SINGAPORE: Many Democrats view the 2020 election as the most important in the nation’s history since Abraham Lincoln’s re-election in 1864 when the survival of the United States was at stake.
With so much at risk, Democrats want to take no chances when it comes to winning in November.
The most important decision for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden between now and Election Day will be who he selects as his running mate.
That means he should pick the person most certain to help him win in November.
Right now, his current list of potential running mates has many qualified and credible candidates.
But missing from that list is the person who would do the most to bring victory on Election Day.
THE VP PICK DOES MATTER
The most significant decision a non-incumbent presidential candidate makes, the VP selection says a lot.
As much time, thought and effort that each Democratic presidential nominee puts into this process, in hindsight, few of the more recent picks for Vice-President helped the ticket.
Some ended up being outright disappointing.
This year, many candidates could give the Democrats a better chance of getting the White House if selected.
Looking at non-incumbent winners illustrates what goes into a successful choice for the running mate.
Choosing Al Gore (1992) and Joe Biden (2008) highlighted the respective nominee’s judgment, how he viewed himself and how his potential administration would govern and communicate to the American people.
For Bill Clinton, selecting a fellow moderate Southerner in Gore highlighted that he would govern from the center.
Barack Obama, with little Washington DC and foreign policy experience, chose a running mate to make up for that deficit, highlighting his self-awareness and willingness to partner with someone more senior.
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Past VP picks Tim Kaine (2016), John Edwards (2004), Joe Lieberman (2000), Lloyd Bentsen (1988) and Geraldine Ferraro (1984) did not help bring Democrats victory.
While the ultimate blame for losing rests with the nominee, you do expect the Vice-Presidential nominee to step up and carry their own state and also to go on the attack when necessary.
Different picks in 2000, 2004 and 2016 may have swung the election when the Democrats lost by a one-state margin in both 2000 and 2004 and by less than 78,000 votes collectively across three states in 2016.
IT’S A STRONG FIELD NOW, BUT MARGIN FOR ERROR
Since Joe Biden became the presumptive nominee, the presumed list of potential running mates expands and contracts but has remained predictable.
He publicly committed to choosing a woman as his running mate in March.
Calls for Biden to select a woman of colour increased substantially in the recent wake of the racially driven unrest and protests that engulfed American cities large and small.
Both CNN and the University of Virginia’s Crystal Ball have lists of the 10 most likely VP choices and Senator Kamala Harris tops both.
Her experience in state and federal offices, debating skills and personal history make her both an attractive and safe option.
Other candidates often discussed include Congresswoman Val Demings, Senator Tammy Duckworth, Mayor Kiesha Lance Bottoms and former National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
Only Senator Harris has run for national office, doing so in this election’s primary. While she had her moments, she dropped out even before the first votes were cast in Iowa.
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Any would be a solid choice, and each would undoubtedly bring instant energy to the ticket by making history with the first woman of colour on the VP ticket.
But by not having been in the glare of the national spotlight, none of their records have been subject to the intense and granular vetting that will come from the Trump campaign and media.
Choosing a running mate without having gone through that process previously leaves just enough to chance, no matter how good a job the campaign does in its background checks.
MICHELLE OBAMA AS CLOSE TO A SURE THING AS POSSIBLE
Absent from the Top 10 VP lists of news agencies and political forecasters: Former US First Lady Michelle Obama. But only because she has shown no willingness to be the choice.
She carries a truly unique blend of political, policy and communications understanding at every level of the American experience.
In essence, she has been an integral part of two campaigns that won nationally. Nothing not already known that would diminish her in the eyes of voters will come out between now and Election Day.
Since leaving the White House, she has only enhanced her reputation.
In both 2018 and 2019, she was named the world’s most admired woman in a Gallup survey.
How can a former first lady three years removed from the White House become the most globally respected woman? It goes well beyond her being a celebrity. It is based on intellect, values and performance that have been tested and are admired.
First, it was what she did as part of the Obama Administration.
During her eight years in Washington, she had significant achievements. Her accomplishments included advocating for healthy families, service members and their families, higher education, and international adolescent girls’ education. The success of those programmes required her to work with federal agencies, state governments and private partners.
A graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, she has done much since leaving the White House, including being a best-selling author, starting an Academy Award-winning production company alongside the former President and continuing her philanthropic work with groups like Reach Higher.
Second, Democrats know in an era of Trump the old rules simply don’t apply anymore. Before Trump became President, it would have been unthinkable to have a former First Lady with no electoral experience become the VP nominee.
Democrats have been reluctant to fully acknowledge the truly politically disruptive nature of the Trump years. The best nominee to contrast with Donald Trump would be Michelle Obama.
Importantly, Michelle Obama also has more relevant experience to become Vice-President in 2020 than Donald Trump had to become President in 2016.
Any US election comes down to which side gets their own voters to the polls.
We already know the 65.8 million people who voted for Hillary Clinton will vote for Joe Biden. That a growing number of Never Trump Republicans will also vote for him. But that’s not enough to ensure victory.
Joe Biden will not win this race choosing a traditional VP choice which appeals superficially to independents and Republicans.
The key to victory for the 2020 Biden campaign is to get out the vote with three demographics that include a whopping 4 million voters who did not come out in 2016: African Americans, youths and suburban college-educated white women. Enough people in those three groups found Hillary Clinton wanting.
Also, given the coronavirus’s impact on American’s health and the economy, coupled with the on-going civil protests, this election will be a referendum on Trump’s track record in his first term. Little downside exists in doubling down on the record of the Obama Administration in choosing the former First Lady for the 2020 ticket to send that message.
The Biden-Obama combination would also shift the 2020 election dynamic from the negative implications of a Trump era referendum to a positive and forward-facing campaign of optimism for a brighter future.
Michelle Obama’s 2016 mantra in the face of partisan attacks of “when they go low, we go high,” would appeal to those voters tired of Trump’s divisive rhetoric by her bringing a positive message to the campaign.
A BIDEN-OBAMA TICKET FAR-FETCHED, BUT TOTALLY?
The question may be less about who the VP nominee should be and whether Michelle Obama would accept if asked.
Even her most fervent fans have come to accept that she and her husband earned a respite from the rigours of politics and an opportunity to enjoy this new chapter in their life.
Yet, everything for which they worked, from healthcare to clean energy to nutrition in schools, would be further demolished if Trump wins re-election.
Conversely, a Biden Administration would restore the Obama-era accomplishments (or go even further in some instances) while bringing back the norms of governing that many members of both parties once respected.
That call to service plus the prospect of making history again could prove impossible to resist.
Add to that the fact that Michelle Obama’s massive following in the US would not only help on Election Day, but also ensure that in office she would have a major power base of her own and immediately become the Democratic Party frontrunner to succeed Biden as President, if she wanted.
Michell Obama joining the ticket remains incredible right now. But much of what has actually occurred these past three years could equally be described as unbelievable.
So why not this?
Obama-Biden won. So would Biden-Obama.
Steven R Okun and Thurgood Marshall Jr served in the Clinton administration as Deputy General Counsel at the Department of Transportation and White House Cabinet Secretary, respectively. Mr Okun serves as senior adviser for global strategic consultancy McLarty Associates in Singapore. Mr Marshall practices law in Washington.