Biden’s VP Sweepstakes: A Campaign Within a Campaign

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It used to be the most tightly controlled process devoid of leaks. In fact, those who made the shortlist to be vetted as potential vice presidential nominees, instantly became allergic to reporters as the campaign staffers descended on each candidate’s record and background looking to unearth dirt or any snafus that may turn out to be disqualifying.  The goal was to ensure that the final pick was squeaky clean with no future political landmines that may be deployed by the opposing campaign at the 11th hour when it really counts and the campaign has little time to recover (read: October surprise).

That was then.

Ever since Joe Biden committed to picking a woman as his VP,  the entire process took an unprecedented turn. With the process narrowed down to one gender, the political tea leave readers were left with an obvious roster that is hardly a secret. Biden’s former competitors started positioning themselves and making it clear that they wanted to be picked.

California Senator and former presidential candidate Kamala Harris upped the ante by “leaking” to a New York Times reporter that she had hired new staff and reorganized her senate staff in readiness for VP vetting process. And yes, there were also a few articles in the national newspapers hyping how she was the “frontrunner” and that some unnamed mega donors were vouching for her.

Not to be outdone, Minnesota Senator and also a former presidential candidate Amy Klobuchar had surrogates openly making the case that her home state of Minnesota will be a battleground state and thus picking her would bolster the Democratic ticket. Never mind that virtually no Democratic presidential candidate has ever lost Minnesota and that includes those who suffered humiliating landslide defeats like Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale.

So the idea of Minnesota being up for grabs is sheer political gobbledygook.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren’s surrogates are making the case that having a progressive who had the wonkiest campaign agenda bar none will be a huge boost to the ticket. But what they don’t mention is that the Democratic primary voters (including her home state of Massachusetts) weighed in and decided to look the other way.  But that has not stopped some of the progressive outlets from openly campaigning for her to be on the ticket.

Looking to inject her name in the conversation, was New Mexico Governor Michelle Grisham, the nation’s first Latina woman to be elected Governor of a state. Last week, she openly told a media house that she was being vetted. By telegraphing that she was being vetted, she essentially set the ball rolling and now people are talking about the pros and cons of picking her.

Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo has not publicly said a word on the VP sweepstakes, but nobody missed Washington Post’s columnist George F Will’s column on Friday May 22nd endorsing her as the ” VP that will change Washington.” Mr Will is a legendary writer and respected author whose words carry weight.  Governor Raimondo represents the smallest State in the nation but her record is solid. Will’s column instantly put all the attention on her.

But the award for the most open and direct campaign for the VP slot goes to former Georgia Gubernatorial Democratic nominee Stacy Abrams. After putting together one of the most robust campaigns for Governor in the United States and coming up short in a controversial contest that dragged on for days, Stacy Abrams instantly became a national sensation and a star in the Democratic party. And with that, whispers of being a potential VP pick started going around.

So when it came time to answer the question on whether she would accept to be a VP nominee (remember this is where all candidates are normally advised to be coy), Stacy did not mince her words, YES, I WOULD!  She would go on to repeat that answer in subsequent interviews until one perplexed reporter posed this question: “this is a question that all candidates, even those that are actually being vetted never answer, why are you openly campaigning for it? ”

The reporter was not ready for Stacy’s response. “As an African American woman, I have had to speak up for myself and go for what I want because if I don’t, no one would do it for me. So yes, I am campaigning for it.”

In the end, there are a few other contenders who are playing by the rules of the game. One of them is Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, whom this writer believes that will be the VP nominee, has masterfully side-stepped the question entirely. Declining to answer any VP consideration questions or even whether she would accept the opportunity if granted.

It is instructive to note that even the President’s allies believe that she is the frontrunner and have started to make life a little hard for her as the Governor of Michigan. From sending armed protesters to the state capitol, to trading jabs with her on Twitter, it’s clear that they believe that she is going to be a force and they are setting the scene for a fall battle. Picking her will deny the President the State of Michigan, a state that made him President-elect in 2016.

One of the by-products of the Trump era is that conventional wisdom is resting in peace. Gone are the rules and playbooks of yore. And as this vetting process unfolds amid this unprecedented blatant campaign for a slot in the Democratic ticket, all the rules as we knew them have been jettisoned for a more anticlimactic, almost cavalier political show.

At this rate, it will not be a surprise, given the gaffe-prone nature of the presumptive nominee himself, that he inadvertently outs the VP pick in one of his trademark, jaw-dropping gaffes and take all the oxygen out of what is supposed to be a well-choreographed political affair that in normal times, should give the ticket a boost as the surprise element takes over and the newspapers headlines flash the ticket for all to see. Strange times indeed.

Mike Dande is a political analyst in Washington DC.

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