Updating the Vice-Presidential Power Rankings

It’s been over four months since I offered a ridiculously premature Vice Presidential Power Rankings for the Democratic Primary. It’s now time to trot out what is merely a considerably premature version.

Unlike last time, however, I’d like to make a true overall ranking. Though it still makes sense to rank running mate contenders alongside each potential nominee, I’ve done that already. What’s more, we can now apply the crystallizing pecking order of the most likely nominees to such a ranking. For example, because Elizabeth Warren is the most likely nominee, we can give her potential running mates more overall weight than, say, Cory Booker’s most likely running mates. Make sense? Good. Let’s do it.

The Ten Most Likely Democratic Vice-Presidential Nominees

10. Tim Ryan, Ohio Congressman: If the recipe calls for the classic VP candidate — an inoffensive white guy from a swing state with ties to the lunch-pail working class — Ryan (the latest candidate to drop out) fits the bill. Of course, the presidential nominee would much rather have…

9. Sherrod Brown, Ohio Senator: Brown brings all those Ryan advantages but adds on a layer of gravitas. Whereas Ryan’s poor presidential bid now makes him look like a weak campaigner, Brown never declared his candidacy when many thought he would (and should!). Still, both Ryan and Brown are ranked at the bottom of this top ten. The primary’s minority candidates, and all but one of its female candidates, are struggling, making a white male running mate less likely. Further working against Ryan is his bad campaign, and working against Brown is his valuable Ohio Senate seat, which would likely switch to the GOP were he to become the vice president.

8. Beto O’Rourke, former Texas Congressman: O’Rourke puts Texas in play. Though I doubt Democrats would win the state, it would force Republicans to redirect resources to hold onto its 45 electoral votes — resources that could otherwise be spent in the upper Midwest. His Spanish also reaches out to the Latino community, which would be helpful when pursuing the battlegrounds of Florida, Arizona, and Nevada. On the other hand: boy, has he been bad at running a national campaign.

7. Pete Buttigieg, South Bend Mayor: Our highest ranking white male has a few things going for him: he’s clearly a talented campaigner, he’s from the Midwest, he can raise funds, and he’s got a lot of buzz from young Americans, who the Democrats hope to turn out in November. As a young (37) and inexperienced (mayor of a small city) politician, the vice-presidency would be a nice incubator while an older president serves as a transition, and his youth offers a nice complement to the likely 70-something-year-old nominee.

However, pairing him with Biden could alienate progressives and embolden the Green Party. Meanwhile, though I’ve heard lots of white Warren fans tell me this is a dream ticket of theirs, both Warren and Buttigieg disproportionately struggle with minority voters. It feels like a combo that could tamp down excitement in Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, and Atlanta, cities in which Democrats will want to run up the score in order to swing their respective states to the Democratic side. Still, if Kamala Harris makes a big comeback and wins the nomination — or if Oprah Winfrey or Michelle Obama jump in late and transforms the primary — I think Buttigieg would make a great pairing to either one.

6. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Senator: If Warren doesn’t win the nomination but finishes a strong second, there would be a lot of pressure to put her on the ticket to unite the party at the convention. That would make particular sense with a Biden, Buttigieg, or Booker nomination. That’s a plausible scenario that one might think should put her in the top five today, but, let’s remember, she’s the favorite for nomination! If she wins it, she’s the only contender eliminated from contention.

5. Cory Booker, New Jersey Senator
4. Julian Castro, former Houston Mayor and HUD Secretary: It’s the second time I’ve paired them in the last nine days. As the likelihood of their presidential nominations fade, they’ve positioned themselves as reasonable VP choices. These two minority males make great pairings for Elizabeth Warren, but in different ways. Booker is an olive branch to the establishment and reaches out to black voters (crucial for the cities mentioned in the Buttigieg entry above), while Castro has a bit better progressive rhetoric and would be the first Latino on a major presidential ticket. I think the latter is a better fit for Warren, so I give Castro the edge.

3. Andrew Gillum, former Tallahassee Mayor and 2018 Florida Gubernatorial Democratic nominee: Gillum combines the most helpful attributes of Booker and Castro — he’s popular in the black community and he’s a progressive that would be sympatico with Warren on the issues. He’s also got a national name but with no swamp smell on him. Throw in that he’s from the grandest swing state of them all — he came with 0.4% of becoming Florida’s first Democratic governor this century — and he makes the most sense as Warren’s running mate.

2. Kamala Harris, California Senator: And yet, after Warren, the next three most likely nominees — Biden, Sanders, and Buttigieg (and feel free to throw in O’Rourke as one of the eight most likely nominees) — are white males. Combined, I’d say those candidates are more likely to win the nomination than Warren alone. For them, Harris makes more sense as a VP nominee. She offers a perfect demographic complement, and she’d be the first African American woman on a major ticket in history to boot, which would fire up Democrats’ most loyal demo and help with outreach into the aforementioned northern cities. A former prosecutor, she also makes a lot of sense in a one-on-one debate. Indeed, her most success from the debates came when she had a one-on-one with Joe Biden; it’s only when she’s facing multiple fronts when she struggles. Harris is also ideologically chameleonic (which might be the most polysyllabic combination of two words I’ve ever written down, though “polysyllabic combination” quickly gave it a run for its money). She has a voting record that can be seen as progressive if necessary, but she’s also establishment-friendly.

However, the most likely vice-presidential nominee of the Democratic Primary is…

1. Stacey Abrams, former minority leader of Georgia House of Representatives and 2018 Georgia Gubernatorial2018 Georgia Gubernatorial Democratic nominee

Abrams brings all of Harris’s strength plus two crucial factors. First: Democrats have a shot at turning Georgia’s 16 electoral votes blue. President Trump won Georgia by only five percent of the vote. By comparison, President Bush’s 2004 re-election won the state by 16 points and Mitt Romney won the state by 8. It’s trending toward the Democrats, but I doubt 2020 would be the year it flips — unless Abrams were on the ticket.

Second, Abrams’s authenticity will be seen as a huge plus. She seems like a normal, smart person. Even Warren, who will face charges of authenticity as the nominee, could use her, and I wouldn’t rule out an all female-ticket if these were said females.

This isn’t a reach. There’s a reason the Democrats chose Abrams to deliver the response to the President’s 2019 State of the Union. She’s a young (at 45, that’s another quality the leading septuagenarians could use on the ticket), national name but without any “swampy” connections. Back when rumors suggested Joe Biden might consider naming her as a running mate early in the process, some people, including myself, thought the biggest hangup would be there’d be nothing in it for her. It’s not a matter of if she runs for the presidency, but when. The VP nomination would just be a convenient stepping stone.

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