Will Biden’s running mate matter?

Early Returns

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Political scientists have long looked for any sign that running mates affect the outcome of presidential elections, and while there's not exactly a consensus, the evidence suggests that there's normally no effect at all. That's not a surprise! When Joe Biden chooses a running mate in the days ahead, it will be a huge story for few news cycles. And then? Pretty much nothing. The media will cover the presidential candidates and there won't be much time and space left for running mates. After all, even the candidate at the top of the ticket has only a limited effect once party loyalty and events (such as the economy or war) are taken into account.

That goes double for an out-party candidate when the incumbent is on the ballot. If Biden himself will probably perform more or less the same as most of the other Democratic contenders would have, why should we expect his vice-presidential pick to move voters? People who like Donald Trump will vote to keep him in office and those who don't will vote to throw the bums out; there's approximately no one who thinks Trump is doing a great job but would vote for Biden anyway because of his running mate, or who thinks that Trump is a disaster but will vote for him out of fear that the Democrat in the second position will become (horrors!) vice president. 

All that said, I still think the first rule for selecting a running mate is to avoid a fiasco. And the safest way to do that is to choose someone who has already been vetted in a national campaign and faced the opposition research and scrutiny that comes with it. For Biden, that likely means Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar or perhaps Kirsten Gillibrand, although Gillibrand's presidential campaign was so brief that she's a stretch to qualify by this criterion. 

Beyond that? It makes sense to avoid anyone who would put a Senate seat at risk, especially if the chamber will be tightly divided. That rules out Klobuchar (who has said she's dropping out anyway). Selecting her would produce an immediate Democratic replacement but would also set up a tough 2022 special election in a midterm in which Republicans would likely be favored. It might also be a problem for Warren, whose seat could be filled by the Republican governor unless the Democratic state legislature in Massachusetts changes the law (again). 

A good nominee will also listen to party actors, especially for evidence that any of the logical choices are unacceptable to important constituencies. It's impossible to satisfy everyone, but it should be possible to avoid alienating any significant group. Of course, when the nomination is contentious or when the party is otherwise split, then a running mate may be a bargaining chip used to unify a coalition by giving something tangible to groups that lost the nomination battle or major platform fights. 

A final important factor is that nominees should select someone who would appear to be capable of being at least an adequate president. 

That's about it. Biden shouldn't worry about the campaign narrative. Or about unproven and unlikely effects on voter turnout. Or about how his pick contrasts with Donald Trump or Mike Pence. And certainly not about which potential running mate would annoy Trump the most. None of that is likely to matter during the campaign because running mates usually don't matter. Mainly, Biden should just try to avoid disaster or harming the party. 

And remember: If Biden does well, two weeks after the convention we'll rarely think about his running mate for the rest of the campaign. No matter how strong a selection she is.

1. Rick Hasen on the need for a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to vote.

2. Margaret Peters at the Monkey Cage on the new restrictions on immigration.

3. See also Dan Drezner on how Trump is harming one of America's big strengths in the world.

4. Scott Lemieux on the Supreme Court's abortion decision.

5. Leah Litman also on the abortion ruling.

6. Ray La Raja and Jonathan Rauch on amateur candidates taking over the Republican Party.

7. Greg Sargent on how some House Democrats plan to fight back on oversight.

8. Stuart Rothenberg on why a Trump comeback is possible but unlikely.

9. Annie Lowrey on baby bonds.

10. And Laura Miller on the picture of Trump that emerges from books by those who worked in the administration.

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