For weeks, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has kept a relatively low profile, perched atop a comfortable polling bump, watching his opponent venturing further down a path that some describe as sheer self-implosion.
That’s all about to change.
It’s only a matter of days until Biden launches his campaign back into the spotlight by announcing his running mate.
Publicly, the campaign has kept announcement clues to a minimum. Biden said he’d make his choice in early August after meeting with his short list one last time — preferably in-person.
That didn’t stop savvy Veepstakes watchers from noticing last week that Biden was carrying a list of Kamala Harris compliments on a notepad.
And that came after one US media site known for news scoops accidentally published an article claiming ‘Kamala has been named VP’.
Journalists pointed out that the article, which could’ve been easily been a measure of preparedness, broke with digital publishing tradition by including statements attributed to Biden — a risky move if it were just dummy copy, meant to be replaced later.
Consider the attention to those suspicious details just a preview of the public preoccupation that’s to come.
Biden’s VP candidate has been the source of speculation since before Biden even announced his intentions to run. And let’s not forget, that was before anyone needed a distraction from a five-month deluge of coronavirus news.
Whether or not it’s Kamala Harris, the VP pick is shaping up to be a source of concern for anyone hoping to see Trump gone from office.
With three months until the election, the race’s newest voice will likely revive the conversation around Biden’s fitness for office at a time when national attention is focused more on Trump’s unfitness.
In other words, this announcement may be the most important one the Biden campaign makes.
Political philosophy matters just as much as identity
In recent months, the campaign has only slightly tamped down rumours by confirming the pick will be a female, and saying she’ll be someone the candidate gets along with personally.
Reporting suggests the Biden camp is also placing extra consideration on the woman’s experience and ethnicity (more on that in a bit).
If there’s one thing looming larger than identity, it’s philosophy.
After all, voters chose a white male septuagenarian from the most diverse Democratic primary field because of his moderate political stances.
All running mates are chosen to round out the party ticket in some capacity, but for the Democrats in 2020, the party doesn’t need to be rounded out. It needs to see two sides of an ideological rift stitched back together.
Biden’s VP will share responsibility for preventing a repeat of 2016’s election failures by sparking voter turnout, especially amongst young progressives and voters of colour.
So will he pick a moderate, to ensure his core supporters get to the polls?
Or a progressive, who could reassure Bernie Sanders supporters who feel alienated by the party?
Expect her past comments to come under fresh scrutiny
Selecting a spirited, high-profile figure who connects with the progressives comes with plenty of other risks.
For one, there’s a very good chance she’ll have spoken out against Biden before.
Several of the women rumoured to be on Biden’s short list are no strangers to looking like hypocrites as they’ve tried to rally around a candidate they once picked apart on the debate stage.
Kamala Harris is a prime example. The primary contender gained her biggest polling surge by tearing apart Biden on the debate stage.
But even those who have supported Biden from the get-go, like Karen Bass, are going to get tossed prickly questions that pose a challenge based on their gender alone.
Biden’s past record on women’s issues has been described as his political Achilles’ heel.
He opposed abortion long after the Democratic party started fighting to loosen restrictions. He permitted, if not enabled, coarse treatment of a sexual assault accuser, Anita Hill, during public hearings.
And when it comes to gender issues, the past isn’t even past for the former Vice President.
Just in the last year, he’s been accused of decades’ worth of inappropriate touching by dozens of women, and sexual assault by one woman in particular.
He strongly denies the sexual assault allegations and has issued statements on the inappropriate touching without formally apologising.
In the age of #MeToo, there’s a strong likelihood Biden’s female VP would have already defended the need to treat sexual assault allegations with gravity and concern.
A female VP is going to have to reconcile those comments with a defence of Biden’s current behaviour, not to mention any new allegations that surface closer to election day.
Whether she condemns or condones him, her popularity will suffer for it.
As if gender weren’t enough, race is shaping up to be another sticky spot
As America continues its conversation around racial injustice, one poll suggested seven in 10 Democrats believed Biden should pick a woman of colour.
Several Black, Latina and Asian women are rumoured to be on Biden’s shortlist, but so are white politicians.
A white female VP pick would be asked whether she’s the best choice for this moment.
A woman of colour would be asked to respond to Biden’s long and complicated record on race, which is just as controversial as his record on gender.
As a senator, Biden opposed measures shown to be effective for school desegregation.
He wrote the 1994 Crime Bill, which led to the incarceration of millions of black and Latino Americans and encouraged strict policing measures, which sit at the heart of today’s Black Lives Matter protests.
And, once again, the past is not fully behind him.
In May, as Americans were rioting, Biden said that black Trump supporters “ain’t black,” which was widely criticised for being tone deaf and out of touch with the moment, if not outright racist.
Biden backtracked on the comments, saying he didn’t take the black vote for granted.
His VP will be under pressure to repair and expand Biden’s support from this key demographic, which is, once again, not an easy task in the current climate.
So what’s in it for the VP anyway?
Biden himself has not only been a VP, but helped redefine the role by increasing its level of influence and lengthening the list of responsibilities.
There’s nothing like having a boss with strong opinions on how to do your own job, and Biden has signalled he wants his VP to share his philosophies and be “simpatico”.
But if Biden’s VP is encouraged to run the role like he did, that could also leave her in charge of aspects of the country’s coronavirus response, economic recovery or racial tensions.
A massive resume-builder by any measure, but that’s only where it begins.
On top of the old role of VP, this woman’s response to those issues will be read as the future of the Democratic platform.
Because the 77-year-old Biden has not committed to running for a second term, his VP pick is already being seen as a president-in-waiting.
There’s a good chance she’ll get the 2024 Democratic nomination.
The caveat to all this, of course, is that she has to win 2020 first.