It's decision time for Joe Biden: His VP pick could make history, with Harris, Rice among top contenders

WASHINGTON – The week Joe Biden will announce his running mate has finally arrived.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Susan Rice, former national security adviser to President Barack Obama, have emerged as the top contenders. Either one would make history as the first Black woman to be a running mate.

Biden, who has made it clear earlier he'll choose a woman as his running mate, is also considering Rep. Karen Bass of California, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Rep. Val Demings of Florida, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois.

Political experts often debate the extent to which a vice presidential nominee can have an impact on the ticket but the stakes are especially high for Biden, who is 77. If he wins, he would be 78 by Inauguration Day on Jan. 20, 2021, making him the oldest president in U.S. history. Because of that, voters may look more carefully at a potential successor.

Biden is also facing increased pressure to select a Black woman as his running mate. On Monday, more than 100 Black male leaders, including political activists, athletes and celebrities, such as rapper Sean "Diddy" Combs, signed an open letter saying Biden would alienate the Democrats' most loyal voting bloc if he decides against choosing a Black woman.

"Failing to select a Black woman in 2020 means you will lose the election," the letter said.

POLITICO reported last month that former Sen. Chris Dodd, a member of Biden's vice presidential selection committee, criticized Harris for showing "no remorse" over her clash with the former vice president at the first Democratic debate over his civil rights record.

"So, Black women are the only ones required to stay in their place and to show remorse for even questioning their own oppression?" the letter said.

Niambi Carter, an associate professor of political science at Howard University, said Biden needs to find someone who excites the younger and more progressive wings of the Democratic Party concerned the presumptive nominee is too moderate.

“I think the biggest issue is the fact that there are many who aren’t impressed with Joe Biden as a candidate, quite frankly, not only because of his age, but I also think there are those who think his politics are out of touch with the median Democratic voter, particularly younger voters,” Carter said. “He’s going to have to have someone who can excite them.”

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Throughout the vice presidential vetting process, politicians, activists and voters have advocated that Biden choose a woman of color as his running mate.

Biden has come under fire for comments he's made about the Black community. In addition, She The People, which advocates for women of color, outlined concerns in July about Biden's outreach to women of color, particularly in battleground states. One way to gain support among the crucial voting bloc was for Biden to pick a woman of color as his running mate, the She the People memo stated.

African American voters particularly want Biden to choose a Black woman as his running mate. More than 700 Black women leaders in April signed a letter calling Biden to choose a Black woman for his vice presidential pick.

Chyrl Laird, author of "Steadfast Democrats: How Social Forces Shape Black Political Behavior," said choosing a Black woman would help energize and mobilize that voting bloc.

"Not only would it speak to the Black party base of the Democratic Party, but it will speak specifically to the linchpin of that party base, which is Black women," she said.

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But it's unclear whether Biden's pick will help his election chances.

Traditionally, vice presidential candidates haven’t been shown to win an election or even a state, so the priority is to avoid problems, said Jack Pitney, politics professor at Claremont McKenna College in California. He cited criticism and distractions that surrounded Democrat Walter Mondale’s choice of Geraldine Ferraro in 1984, Republican George H.W. Bush’s choice of Dan Quayle in 1988 and Republican John McCain’s choice of Sarah Palin in 2008.

“In the election, the vice presidential candidate can help a little or hurt a lot,” Pitney said. “If a candidate were to ask me for one sentence of advice, I would say, ‘Above all, do no harm.’”

Biden has repeatedly said that he is looking for a running mate that is "simpatico" with him and has previously asked Obama for advice on what is best to look for in a vice presidential candidate.

Each contender can bring their own expertise to the administration, such as Rice with foreign policy, Duckworth with the military, and Harris as a prosecutor.

However, some on Biden's shortlist have also come under recent scrutiny for their records and past statements.

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Bass has come under fire for her positions on Scientology as well as calling Cuba's Fidel Castro's death “a great loss" after he died in 2016. Rice, who has never held an elected office, has also been criticized for her lack of campaign experience.

Harris, who ran for president in the 2020 cycle, has also been criticized by Biden-ally and Dodd for having "no remorse" over her clash with the former vice president on his civil rights record during the first primary debate, Politico reported. In addition, CNBC reported some Biden allies have labeled Harris as being too ambitious with the fear she may be too focused on being president.

Pitney compared criticism of Harris for having too much ambition to “handing out speeding tickets at the Indianapolis 500.”

“The most important thing is pick somebody who doesn’t do any harm and pick somebody who can be president,” Pitney said.

Whoever Biden chooses could leave factions of the party feeling left out.

“I think there are going to be hurt feelings either way,” Carter said. “I don’t know that anybody is going to walk away all the way happy. I think there are a couple of selections that are going to mitigate the unhappiness.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 2020 election: Biden's VP announcement comes this week