The VP Pick Who Could Save Joe Biden’s Campaign

Dakota Layton | May 5, 2020 | Opinion Article

During the final 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary debate, the presumptive Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden made national headlines when he declared, “If I’m elected President, my cabinet, my administration will look like the country, and I commit that I will…pick a woman to be vice president. There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow.”

Biden’s VP selection could be the most important decision he makes throughout his campaign to take on President Donald Trump. If Biden wants to win the election, it is of critical importance that he not only select a woman who is qualified for the job, but he must also select the woman who is right for the political moment.

Over the past three years, the former Vice President has fashioned a reputation as the most high-profile Democrat who can successfully campaign in any part of the country. In 2017, he campaigned for Doug Jones, who defeated controversial Republican judge Roy Moore and became the first Democratic Senator from Alabama since 1992. In the 2018 midterms, Biden stumped across a variety of states including Florida, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and North Dakota, campaigning for a total of 14 Senate candidates and 73 House candidates. 9 of those Senate candidates and 46 of those House candidates won their races.

During the fifth Democratic Presidential Primary debate, Biden made the case for why Democratic voters should select him as their candidate to take on Trump by focusing on his record of campaigning for candidates and his perceived electability against Trump. He said, “the next president of the United States is going to have to do two things. Defeat Donald Trump, that’s number one. And, number two, they’re going to have to be able…to go into states like Georgia and North Carolina and other places and get a Senate majority. That’s what I’ll do.”

Biden continued, “You have to ask yourself up here, who is most likely to be able to win the nomination in the first place, to win the presidency in the first place? And, secondly, who is most likely to increase the number of people who are Democrats in the House and in the Senate?”

Biden made a similar case for his candidacy in the sixth primary debate. In his closing statement, he said, “Look, we all have big progressive plans and the question is, who can deliver on those plans? And it seems to me we have to ask ourselves three questions straight up and honestly. Who has the best chance, most likely chance of defeating Donald Trump? Who is the one who’s most likely to do that? Number two, who can help elect Democrats to the United States Senate, in States like North Carolina and Georgia and Arizona and other States.”

It is my belief that Biden’s running mate should mirror his strengths of national campaign appeal and electability. In addition, they should also have strengths where he has weaknesses. Biden himself is looking for this in a running mate. He remarked at a fundraiser in early April, “And so I’m gonna need a woman vice president who has capacities, has strengths, where I have weaknesses.” So, in order for us to have a serious conversation about who Joe Biden should select as his running mate, we must establish what his strengths and weaknesses are as a candidate going into the general election against Trump.

Biden’s Strengths

  • Biden is generating a higher turnout among Democratic primary voters compared to Hillary Clinton in 2016. According to a Washington Post analysis, Biden won nearly 60% of voters who stayed home during the 2016 primary while retaining nearly 90% of Hillary Clinton’s primary voters.
  • In the most recent general election poll, Biden beats Trump by 6 points. The great news for Biden is that he beats Trump with voters 65 and older by 10 points, independents by 6 points, and women by 32 points. Trump won voters 65 and older by 7 points and independents by 4 points in the 2016 general election. Hillary Clinton beat Trump by 13 points with women. So, Biden is currently winning with 2 groups that Trump won in the last election and he’s beating Trump with women by almost 3 times the margin that Hillary Clinton did. He cannot afford to lose any ground to Trump with these voting blocs.
  • Biden has very strong support from African-American voters. They saved his campaign in a series of primary wins on Super Tuesday after poor performances in Iowa and New Hampshire and a distant 2nd place finish in Nevada. Peter Kirsanow of the National Review wrote, “According to exit polls, nearly 70 percent of black Democratic primary voters in Alabama and Virginia supported Biden, as did more than 50 percent in North Carolina and Tennessee. Biden appears to have outperformed [Bernie] Sanders among black voters in Texas by a significant margin.” Biden must ensure that African-American voters turn out for him in higher numbers than they did for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Though Clinton won the votes of 98% of African-American women and 81% of African-American men, the overall turnout among African-American voters declined by 7 points compared to the previous Presidential election.
  • Biden currently leads in key battleground states that could decide the outcome of the election. He leads in Wisconsin by 2.7 points, Florida by 3.2 points, Michigan by 5.5 points, Pennsylvania by 6.5 points, Arizona by 4.4 points, and Minnesota by 12 points. He also has been gradually chipping at Trump’s lead in Texas. Right now, Trump holds a 1.4-point advantage in the Lone Star State.

Biden’s Weaknesses

  • There is a general lack of enthusiasm for his campaign, especially in comparison to President Trump’s campaign. Sofi Sinozich of ABC News reported that Biden had the lowest enthusiasm numbers among any Democratic Presidential candidate from the past 20 years. In contrast, over half of President Trump’s supporters are very enthusiastic about supporting him. Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton also fell victim to this enthusiasm gap in 2016 and she didn’t help herself by selecting Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate. Kaine was undoubtedly qualified for the office, but he infamously told NBC, “I’m boring,” and Clinton said, “I love that about him,”. Clinton mistakenly thought the threat of Donald Trump becoming President would generate enough enthusiasm and turnout among voters to propel her to the White House. Biden must not make the same mistake.
  • He has mediocre poll numbers with Latino voters. A poll conducted by Latino Decisions found that only 49% of registered Latino voters would vote for Biden. This is a huge red flag since Latinos could be the largest non-white voting bloc in 2020. Obama won 71% of Latino voters during his 2012 re-election compared to Hillary Clinton who won 66% of them in 2016. The Republican candidates during both of those elections only won 27-28% of Latino voters, so there was a genuine decline of Latino voter turnout as a whole in 2016.
  • He needs better poll numbers with young voters. According to polling, 62% of young voters age 18 to 34 years old approved of Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2020 endorsement of Biden and 77% of Sanders supporters committed to voting for Biden, but unfortunately, nearly 1 in 4 (22%) of Sanders supporters said they would vote for a third-party candidate, not vote, or were undecided. However, Biden doesn’t necessarily need to win over all young voters nor does he need unprecedented turnout from them (though it would help). Sean McElwee, co-founder and executive director of Data for Progress, a Democratic research firm that advocates for progressive positions said, “If Biden were able to get his margin with old people and even Clinton’s margin with young people,” then the election would be over. So, Biden has to keep his lead with older voters intact and reach Clinton’s 2016 electoral margin against Trump with young voters (55% to 37% respectively).
  • A New York Times poll indicated that despite Biden’s “reputed appeal to blue-collar workers, has made little to no progress in winning back the white voters without a college degree who supported Barack Obama in 2012 but swung to Mr. Trump in 2016.”

Democrats will only get one more chance to defeat Donald Trump. This means that they cannot afford to take any voting bloc for granted. This means Biden’s running mate must meet the following criteria:

  1. Can they help keep Biden’s support with older voters and African-American voters intact without alienating Sanders supporters who are wary of voting for Biden?
  2. Can they help generate enthusiasm and turn out among African-American voters, Latino voters, and young voters in the numbers needed to win the Electoral College?
  3. Can they effectively campaign in red, blue, and purple states all over the country like Biden?

In my view, there is a very qualified dark horse candidate for VP who has the potential to fulfill all three of these seemingly impossible requirements. That candidate is Nevada’s senior Senator, Catherine Cortez Masto, who succeeded former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid in 2016. Cortez Masto made history as the first Latina ever elected to the United States Senate and she is currently the leader of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Reid proudly endorsed her Senate bid, but recent headlines indicate that he may support higher ambitions for her. In late March, Mediaite reported that Biden told Reid in a private conversation that Cortez Masto was in his “top three” picks for VP. Biden reportedly “really likes and respects her, appreciates her intellect and leadership, and the history she made as the first Latina U.S. senator.” Reid reportedly supports Cortez Masto as Biden’s VP pick and he is encouraging a behind the scenes effort to get Latino advocacy groups to support Cortez Masto as the VP. Reid told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “He’s [Biden] obviously taking a look at her, I think that is good,”. The former Senate Democratic Leader also remarked that selecting Cortez Masto “would help Biden a lot”.

Unfortunately, Cortez Masto isn’t gaining as much traction or media attention as other potential VP candidates like Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and California Senator Kamala Harris who all ran for President in the 2020 primary with Biden. This is a shame because Cortez Masto is not only the best candidate for the job of the Vice Presidency, but she is also the wisest choice for Biden electorally because she has strengths where the other potential VP picks have weaknesses. Here is the list of reasons why Joe Biden must select her as his running mate:

  1. In Her 2016 Senate Race, Cortez Masto Won with Older Voters and Younger Voters
    • Cortez Masto’s 2016 Nevada Senate race generated 77% turnout among the state’s registered voters. The largest voting bloc at the time was young people ages 18-44 (48%). Exit polls indicate that she beat her Republican opponent with young voters age 18-44 by 15 points and voters 65 and older by 4 points. This means she could potentially help Biden retain his current lead among voters 65 and older and help expand his numbers prospects with young people.
    • In contrast, Amy Klobuchar became the clear favorite among voters 65 and older during the New Hampshire primary, but her poll numbers with young voters during her entire Presidential campaign were abysmal (0-1%). Elizabeth Warren is the clear favorite for VP among young voters, but her base of support was “light on voters over 65”, who are usually more moderate. Biden is beating Trump with older voters, so he can’t pick Warren, but he also can’t sacrifice his electoral prospects with young voters by picking Klobuchar.  Kamala Harris was also not particularly popular with young voters or older voters during her 2020 Presidential campaign. While Harris did win both of these demographics in her 2016 California Senate race, California is a reliably Democratic State and Biden needs a running mate who has been tested in a battleground state.
    • Cortez Masto demonstrated that she can appeal to both young voters and older voters on a national scale due to her performance with these groups in the battleground state of Nevada. Picking Cortez Masto as VP would benefit Biden and Senate Democrats’ electoral prospects in other battleground states.
  2. She Won African-American Voters and Latino Voters
    • In her 2016 Senate race, Nevada’s racial demographics were 57.6% white, 24% Hispanic, and 8.7% African-American. Cortez Masto’s Republican opponent beat her with white voters by 20 points, but she still won the election by building a coalition of African-American voters and Latino Voters. She won African-American voters by 81 points and Latino voters by 38 points.
    • The same poll that found Biden with only 49% of Latino support also found that if Cortez Masto were selected as his running mate, 67% of Latino voters would be more likely to support him. Asked another way, 72% said that they would be more likely to turn out and actually vote for him if he selected her. Now we must certainly keep in mind that one national poll is just a snapshot and not a complete picture, but given Biden’s mediocre polling numbers among Latinos and the fact that he only has a 50% favorable rating from Latinos overall means that Cortez Masto should be given serious consideration.
    • In the 2020 Democratic Presidential primary, African-Americans were Joe Biden’s most reliable constituency and Latinos were Bernie Sanders’ most reliable constituency. Biden has committed to picking a woman as his running mate, so Biden will have to find a woman who can appeal to Latinos. Elizabeth Warren only won between 7-9% of Latinos in the Texas and California primaries and Amy Klobuchar only held 2% Latino support nationally. Kamala Harris ended her Presidential campaign before the first primary in Iowa, so she didn’t win support from any of these groups.  
    • The possibility of Cortez Masto being selected as Biden’s running mate is generating enthusiasm among Latino advocacy groups. Hector Sanchez, the executive director of the grassroots organization Mi Familia Vota stated, “We are the largest non-white voting population, our community is engaged, and fired up. Vice President Biden would be smart to pick a Latina running mate like Catherine Cortez Masto to defeat the most extreme anti-Latino and anti-immigrant president in our history.” Jose Dante Parra, the chief executive director of Prospero Latino said, “The Hispanic community has never found itself on the ticket,” and Biden picking Cortez Masto as his running made “would help by the boatloads”.  
  3. She Can Appeal to Liberal Voters Without Hurting Joe Biden’s Moderate Base of Support
    • Biden needs to keep his lead with moderates and independents, but he also needs to make sure that turns out enough liberal and progressive voters who may have preferred Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren over him. Elizabeth Warren actually has a strong case to make that she should be the VP pick because she is the preferred candidate for the job by both moderate and progressive Democratic voters as well as white and African-American Democratic voters and Midwestern Democratic voters. However, her unpopularity with older voters, independents, and the overall broader electorate means she could hurt Biden’s current base of support and his potential appeal to swing voters. Amy Klobuchar would help solidify Biden’s support among older voters and moderates, but picking her is too risky because of her low popularity with young voters, Latinos, and African-Americans. Kamala Harris would motivate African-American voters to turn out in bigger numbers in southern states and battleground states, but she would have trouble helping Biden win over young voters and progressive voters in particular because of their concerns over of her criminal justice record.
    • Though her Republican opponent beat her with independents by 10 points, Cortez Masto won moderate voters by 13 points and liberal voters by 70 points in her Senate race. Since she can appeal to both moderate and liberal voters, she will help Biden keep his current base of support intact as well as expand his numbers with young people and progressive voters.
  4. She Can Appeal to Both Uneducated and Educated Voters
    • Biden still hasn’t won over the white voters without a college degree who voted for Obama in 2012 and flipped to Trump in 2016, but Cortez Masto could potentially help with this. In her Senate race, she won voters without a college degree by 5 points, college graduates by 1 point, and postgraduates by 15 points. In the 2020 Democratic Presidential Primary, Biden was the most popular candidate with uneducated, white working-class Democratic voters and he needs a running mate who can potentially appeal to those blue-collar workers who flipped from Obama to Trump.
  5. She’s Very Qualified for the Job
    • Cortez Masto served as the Attorney General of Nevada from 2007-2015 before being elected to the Senate in 2016. In 2008 during the subprime mortgage crisis, Cortez Masto created the Mortgage Fraud Strike force to prosecute those who perpetuated fraudulent mortgage rescue claims. In 2010, she sued Bank of America over deceptive mortgage modification and reached a settlement in 2012 of $750 million worth of Nevada-specific mortgage relief and cash payments. In 2013, she introduced and passed Assembly Bill 67, which made sex trafficking a crime at the state level in Nevada, allowed victims to receive assistance, and gave victims the right to sue their traffickers.
    • She’s the current leader of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which means she is in charge of recruiting Democratic Senate candidates, fundraising for those candidates, and developing an electoral strategy with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer. This gives her a keen strategic insight into what the Biden campaign needs to do to be electorally successful in battleground states that no other potential VP candidate possesses. In an interview with Politico, Cortez Masto stated, “Nevada, if you really look at the demographics, is a microcosm of the rest of the country.” Her electoral successes in Nevada indicate that she can help the Biden campaign on a nationwide scale in terms of strategy.
  6. She’s Respected by Democrats Across the Political Spectrum
    • Chuck Schumer tapped Cortez Masto to lead the DSCC because she “has demonstrated the attributes we want in a leader: she breaks glass ceilings, is very hardworking, astute politically, an outstanding fundraiser and respected by every member of our caucus.”
    • When the 2018 midterm elections were over, Senator Doug Jones, a moderate Democrat who won a special election in Alabama in 2017 and is up for re-election this year said, “She did a wonderful job this year,” and “She did yeoman’s work trying to get Democrats elected.”
    • Nevada’s junior Senator, Jacky Rosen, who was recruited by Harry Reid in 2018 to challenge incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller and won, told Politico, “Senator Catherine Cortez Masto is a trailblazer who has the legislative and executive experience needed to serve our country during these times of crisis…I cannot think of anyone better to become the first female vice president of the United States of America.”
  7. She Could Credibly Unify the Entire Democratic Party Around Biden Because She Shares Policy Views with Both Biden and Sanders
    • On healthcare, she agrees with Biden. In 2017, Cortez-Masto cosponsored the Medicare-X Choice Act, which would create a public health insurance option. She’s cosponsored other pieces of healthcare legislation including the Marketplace Certainty Act, which would stabilize healthcare markets, lower consumer premiums, and prevent insurance companies from leaving rural counties, the Empowering Medicare Seniors to Negotiate Drug Prices Act that would authorize HHS to negotiate drug prices to protect seniors from exploitation, and the Stopping the Pharmaceutical Industry from Keeping Drugs Expensive (SPIKE) Act, which would require drug manufacturers to publicly justify large price increases for their prescription drugs.
    • On trade, she agrees with Sanders. During her 2016 Senate campaign, Cortez Masto won the endorsement of the Nevada AFL-CIO (the largest labor group in Nevada) for her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Sanders made opposition to the TPP a central policy of his 2016 Presidential campaign. Though this year she did vote for President Trump’s landmark trade agreement, the USMCA and Sanders voted against it.
    • On climate change and environmental issues, it appears that Cortez Masto agrees more with Biden. She hasn’t cosponsored the Green New Deal resolution supported by Sanders, but she has cosponsored the Clean Energy for America Act, a bill that aims to reduce carbon pollution over the next decade through incentives for clean electricity, clean transportation fuel, energy conservation, and the promotion of new private-sector technologies. She’s also cosponsored the Electric CARS Act that encourages the use and development of electric vehicles, she introduced the GEO Act to promote the growth of geothermal energy, and the Renewable Energy Extension Act that would extend clean energy tax incentives and ensure continued deployment, growth, and innovation of green technologies.
    • On Wall Street regulation, she agrees more with Sanders. In 2018, some moderate Democratic Senators including Doug Jones (D-AL), Jon Tester (D-MT), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), and Joe Donnelly (D-IN) negotiated a bipartisan bill with Republicans that rolled back some key provisions in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010. Elizabeth Warren waged a fierce resistance campaign against the bill, calling out Republicans and her Democratic colleagues who were cosponsors of the bill, and Cortez Masto was by her side. Though the bill ultimately passed, Cortez Masto didn’t give up. She introduced the Home Loan Quality Transparency Act that would re-institute the reporting requirements repealed by the bill and as expected, Warren is a cosponsor.
    • Cortez Masto’s ideologically diverse policy stances mean that she can credibly reach out to both the moderate and progressive wings of the Democratic Party and unite them in a way that no other VP candidate could.
  8. She Embraced Bernie Sanders in Her Senate Race
    • Though Cortez-Masto endorsed Hillary Clinton for President over Sanders, she happily welcomed him back to campaign with her in Nevada. In an emailed statement, Cortez-Masto said, “Senator Sanders has been a leader in the fight to get dark money out of politics and helped make income inequality part of the national discussion,” and “I would welcome Senator Sanders back to Nevada to campaign for me.” He obliged her request and the two held a joint campaign event with Hillary Clinton in Reno, Nevada. Biden will need as much unity with Sanders supporters as possible if he wants to beat Trump.
  9. She Has Experience Campaigning in the Battleground States
    • Cortez Masto’s 2016 Senate race was one of the most competitive races of the year and she won by 2.4 points against her Republican opponent. For Democrats who are worried about Cortez Masto’s lack of name recognition, they should know, “The race was extremely close down the stretch, as Cortez Masto became better known and the presidential race kept weighing more and more on Heck. But ultimately, the Senate race was called before the presidential race as Cortez Masto pulled away with help from powerful Democratic surrogates.”
    • According to Politico, Cortez-Masto campaigned in the 2018 midterms for “nine Democratic candidates, some of whom were big success stories like Kyrsten Sinema in Arizona and Jacky Rosen in Nevada, and some of whom were ousted like Claire McCaskill (Missouri), Bill Nelson (Florida) and Joe Donnelly (Indiana).”
    • Despite Senate Democrats’ losses in 2018, the fact that Cortez-Masto is a reliably liberal Senator who was welcomed into conservative and battleground states shows that she could be an electoral asset to Biden. Biden did pitch himself to Democratic primary voters as the candidate who could go and win states like North Carolina, Georgia, and Arizona, so Cortez Masto would be an excellent complement to Biden in this respect.
  10. She’s A Fundraising Juggernaut
    • In 2018, Cortez-Masto chaired the Women’s Senate Network, a branch of the DSCC that works to elect Democratic women. She raised $5.2 million and hosted 25 events for Democratic women candidates during her time as chairwoman. She also raised $2 million in donations for Nevada Democrats through personal solicitation and hosting fundraisers. Having Cortez Masto as VP could help the Biden campaign improve its fundraising, which will be crucial going into the general election due to President Trump’s $100 million campaign war chest.
  11. She Would Make History Three Times in One Night If She Were Elected Vice President
    • Barack Obama made history in 2008 when he became the first African-American to head a major Presidential ticket and when he was elected, he made history as the first African-American President of the United States. Biden is facing pressure to pick an African-American woman as his running mate since African-American voters re-invigorated his Presidential campaign on Super Tuesday. African-American voters have historically been the backbone of the Democratic Party, so they certainly do have a claim as to who Biden’s VP pick should be. However, Latinos have never been represented on a major Presidential ticket.
    • If Biden selects Cortez Masto, she would make history as the first Latina and woman of color on a major Presidential ticket. If Biden wins the election, she would make history as the first female, a woman of color, and Latina to be elected Vice President. Biden enjoys very strong support with African-American voters because he served as Vice President with the very first African-American President and by choosing Cortez Masto, he will still be choosing a woman of color as his running mate and he will be expanding his coalition from African-Americans to Latinos.

Conclusion

Former Vice President Joe Biden currently holds a solid lead on President Donald Trump, but it is critically important that he keep his current base of support (older voters, women, and African-American voters) intact and that he expand his numbers among young voters and Latino voters. This seems like an impossible task, but I hope I have shown clearly that Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto is the perfect woman for the job. I have compared and contrasted her with other potential VP picks, Senators’ Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Kamala Harris. All three of them are very qualified women, but I believe they are all risky choices in different aspects.

Also, we must remember that whomever Joe Biden picks to be his running mate could very well be the next President after his first term. Cortez Masto’s combination of moderate and progressive policy positions, as well as her electoral performance with a wide plurality of demographics in the diverse battleground state of Nevada, means she will be the best pick to unite the country as President if Joe Biden chooses to not run for a second term in 2024.

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