Welcome to Running Mates, our portal for all of our content related to the American vice presidency including our podcast, the 2020 Vice Presidential Tracker, and featured articles on vice presidents new, old, or never to be.

Latest Running Mates Content

Running Mates: Episode 15 – 2016 – Pence v. Kaine (Part 2)

In the part two of our 2016 election episode, Lars and Michael unpack their running mate choices for Hillary Clinton, argue about whether keeping Senate seats should be a priority, and end with the big conclusions about the vice presidential candidates this year.

Running Mates: Episode 14 – 2016 – Pence v. Kaine (Part 1)

In the part one of our 2016 election episode, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton taps Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as her running mate, while reality television star and businessman Donald Trump is nominated by the Republican Party and picks Indiana Governor Mike Pence in order to win over conservative and religious voters.

Running Mates: Episode 13 – 2012 – Ryan v. Biden

With America still recovering from the Great Recession, Republican nominee Mitt Romney chooses “mini-Mitt” Wisconsin Congressman and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan to hit incumbent President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on the big issue of the day: the economy.

A Last Look at the VP Picks as Biden’s Decision Looms

We’re finally at the precipice of the moment we’ve spent the entire year talking about: presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s vice presidential pick. 

It’s been a wild year, beginning with a competitive Democratic primary, where we talked about our thoughts on whether the Democratic vice presidential candidate was already running and then unveiled our Vice Presidential Tracker to keep track of the strongest vice presidential candidates for each given nominee. We checked in with how the potential vice presidential picks stood after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, and then compared the similar picks for the last two standing candidates after Super Tuesday, Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Finally, when Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee, we evaluated his ten strongest candidates, added some big names to the tracker, and lamented the decision by one of the strongest candidates to step out of the running. Never mind the litany of world-shaking news events that have transpired in the last eight months, the world and the 2020 election is now very different looking compared to where we were back then.

But now, in early August, we’re in the prime season to find out who Biden will choose. So it’s time to check in one last time at where things stand in our tracker and what we can expect from Biden’s looming announcement.

At the time of publication, the generic ballot has moved further in Democrats’ direction, corresponding to a general widening of Biden’s lead over Trump nationally over the summer. This has shifted the margins of some of the potential running mates in some of the closer states like Arizona, Michigan, and New Hampshire. We also know that several of our higher ranked individuals will not be under consideration after opting out on their own accord, such as Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. Several are excluded by Biden’s own promise to pick a woman, but remember that what our metric tracks is simply the strongest picks mathematically; names are not removed simply because they won’t be considered or chosen, as this is not a model for statistical probability, but rather one that determines the combined presidential ticket’s strength. That’s why Cortez Masto, Klobuchar, and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro remain highly ranked. Fundamentally, they’re all from competitive states, are not up for reelection, and complement Biden’s experience well, making them strong candidates regardless of whether or not they’re actually being considered by his campaign.

Rounding out the top tier of the list are names that are probably familiar to anyone who has been keeping an eye on the veepstakes: California Senator Kamala Harris (i.e. the most obvious choice), New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and former Secretary of Homeland Security and former Governor of Arizona Janet Napolitano. There are a couple of names that score well mathematically but aren’t receiving a lot of press attention, like Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono and New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan, but they’re not exactly the non-starters they seem. Then there are names like Cortez Masto and Klobuchar, who we have been consistently touting as top choices for many of the last few months, but who have bowed out. 

Finally, there’s another big name that, once again, we were ahead of the curve on identifying and who is now starting to make headlines as a strong contender: Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth would be notable in that she would defy the expectations for Biden’s running mate. Unlike most of Biden’s top picks, Duckworth has military experience, can speak with authority on military and veterans issues, as well as on issues related to Americans with disabilities (Duckworth lost both of her legs in the Iraq War after the helicopter she was piloting was hit with a rocket propelled grenade) and women’s issues. The Illinois-Delaware mix would be reminiscent of the Obama-Biden campaign, and of course, while not a swing state, Illinois is in the all-important Midwest, and the region of a vice presidential pick does matter to a degree.

Biden’s reported shortlist includes some other names that are lower on our tracker, and I believe there’s merit in justifying why our model (which operates entirely on objective mathematical metrics, as opposed to punditic analysis) has these names lower. For example, Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, who might make sense because of the importance of winning Wisconsin, but is being kept down by her high level of federal experience, which combined with Biden’s equals 65 total years in the federal government). Baldwin is also liable to slip further if the election narrows, as she is technically just outside the cusp for counting as a competitive seat thanks to a very wide Democratic lead in the generic ballot margin and the fact that Wisconsin’s margin is only one point more Republican leaning than the nation as a whole. 

Florida Representative Val Demings and former Georgia State House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams both score low on our tracker because they do not meet the minimum viable office qualification, which significantly handicaps their scores. Sorry, but a vice presidential candidate with less than 8 years experience in the House or without any service as a Senator, cabinet member, or military commander is just incredibly rare. It has only happened once in the last 19 open vice presidential picks, and that was Geraldine Ferraro, who still has six years more minimum required experience than Abrams, and two years more than Demings.1Don’t worry, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg falls to the bottom for the same reasons and scores far worse than each of them, because Demings and Abrams are both still mathematically more qualified than he is. 

Lastly, the two hotter names that don’t make it very high on our list: Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice. I’ve faced flak for the relatively low ratings for a Biden-Warren ticket that the tracker has been generating, but the truth is that there is little numerically there for Biden. Warren brings no outsider experience, which is a problem when you’re running with someone who has 44 years of federal experience, her home state of Massachusetts is almost comically noncompetitive,2Donald Trump won about 33% of the vote in Massachusetts in 2016, which was only five points worse than the state’s former governor Mitt Romney got in 2012. and to top that off (though the tracker is not explicitly docking her for this thanks to how incredibly uncompetitive Massachusetts is), the governor is a Republican — meaning Democrats would temporarily lose a Senate seat were Warren to win the vice presidency. Our tracker is also not counting for ideological differences, of which large ones are also quite rare when it comes to Democratic presidential tickets, but that is also a reason to be bearish on Warren. Rice is docked in the ratings for similar reasons: she has plenty of federal experience, but very little outsider experience to complement Biden; her home “state” of DC is even less competitive than Massachusetts.3Rice does, however, have Maine connections and could credibly claim to “run” from Maine, as she considered doing so in this year’s Senate race there.

So, with only a couple of weeks, or maybe just a couple of days, remaining before we find out who Biden’s running mate will be, keep in mind the disparate strengths of the field. Just because a choice feels good, doesn’t mean the fundamentals are there. It’s often said that the first rule of vice presidential picks is “do no harm”, and that is more a matter of fundamentals and what we’ve expected historically from running mates than a flashy name. That’s why this model strips it down to numerical data, and it’s also why we’ve been bullish on some choices that it took a lot of other media sources time to come around on, like Tammy Duckworth, Janet Napolitano, and Catherine Cortez Masto. The combination of both solid fundamentals and consistent attention paid to Kamala Harris is a good sign for her prospects. Just don’t be surprised if Duckworth, Whitmer, or Lujan Grisham end up getting the nod; they’re all fundamentally strong candidates to run alongside Joe Biden.

Running Mates: Episode 12 – 2008 – Biden v. Palin

As unpopular wars rage on, the economy collapses and Lars and Michael delve into Republican nominee John McCain’s miscalculation as he seeks a game changing vice presidential pick in Sarah Palin to counter the historic nomination of Barack Obama, who seeks a more traditional running mate with Joe Biden.

Running Mates: Episode 11 – 2004 – Edwards v. Cheney

Amidst the War on Terror, President George W. Bush and his VP, Dick Cheney, are up for reelection against Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. In what turns into a presidential contest over their respective military records, patriotism, and foreign policy credentials, Kerry chooses, and later would regret having done so, North Carolina Senator John Edwards as his running mate.

Running Mates: Episode 10 – 2000 – Cheney v. Lieberman (Part 2)

In the part two of our 2000 election episode, Lars and Michael discuss who Democratic candidate Al Gore should have put on the ticket instead of Joe Lieberman. They conclude with a broad analysis of the 2000 election, the direction of the parties and decisions they made at this point, and set the stage for the prevailing partisan trends in the 21st century.

Running Mates: Episode 9 – 2000 – Cheney v. Lieberman (Part 1)

In the part one of our 2000 election episode, the impeached president Bill Clinton’s Vice President Al Gore runs for the presidency and picks Joe Lieberman to try and distance himself from Clinton. Meanwhile, Republicans seek a compassionate conservative and land on George W. Bush, who tasks Dick Cheney with finding a vice presidential candidate for him, but Bush ultimately decides on Cheney himself. Two running mates who offer relatively little strength in the one state that matters: Florida.

Running Mates: Episode 8 – 1996 – Kemp v. Gore

President Bill Clinton and his vice president, Al Gore, are up for reelection and after a bruising midterm two years prior, Democrats have moved decisively to the center. Republicans face a crisis of confidence and their candidate, Bob Dole chooses throwback Jack Kemp as his running mate to try and remind Republicans of their past, while Clinton and Gore look to the future.

Catherine Cortez Masto Would Have Been a Great Running Mate for Biden

Unless you’ve been following this website and our obsession with vice presidential picks, you’re probably not very familiar with Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. Cortez Masto’s name started to make headlines after Joe Biden made a pledge to select a woman as his running mate, but she was still largely overshadowed by more widely-known senators like Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, or Kamala Harris of California — all of whom, of course, ran in the primary against Biden for the Democratic nomination.

Cortez Masto’s relegation to the second tier of vice presidential hopefuls is somewhat odd. We’ve talked before about how infrequently nominees choose someone who ran against them in the primary, which should make the assumption that Biden’s former rivals would be so high on his list historically unusual.1It has occurred in only three of the last fifteen open presidential tickets: Reagan-Bush, Kerry-Edwards, and Obama-Biden. Warren’s Massachusetts and Harris’ California are also solidly Democratic voting states in presidential elections, which makes them less compelling in a competition at the margin for a select number of swing states. And while potential vice presidential choices like Harris or former UN Ambassador Susan Rice are women of color, and may add diversity to the ticket representative of the Democratic Party at large, Warren and Klobuchar are not. Warren’s base of college-educated voters and former Georgia House of Representatives Minority Leader Stacey Abrams’ appeal to African-American voters don’t complement the ticket well, as Biden has already demonstrated he is well poised to win these voters. However, Biden does have weaknesses among young voters and Latino voters, two vulnerabilities that played out in his primary loses in California, Colorado, and, yes, Nevada. Cortez Masto is the first Latina Senator from a state that is likely to be closer than most expect, from a region that is increasingly competitive for Democrats, and unmarred by a gruelling primary. Her name is ripe for the shortlist, and yet, on May 28th, she withdrew her name from consideration.

This may not be entirely surprising, as Nevada, whose largely service and tourism-based economy relies heavily on the service and tourism sectors, has suffered disproportionately from the coronavirus, and may never return to what it was. Cortez Masto said as much in justifying her decision, noting that “Nevada’s economy is one of the hardest hit by the current crisis and I will continue to focus on getting Nevadans the support they need to get back on their feet.” 

We’ve highlighted Cortez Masto several times over the course of the primary as an incredibly strong running mate for Biden, and she has consistently ranked in the top five picks overall. She brings a combination of federal experience and state experience, having served as Nevada’s senator since 2017 and its attorney General for eight years prior, and has also demonstrated an ability to lead as a key Democrat in the Senate, currently serving as the chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Her close relationship with former Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid — whose Senate seat she now holds — and her record of seeking accountability from financial institutions in the follow-up to the mortgage crisis are both huge assets for Biden. 

Cortez Masto holds credibility on environmental issues, women’s issues, and was an outspoken advocate for increased gun control after the Las Vegas shooting in 2017. She is a vocal member of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee and has routinely criticized and challenged the Trump administration’s housing policies. Perhaps most beneficial for Biden though is her record on immigration issues, as she has been persistent in calls to repair the immigration system that can appease both advocates for immigration justice and moderate voters. She has championed immigrant health workers and recommended pragmatic immigration actions during the coronavirus crisis, making a positive case for how improved immigration policies and immigrants themselves can help during the health crisis. By speaking out on these issues but never rising to the spotlight of contemporaries like Kamala Harris (who was elected to the Senate at the same time), Cortez Masto has cultivated a reputation untainted by national politics or ambition, tuned into the Democratic mainstream, and maintained a track record of governing and advocating instead of campaigning. At the time of her campaign for the Senate in 2016, Latino Victory Fund president Cristobal Alex noted, “She represents the future of the country, she’s incredibly brilliant, has a great story… in a state where, really, Latinos will make the difference in the election.” It’s worth noting that Alex is now a senior advisor to Biden’s campaign, and Biden is eager to make inroads with Latino voters in the general election and compete in Sun Belt and heavily-Latino states like Nevada, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. Cortez Masto could have been a significant electoral partner.

Cortez Masto’s avoidance of this year’s contentious primary is also helpful, as her understated record in hunkering down and working on issues is a benefit that is easy to overlook. Other vice presidential front-runners represent uncompetitive states and have made bruising statements about Biden, lack regional strength, and could even cost Democrats a Senate seat, or have records that may be uninspiring or even alienating to many voters. Cortez Masto is one of the few candidates who had relatively few electoral trade-offs; she would have been a steady, representative, and responsible pick, able to elevate the ticket and bring complementary strengths to Biden.

Catherine Cortez Masto is also, most importantly, qualified to be president, having served two decades worth of public service at every level of government. Descendants of immigrants, her family became key players in Las Vegas politics, and her father sat on the Clark County Commission and eventually served as the president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, markedly improving the Las Vegas strip. Her exposure to prominent Nevada Democratic politics and politicians inspired her to pursue public service herself. She served as Chief of Staff to Nevada Governor Bob Miller, as Assistant County Manager in Clark County and as a federal criminal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in DC before serving as Attorney General for the State of Nevada. This range of hands on, managerial, operational, and now legislative roles at both the larger federal level and in the intimate politics of a smaller state like Nevada showcase a background, wide-ranging expertise, and adaptability that the vice presidency and the presidency require. Her tact and resolve during congressional hearings demonstrate a seriousness and insight on the issues that rivals more visible colleagues like Elizabeth Warren, while appealing to a wide range of Americans outside of the wonkish niche that Warren embodies.

Her withdrawal from consideration is a shame, because her political, personal, and professional strengths make for a vice presidential pick that would have been both historic and competitive. And while the citizens of Nevada are fortunate to have an advocate for them with the attentiveness and insight that she has, the nation is weaker for her withdrawal from presidential politics.

Click here to view all