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The Vice President, the Target, and the Difference in the 2020 Election

Henry Heritage

As the 2020 Presidential Election looms, the United States (US) is dominating global headlines for a myriad of unrelated crises and controversies. The national conundrum that has unfolded has created a unique political platform that both nominees are tactically approaching with conflicting strategies.

As the challenger, Democratic nominee Joe Biden has been given a unique opportunity to promote an alternate form of leadership in a time of chaos. However, Biden has withheld from making the most momentous and potentially precarious choice of the 2020 election–his running mate.

In making this significant decision, Biden will not only look to complement the revert to morality approach that he has established, but will showcase the priorities for a campaign that must attempt to appeal to progressive voters as well as win back ‘purple’ states that rejected the DNC in 2016.

As presidential candidates strategically select their running mate to fill a gap in their campaign image and to broaden their appeal, Biden’s vice-president (VP) choice will be selected as a direct response to the dire conditions that the US is currently in. Just as Obama selected Biden to compensate for his lack of Washington experience, Biden will look to cover his faults.

There has been mounting pressure on Biden to select a black female running mate well before the current protests that are consuming the nation. Considering his tenure as VP under Obama as well as his reliance on the black vote in the South Carolina primary which instigated the launch of Biden’s escalating run to the nomination, the likes of Stacey Abrams or Kamala Harris are dominating political speculations.

Biden should embrace this pressure. There is a long list of potential black female VP candidates that are very qualified and would be an appropriate choice on the Democratic ticket. This would also be a strategic play towards reassembling the Obama coalition which saw an unprecedented turnout amongst minority voters, something Clinton failed to reignite in 2016.

The major complicating factor in the VP decision is the importance of addressing the critical Rust Belt states. This group of industrially reclining northeastern states are vital for victory in the election. Specifically, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan, which together represent 46 electoral votes, are compulsory victories for Trump in order for him to secure his second term.

Prior to 2016, these three Rust Belt states were historically solid Democrat territory until Trump flipped all three and gave the GOP victories in all three for the first time in eight elections. As a Democrat, Biden is automatically competitive in the Rust Belt, but he will have to campaign hard here to shut Trump off from reclaiming these states that he previously carried on the back of working-class voters and a campaign centred on the nationalisation of industry.

The concern for Biden is that selecting a progressive running mate that is targeted at collecting the minority vote will not carry much weight in the Rust Belt, which is dominated by white working-class demographics. Selecting a VP such as Trump-critic and Michigan Governor, Gretchen Whitmer or centrist US Senator Amy Klobuchar would greatly bolster Biden’s appeal in the Rust Belt and attack the edge of Trump’s industrial loyalty.

However, Biden can make a considerably larger impact by following the progressive route and campaigning hard against Trump in the largest swing state, Florida. The 29 electoral votes of Florida have been equally won by the Republicans and Democrats in the previous six elections, and has been won by the victor in each one. Additionally, Trump’s withering popularity makes Florida a compulsory victory for the GOP to maintain the White House.

Although Biden’s popularity with minority groups is more favourable in the racially diverse southern state, securing Florida will not prove easy for the Biden campaign. With the GOP controlling the governorship, both senate seats and a majority of house seats, Biden will struggle to win over the sunshine state that has been more resistant to Trump’s declining popularity.

This is where the VP choice becomes increasingly critical. In both 2008 and 2012, Obama energised the critical Floridian Latino vote, which motivated a historic turnout for the Democrats. It is likely that the selection of a centrist VP candidate targeted at the Rust Belt would fail to motivate the turnout needed in Florida, just as Clinton experienced in 2016.

Biden’s campaign would be wise to look towards a VP candidate such as Floridian Congresswoman Val Demings, who is well established in Florida, a supporter for police reform and most importantly, represents the critical I-4 “toss-up” region in central Florida. Picking a candidate like Demings shows Biden’s loyalty to black representation in the executive branch and also his priority for elite progressive politics that could sway the disenchanted voters left over from Bernie’s campaign.

To win, Biden’s campaign should choose between fighting in the Rust Belt battlegrounds and going all in on Florida, neither of which will be willingly ceded by Trump. Expect a VP to be selected very soon, and the consequences to follow soon after.

Henry Heritage is a graduate policy officer within the Queensland Government and is currently studying a Graduate Certificate of International Relations at Deakin University after graduating from the University of Wollongong with a Bachelor of International Studies.


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