Joe Biden’s search for a running mate has advanced to the next phase as his campaign conducts more extensive reviews of some prospects, including at least several African American women, according to people with knowledge of the situation.
Among the candidates who have progressed to the point of more comprehensive vetting or have the potential to do so are Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., former national security adviser Susan Rice and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, all of whom are Black. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who is white, is also in that group, as is New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is Latina.
The pool of prospects remains fluid, and some close Biden allies suggested other contenders could also face the more intensive vetting process. The people describing the situation spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive private conversations and an evolving search process.
The Biden campaign declined to comment. Biden has vowed to choose a woman, and Biden has repeatedly stressed that he wants a running mate who is “simpatico” with him.
The candidates who continue to be under consideration by the campaign reflect in part the growing prominence of African American women amid a national uproar over police violence and racism that has sparked protests around the country. These developments have added pressure on Biden to select a Black woman as his ticket mate.
“I think that a ticket that is not reflective of the diversity of this country is a ticket that is doomed to fail,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Ohio, who said she has long felt Biden should pick a Black woman and feels “even more so now.”
Biden’s search is attracting even more attention than that of most candidates because at 77, he would be the oldest person ever elected to the presidency. Beyond potential health issues, some Democrats believe that if elected, Biden might not seek a second term, giving his vice president an early advantage in the race to become the next chief executive.
In a recent interview with CBS News, Biden said the national upheaval of recent weeks has not affected his decision beyond placing “a greater focus and urgency on the need to get someone who is totally simpatico with where I am.”
But many Biden allies believe the protests have upended the calculations Biden must make. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who was once seen by Biden allies as a leading candidate, has seen her stock fall recently in their eyes.
As outrage has grown over the killing of George Floyd, a Black man who lost his life when a white Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck as he cried out that he could not breathe, Klobuchar’s record as a local prosecutor has come under criticism from activists. They contend she was too tough on Black and brown people and not hard enough on the police, contributing to systemic problems.
Another variable is the pressure Biden faces from some quarters of the party to give strong consideration to a Latina running mate. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., took herself out of the running last month, leaving Lujan Grisham as the most prominent Latina prospect.
Others who have been mentioned by Biden allies include Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., and Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. Duckworth is a Purple Heart recipient who lost both her legs in the Iraq War and is Asian American. Baldwin hails from a crucial state President Donald Trump won in 2016 and was the first openly gay person elected to the Senate.
“She has an appeal that goes way beyond the obvious political candidate,” said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., of Duckworth. “I believe they are taking her seriously.” Durbin has been in touch with Biden and his associates.
Another Midwestern Democrat who has received at least some consideration is Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who Biden has previously said was on the list.
The Biden campaign is expected to undertake a deep scrub of the backgrounds of its finalists, requesting documents and answers to personal questions. Those who have received close consideration in past years say the process was intense.
“We got a 129-question survey to answer,” said former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro, who was vetted by Hillary Clinton’s campaign in 2016. “You sit for hours with teams of lawyers to go over your personal, financial, political history.”
Biden has tasked a group of four allies — former senator Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn., Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and former White House counsel Cynthia Hogan – to spearhead his running mate selection process.
Of the group getting a closer look from the campaign, Harris stands out for her experience on the national political stage. She is the only Black woman in America who is currently either a U.S. senator or a governor, and she ran for president against Biden in the Democratic primaries.
Several top Biden allies said this past week that they increasingly view Harris as the best fit to be Biden’s running mate. They believe the senator from California, a former state attorney general, could appeal to the party’s activist wing as well as its professional class, helping Biden meet a challenging moment of upheaval on race.
Rice has never sought or held elective office, but she has the most extensive record of dealing with foreign governments and representing the United States on the world stage. She served as ambassador to the United Nations and national security adviser during the Obama administration. She has faced criticism, however, for her public comments about the 2012 Benghazi attacks that killed four Americans, including two U.S. diplomats, which she later acknowledged were not fully accurate.
Demings has also emerged as an intriguing prospect to many Democrats. She hails from the nation’s largest swing state and made history as the first female chief of the Orlando Police Department.
Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., said Demings “has a tremendous background” and the “added importance” of being from Florida. Crist said he expressed his enthusiasm for Demings on a recent call with Dodd.
Still, the law enforcement backgrounds of Harris and Demings are likely to face public scrutiny and receive close attention from the campaign officials vetting them. In recent years, liberal activists have grown more skeptical of prosecutors and police, and the current protests have focused on law enforcement’s treatment of African Americans.
Bottoms, an early Biden endorser, has received national attention for her widely praised response to Floyd’s killing and the resulting protests in her city.
Warren, who like Harris ran against Biden in the primaries, developed a reputation during the race as an ideas candidate with detailed plans for advancing a liberal agenda, particularly on economic issues.
Some Democrats who have spoken with Biden said they have not been given an indication that he is leaning toward any specific candidate. Biden said at a May 27 virtual fundraiser that he hoped to name his vice-presidential pick around Aug. 1. “We’re in the process of deciding the basic cut — about whether or not they really want it. Are they comfortable?” he said that day.
Former Georgia gubernatorial nominee and state House minority leader Stacey Abrams, who has shown strong interest in the job but has drawn skepticism from some Biden allies questioning her experience, said on “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” that she would answer if called, but “I have not received any calls.”
The former vice president has been guarded about discussing specific candidates in his public remarks, but he has occasionally revealed some details. He has previously disclosed that Demings was under consideration and said that more than one African American woman was in the mix.
Crist, a former Republican who was vetted by John McCain’s campaign in 2008, said the experience “can be grueling.”
“It’s like a no-stone-unturned kind of process,” Crist said. “Which it should be.”