Now that he is the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden will begin turning his attention towards uniting the Democratic Party and defeating Donald Trump this autumn. This shift in focus will require him to make an important choice that will provide him an opportunity to do both: choosing his vice presidential running mate.
Save for the results in November, Biden’s choice may be the most anticipated question left this year in politics, and for good reason. In an election already overshadowed by a pandemic, the 77-year-old Biden’s running mate has become a topic of widespread speculation and deliberation. We’ve written before over the course of the primary about some of his strongest choices, and we’ll have a piece in the near future rounding out who they are and why they would complement Biden well, but first we should cover when we can expect a decision will be made.
If you think it seems a bit early for us to turn our attention to this already, you’re not wrong. Historically speaking, the presumptive nominee has announced their running mate weeks or, more commonly, just a few days before the convention. Since 1980 every single running mate has been announced less than three weeks before the convention, with the average announcement occurring just five days before the party convention kicked off.
|Year / Party||Nominee / Running Mate||Days Before Convention
Running Mate was Announced
|1980 – R||Reagan / H.W. Bush||0 (during convention)|
|1984 – D||Mondale / Ferraro||4|
|1988 – R||H.W. Bush / Quayle||0 (during convention)|
|1988 – D||Dukakis / Bentsen||6|
|1992 – D||Clinton / Gore||4|
|1996 – R||Dole / Kemp||2|
|2000 – R||W. Bush / Cheney||6|
|2000 – D||Gore / Lieberman||6|
|2004 – D||Kerry / Edwards||20|
|2008 – R||McCain / Palin||3|
|2008 – D||Obama / Biden||2|
|2012 – R||Romney / Ryan||16|
|2016 – R||Trump / Pence||4|
|2016 – D||Clinton / Kaine||3|
Even given the historical precedent, Biden waiting until five days before the Democratic National Convention — which has been delayed because of the novel coronavirus and is now set to convene in Milwaukee in the third week of August — to announce his running mate still feels awfully late given how prevalent the discussion surrounding it has been. Something about this cycle feels different. It could be a product of the Biden campaign’s own machinations, since he declared during the March Democratic debate that his vice presidential pick would be a woman, thus putting the issue at our attention. It could also be because, despite how it seemed back in the winter, Biden became such a clear front-runner as the campaign escalated. After Super Tuesday, Biden’s nomination seemed inevitable, so it makes sense to start focusing on a general election against a very polarizing president. Consolidating the party behind him and directing the nation’s attention towards Trump, or at least on why Biden himself is the man to bring America back together, demands an early start. Especially in the middle of a national — and global — health crisis. Projecting a presidential team ready to face down Trump and face down the novel coronavirus pandemic sooner rather than later may demonstrate a readiness to govern.
Announcing a running mate on the earlier side would also be tactful in terms of spinning an election narrative and keeping the momentum after his impressive victories since Super Tuesday against the last candidate standing, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. The Republican National Convention will take place a week after the Democrats hold their own convention, and although Trump will benefit from going last due to the effects of a likely convention bounce, he has never wanted for media attention and still isn’t always portrayed in a positive light. He rarely captures the unbridled optimism that Democrats have at their gatherings, even failing to do so during his convention in 2016. Biden would be well served to seize several positive and optimistic news events in a row after becoming the de facto nominee. Announcing a historic running mate and the media-boost generated by a convention would build up a lot of momentum, and Biden has signalled he is ready to begin the process already.
Still, it’s unprecedented for a modern campaign to announce a running mate more than a few weeks — let alone several months — before the convention, and if there’s one thing you can count on Biden to do (it’s actually a defining plank in his presentation as why he would be a good president), it’s sticking to time-tested traditions. And though these desperate and strange times may call for unconventional campaigning, it may also prolong an already seemingly foregone primary, as many states have pushed back their contests to June. Still, if Bernie Sanders drops out in the next couple of months, leaving Biden uncontested as opposed to just unreachable, Biden can stack the calendar in his favor. With less time to spare for the general election due to the virus pushing the conventions back to back, Biden may be encouraged to act as soon as Sanders falls out of the race. By declaring victory in May or June, unveiling a vice presidential pick over the summer, and accepting the nomination in August, the Biden campaign can truly go national.