino vote, making Lujan Grisham, 60, a potentially savvy strategic choice.

Lujan Grisham’s personal story of persevering after tragedy would likely resonate with Biden, who lost his first wife and baby daughter in a 1972 car accident. Lujan Grisham became a single parent after her husband collapsed while jogging in 2004, dying of a brain aneurysm at 45.

Sen. Kamala Harris

(Alexander Drago/The Associated Press)

Harris jousted forcefully with Biden in early presidential debates last year. But since dropping out of the race, she’s appeared with him in online fundraisers and recently headed a campaign event in North Carolina, a battleground state where Harris’s dual appeal to Black voters and college-educated white women could boost Democratic prospects.

Harris, 55, has gained a reputation for effective questioning of reluctant witnesses at Senate committee hearings, reflecting her legal background. Before coming to Washington as a senator in 2017, she served as California’s attorney general and San Francisco’s district attorney. That could make her just as credible a candidate for U.S. attorney general as vice-president.

The daughter of parents from Jamaica and India, Harris spent her high school years in Montreal.

Susan Rice

WATCH l Susan Rice on her career, connection to Barbara Frum:

Former U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice believes U.S. President Donald Trump’s days in office are numbered and that Canada was right to arrest Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou at the behest of the U.S. 12:00

There is no greater candidate in terms of understanding how a U.S. administration can operate than Rice, who grew up in Washington with parents who worked in government and think-tank roles.

In the mid-1990s, she was nominated to serve as assistant secretary of state for African affairs in President Bill Clinton’s administration. Rice, 55, then spent the first four years of the Obama administration as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and then as his national security adviser, co-ordinating closely on many issues with Biden, then vice-president.

As with any candidate, Biden has to assess the risks and drawbacks of his choice. In Rice’s case, she has never been an elected politician and more than any woman on the list has been a lightning rod for right-wing media figures who have sought to accuse her and the Obama administration of wrongdoing in the deadly Libya embassy attack and in the prosecution of Trump associate Michael Flynn.

Rice also has a Canadian connection. Prior to her political service, she worked between 1990 and 1992 at McKinsey & Company at their Toronto office, with her now-husband Ian Cameron a producer at that time for CBC host Barbara Frum.

Rice told CBC News last year that Frum, shortly before her death in March 1992, encouraged the relationship with Cameron at a pivotal moment: “She really was a catalyst in my thinking of what mattered.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren

(Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Warren, a Massachusetts senator and leading progressive, also competed directly against Biden in this presidential cycle, taking several weeks to endorse him after bowing out of the race.

Any doubts of a rift have since been laid to rest. Warren frequently hosts campaign events for Biden, including one recent fundraiser that brought in $6 million US.

A longtime academic — and long ago a registered Republican — Warren rose to public prominence from appearances as a personal finance expert on Dr. Phil and at congressional inquiries. She has a keen focus of pocketbook issues and helped inspire the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Warren, 71, has traded verbal jabs with Trump — she has attacked him for being a “wannabe tyrant,” while he’s mocked her claims to Indigenous ancestry. She apologized for mistakenly misrepresenting her ancestry earlier in life; a DNA analysis showed evidence of a Indigenous ancestor as far as 10 generations back.

While Warren’s recent decades have been spent at Harvard or on Capitol Hill, she was raised in a churchgoing Methodist family in Oklahoma.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer

(Michigan Office of the Governor/The Associated Press)

Whitmer, 48, has raised her national profile by forcefully advocating for her state of Michigan during the early, chaotic days of the  pandemic. She criticized the Trump administration’s response in providing medical equipment and supplies, and has consistently scored higher than the president in approval ratings measuring leaders’ actions during the health crisis.

As with Lujan Grisham, it may annoy her state’s citizens to see her depart for Washington after only becoming a governor in January 2019. And she does not have her New Mexico counterpart’s resumé, with extensive political experience within her state but not in D.C.

But unlike Lujan Grisham, Whitmer comes from a state that is up in the air for the Democrats on Nov. 3. Trump won Michigan with a margin of slightly less than 11,000 votes in 2016 over Hillary Clinton.

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