As It Happens·Q&A

Joe Biden needs a vice-presidential nominee who unites voters, says political scientist

There are less than 100 days until the U.S. presidential election and Joe Biden is expected to announce his running mate soon. Lara Brown argues vice-presidential candidates are chosen to unify the electorate.

A Washington-based academic reveals how running mates can sway a country's electorate.

Democratic presidential candidate, former vice-president Joe Biden, is expected to announce his pick for running mate in the coming days. (Matt Slocum/The Associated Press)

Read Story Transcript

There are less than 100 days until the U.S. presidential election and we should know soon who presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden will be choosing as his vice-presidential candidate.

Biden, who is often considered a moderate Democrat, has committed to selecting a woman as his vice-president in the wake of mass protests against systemic injustice in the U.S.  

With less than four months to go until the Nov. 3 election, opinion polls suggest that the Democratic presidential candidate has a strong lead over Republican incumbent Donald Trump.

Lara Brown, a political scientist at George Washington University, argues that selecting a candidate for the vice presidency is normally motivated by a need to galvanize moderate and progressive sections of the electorate.

But the director of the Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University claims that what Biden needs now is a running mate who will not shake his current lead over U.S. President Donald Trump. 

Brown spoke to As It Happens guest host Susan Bonner about what Biden will need to consider when choosing his running mate. Here is part of their conversation. 

What do you think Joe Biden needs in a running mate?

This issue has changed over the course of this election cycle. Typically, we see presidential nominees looking for somebody to balance their ticket — someone to bring a sense of another part of their political party or another regional  constituency to their ticket.

Biden has long had a reputation as an establishment moderate Democrat from the mid-Atlantic region. It is the case that the Democratic Party has become more progressive over time. It is also representative of more women and people of colour than it is of just white men.

So there is a need and, I think, a desire on the part of Biden to bring some balance demographically and perhaps regionally to the ticket. But I say that it has changed over the course of this election cycle this year. In the early part of the year there was a sense that Biden, were he to win the nomination, would be up against a stronger President Trump.

That is no longer the case. President Trump's poll numbers have dropped and Biden's numbers have increased. Now what the Democrats need most is a vice presidential pick who will do no harm or cause any of the dynamics that are currently sustaining the poll numbers as they are to change.

Joe Biden, who has served as vice-president himself, has a number of contenders and factors to consider. The candidates include senators, congresswomen, governors, a mayor, a former UN ambassador and a former state legislator. (CBC)

Given all of that, who do you believe Joe Biden will be choosing as his running mate?

I do think that Sen. Kamala Harris is the safest pick. The fact that she ran in the nomination race with him is very important. It means that she has already been vetted by the media to a certain extent. 

She dropped out of the presidential race quickly when she did not win, which was also seen as a sign that she wanted to help move this process toward a conclusion and to ensured that the Democrats had a strong nominee.

It is also the case that she, as a woman and an African-American, does represent a larger base within the Democratic Party that Biden just doesn't have the ability to connect with in the same way.

She also clashed with Joe Biden in a rather personal way during the campaign. The relationship between Joe Biden and Barack Obama was very close, and I'm wondering how that might factor in to how Biden views Harris?

When you look at past presidential and vice-presidential relationships, the majority of them have been between two candidates who did clash and did represent separate wings of their party.

Any suggestion that Senator Harris's combativeness in a debate was somehow overly personal or was wrongheaded, I would argue, actually has a tremendous number of sexist connotations and should not really be raised. 

U.S. President Donald Trump travelled to Texas Wednesday to try to boost his support in the state, usually a Republican stronghold. Texas is a COVID-19 hotspot and Trump’s handling of the pandemic has been a factor in his slump in the polls. 2:02

How much sexism has there been in this debate surrounding Biden's considerations, given that we're seeing an all female slate of candidates and primarily all black women?

I do think that there is always an undercurrent of sexism when we talk about women as leaders. There is always this suggestion that women should somehow be more moral or more loyal or operate by a different set of rules than men would.

I think we can look back certainly on how Geraldine Ferraro was portrayed in 1984 and how Sarah Palin was portrayed in 2008 in those vice presidential roles. We can see how sexism was a large part of those discussions and the debate was filtered through many of these kind of sexist tropes.

It is striking how often those two women are considered to be the reason that those campaigns lost. That is not at all the truth of the political science fundamentals. 

What weight would Joe Biden likely give to a candidate like Karen Bass, head of the Congressional Black Caucus, who's pushing for police reform in Washington right now?

I do think that one of the reasons why we see so many African-American women being considered for this position is not just because of the civil rights issues and the racial protests, but also because Biden really owes his nomination to African-Americans.

U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden promised to pick a female running mate, and in the wake of protests against police brutality and discussions about representation in leadership roles, there has been hope in some Democratic quarters that he will choose a Black woman. 6:12

Were it not for his resounding win in South Carolina, which was because of such a large turnout of African-American voters who supported his candidacy, he would not likely have become the party's nominee. 

I think there is a desire to reach out not just to women, who do make up the backbone of the party, but also African-Americans who were particularly important in his nomination race. He needs to extend a hand and represent those constituencies in his vice-presidential pick. 

Written by Oliver Thompson. Interview produced by Katie Geleff. Edited for length and clarity. 

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