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Our Revamped VP Rankings

A Commentary By Kyle Kondik J. Miles Coleman and Larry J. Sabato


— Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and former National Security Adviser Susan Rice enter our list of Joe Biden’s vice presidential contenders.

— Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) drops off.

— The top names remain the same.

Biden’s VP contenders

Our friend, top vice presidential scholar Joel Goldstein, argues in a companion piece to this one that Joe Biden’s VP selection process is so fluid at this point that one cannot reasonably handicap the pick.

Joel is probably right, but what’s fun about that?

Biden’s list of contenders still seems to be fairly long: We have 11 names on this update, after we had 10 a couple of weeks ago. As we noted last week in a brief note, we wanted to revise our own list to include two contenders we didn’t include the first time: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms (D) and former Obama administration National Security Adviser Susan Rice (D). They make their debuts around the middle of our list. We dropped one name from the list: Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-NH), whose selection would jeopardize her Senate seat — Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH), a favorite for reelection, would appoint her successor — and doesn’t seem to fit the moment or address Biden’s electoral weaknesses. Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin of the New York Times reported a few days ago that Hassan “not seen as a major candidate.”

We left the order of the first three candidates the same, and slotted in Bottoms and Rice at fifth and seventh, respectively. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) is up to fourth place; she is the only Hispanic candidate on our list, and one of Biden’s weaknesses in polling so far appears to be with Hispanics. Lujan Grisham also has both federal and state-level experience, although to the bulk of the country, she’s an unknown. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is down a bit, to six (we went through her liabilities in detail when we first debuted the list).

Bottoms, an early and aggressive endorser of Biden during the primary, has become a major national figure in the midst of protests over police brutality. National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar made a good case for Bottoms recently, arguing that she might be the right fit for the moment and that her performances on big stages might mitigate her lack of state and federal-level experience. The recent shooting of Rayshard Brooks by an Atlanta police officer, which led to the resignation of Atlanta’s police chief and prompted Bottoms to order changes to the department’s use-of-force policies, does suggest a possible downside to picking Bottoms: rightly or wrongly, anything that happens in Atlanta will be under the national microscope if Biden picks Bottoms as his running mate.

One upside of selecting someone who is a member of Congress as opposed to a governor or a mayor is that if something negative or controversial happens in the member’s state or House district, they may be seen as less directly responsible for it than a sitting chief executive. Given the immense attention the nation has been paying to incidents of police brutality, any incident that might happen in the vice presidential nominee’s backyard could be a campaign headache. Also, any flareup in COVID-19 cases could reflect poorly on a gubernatorial or mayoral running mate. Of course, picking a governor or mayor doesn’t threaten party control of a Senate seat, which is a problem for some of these contenders.

Susan Rice, the other addition to our list, would be another non-traditional choice in that she has no elected officeholding experience. However, she does have high-level experience, serving stints as both ambassador to the United Nations and national security adviser during Barack Obama’s presidential administration. While Rice likely isn’t vetted in the traditional sense, she is used to being in the national spotlight, and Biden certainly knows her and may very well be comfortable with her. That said, there are downsides with Rice, too. She may not be prepared for the meatgrinder of a national campaign, and choosing Rice would force Biden’s campaign to have to re-litigate Obama’s foreign policy record, which could animate conservatives. Additionally, Rice would be a foreign policy-focused choice in an election that almost certainly will be more focused on domestic politics. One other note: Rice’s son is an outspoken Trump backer, which could be a source of annoyance to a Biden-Rice ticket and delight to conservative media producers.

If you’re curious for our thoughts on the other contenders, see our report from a couple of weeks ago or check out Table 1, our updated rankings of the VP possibilities. The New York Times, Washington Post, and Associated Press all have had recent reporting about Biden’s VP search that also helped inform our new rankings.

After this week’s changes, the top five names on our list are all nonwhite.

Table 1: Crystal Ball Democratic vice presidential rankings

Staying the same as last time: Harris, Demings, Duckworth

New to list: Bottoms, Rice

Moving up from last time: Lujan Grisham

Moving down from last time: Warren, Baldwin, Raimondo, Whitmer, Abrams

Off list: Hassan

Kyle Kondik is a Political Analyst at the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia and the Managing Editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball.

J. Miles Coleman is an elections analyst for Decision Desk HQ and a political cartographer. Follow him on Twitter @jmilescoleman.

Larry J. Sabato is the director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

See Other Political Commentary by Kyle Kondik.

See Other Political Commentary by J. Miles Coleman.

See Other Political Commentary by Larry J. Sabato.

See Other Political Commentary.

This article is reprinted from Sabato's Crystal Ball.

Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports. Comments about this content should be directed to the author or syndicate.

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