Joe Biden might be about to do something unusual. So unusual, in fact, nobody can remember it ever happening before.
Reports suggest the former vice president may announce he is entering the 2020 presidential contest with a named running mate beside him. The reports suggest he would like that person to be Stacey Abrams, a progressive 45-year-old rising star within the Democratic Party, who last year narrowly failed in her bid to win the governor’s race in Georgia.
Last month, in an event that underscored the shift in the party’s direction, she was asked to deliver the Democratic response to Donald Trump’s State of the Union address.
Biden, 76, who for decades served as a senator from Delaware, has told supporters he is “95 per cent” committed to running. Even before any declaration, he heads the polls of potential Democratic candidates.
One thing that may help him seal the deal with himself, is if he gets an agreement from Abrams to be his running mate, more than a year before he would hope to secure the presidential nomination.
In what appeared to be the floating of a trial balloon, Axios recently reported Biden supporters were discussing declaring a run with Abrams as an “out-of-the-gate VP choice”, even though they recognised there was a danger it could damage the former vice president by feeding the same sort of “air of inevitability” that ultimately harmed Hillary Clinton’s 2016 run.
At the same time, the Associated Press reported Biden and Abrams met earlier this month in Washington DC – something he had requested. Abrams also had breakfast with another Democrat running for president, New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who tweeted a picture of the pair.
On the face of it, Biden and Abrams would be an impressive ticket, as well as a study in contrasts. He would bring experience of governance to the table, as well as an inside knowledge of the politics of Washington DC. He would also seek to appeal to white working class voters, some of whom voted for Donald Trump in 2016.
In turn, Abrams would bring energy, dynamism and be a spearhead for the progressive ideas that are now ascendant within the party. She is a woman, and a person of colour. She is from the south, he from the north.
We’re going to fight for voting rights, expand opportunity and change who’s at the decision-making table. But first, breakfast. pic.twitter.com/5jAyDVwc6r— Kirsten Gillibrand (@SenGillibrand)March 14, 2019
“I think it would be a very attractive ticket,” Christina Greer, professor of politics at Fordham University in New York, told The Independent. “Some Democrats might prefer she be on the top half of the ticket, but I think even though she is a brilliant politician, it would be hard for her to go from the loss in Georgia to run for the presidency – even though we have white men doing that.”
Biden already has some standing among African Americans, especially older ones, as a result of his eight years of partnership with Barack Obama, Greer said. At the same time, during a career that included 36 years representing Delaware in the Senate, there are several incidents in his record that count against.
His apparent bullying of Anita Hill, a witness during the 1991 Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing, who accused the man about to be made a Supreme Court of sexual harassment, was one. Another was his championing of a 1994 crime bill – “the toughest, most comprehensive crime bill in our history” according to him – which disproportionately impacted minority offenders.
Abrams has avoided commenting on the prospect of joining Biden, as he embarks on what would be his third run for the Oval Office. She told the AP she had not yet decided whether to challenge Republican David Perdue for the Senate seat from Georgia that will be contested in 2020.
“There certainly is a connectivity between that and other 2020 opportunities,” she said. “My objective is to make sure I want to do that job. I’d not thought about the Senate before. The Senate is a different way to tackle the issues I see.”
After Democrats last autumn regained control of the House of Representatives on the backs of women voters, and with four high profile women – Elizabeth Warren, Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar – already running, Biden is not the only person who sees the value of having a woman VP.
The New York Times said New Jersey senator Cory Booker had claimed a woman would be on the Democratic ticket, whether alongside him or someone else.
“No matter what – I’m looking you in the eye and saying this – there will be a woman on the ticket,” he said. “I don’t know if it’s in the vice president’s position or the president’s position, but if I have my way, there will be a woman on the ticket.”
Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke made a similar undertaking to an audience in Iowa.
“It would be very difficult not to select a woman, with so many extraordinary women who are running right now,” he said. “First, I would have to win, and this is as open as it’s ever been.”
Mike Fraioli, a veteran Democratic strategist and fundraiser based in Washington DC, said if Biden declared with a named running mate he could think of no precedent.
The only similar situation came in April 2016 – late in the Republican primary contest – when senator Ted Cruz named businesswoman Carly Fiorina as his theoretical VP pick. He did so in a last ditch effort to inject energy into his flailing campaign. A week later, he pulled out, ceding the field to Trump.
Fraioli said the strategising of Biden, Booker and O’Rourke marked an important inflection point.
“It shows the country has changed,” he said. “For the Democrats, a woman or a person of colour will fill one of the top two spots. It’s not going to be two white guys. That’s not happening. That’s gone.”