Biden’s VP pick likely ‘inconsequential’ in 2020 but could indicate future of Democratic Party

(From left) Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) have all been floated as potential running mates for Joe Biden. (Shane Tolentino)

Joe Biden’s running mate choice will have little impact on the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, some political analysts say. However, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee’s announcement that his vice president will be a woman is significant for the future of the Democratic Party.

“If a campaign is expecting a game-changer or some sort of Hail Mary type of scenario where you pick the right running mate and you’re suddenly up in the polls—it’s very unlikely for something like that to happen,” said Kyle Kopko, an associate professor of political science at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania and co-author of the book “The VP Advantage.”

But running mates often factor into the strategy of a political campaign, Kopko said, as a means to sway the election.

There have been many women named as potential vice presidents, such as Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, to name a few—all of whom come from longtime swing states.

Kopko said campaigns may choose a candidate from a state with historically close races between Democrats and Republicans. The hope is that a vice presidential candidate could garner enough support from their constituents to turn the election in the presidential candidate’s favor. In reality, though, Kopko said there is no statistically significant home state advantage for second-tier candidates.

For instance, Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) lost Wisconsin in 2012, despite picking former Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) as a running mate.

Joel K. Goldstein, a professor of law emeritus at Saint Louis University and expert on the vice presidency, called a home or swing state advantage a “myth of pundits.” Still, he said the vice presidential pick may have an indirect effect on the general election.

“The impact is small and at the margins,” Goldstein said. “But a number of elections are decided at the margins.”

The careful choice of vice president can serve to sway voters’ ideas about the presidential candidate, Goldstein said, but it is difficult to measure the impact of a running mate on the election.

Christopher Devine, Kopko’s co-author on “The VP Advantage,” said choosing a running mate is a candidate’s “first presidential act,” and gives voters insight about the candidate’s values and potential policies.

“The running mate matters … but not so much because people are really trying to elect the vice president,” said Devine, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Dayton. “They really are voting for president.”

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) have also been named by political analysts as potential picks. All were at one time opponents of Biden in the Democratic presidential primary.

Devine said it is common for vice presidential picks to come from a pool of people who sought the presidential nomination but fell short, like Biden in 2008. It is a good way to unite different party factions, he said, and ensures potential running mates have already been vetted on a national scale.

Kopko said Biden’s more than 30 years of service in the U.S. Senate may also influence his choice because Biden has respect for and a rapport with many senators.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) has also been floated by some news organizations, including the Chicago Sun-Times, as a possible contender.

“Sen. Duckworth is honored to be included in the conversation,” said Ben Gash Garmisa, Duckworth’s communications director.

Gash Garmisa said Duckworth is currently working to ensure a win for the Democratic Party in November, no matter who Biden picks as a running mate.

Duckworth was not available for comment as of press time.

Biden’s promise to pick a female running mate gives women more of a chance to see themselves represented in office, which might get more women to vote, said Becky Powers, president of the Chicago chapter of the National Organization for Women.

However, she said representation alone is not enough.

“You can’t just pick a female running mate and then call it a day,” Powers said. “It’s not that simple. You have to go much further than that. But, I do think it’s an important step in the right direction.”

Kopko said Biden’s promise to pick a woman running mate is indicative of where the Democratic establishment is today and the direction it is going. He added that the decision also seems personal to Biden.

“I don’t think it’s just about … trying to appeal to a group,” Kopko said. “I think it speaks to what Biden’s priorities are, what he would stand for as a candidate and what he would try to emphasize while in office.”