Predicting the Democrats' VP Shortlist
America’s over two-year presidential election cycles have morphed into sporting event-like entertainment culminating in the quadrennial political Super Bowl known as Election Day.
Similar to sports team rosters, speculation about the final names on the presidential ticket runs rampant because it’s amusing to predict the outcome. (For the record, this author first wrote in an April 2018 op-ed why Sen. Kamala Harris will top the Democratic ticket and again in January. Last week, in a widely read op-ed, former House speaker Newt Gingrich wrote that he also believes Harris will be her party’s nominee.)
But if you actively want to bet on the ticket leader or the election, PredictIt is where you can “make predictions on future events by buying shares in the outcome.” On the site, PredictIt explains, “each outcome has a probability between 1 and 99 percent”; it then “converts those probabilities into US cents.”
Displaying now but continuously fluctuating, PredictIt has Harris leading the nomination race with 24 cents. Former VP Joe Biden is next at 23 cents, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren ranks third with 19 cents.
I would wager there is an excellent chance that one of these three will headline the Democrats’ 2020 ticket. And what about betting on their running mates?
Since it’s only mid-2019, PredictIt does not yet offer a prediction market in complete Democratic tickets other than the general question: "Will the Dem VP nominee be a woman?" — 60 cents “yes” and 40 cents “no.” Therefore, I will seize the opportunity and speculate on Harris/Biden/Warren potential VP nominees — as a Republican thinking like a Democratic strategist.
Starting with Harris, who can help make her ticket most competitive in a general election against Donald Trump? What first comes to mind is that Harris, a non-white female, should select a male running mate. (Ahem, last October I wrote a piece headlined “An All-Female Democratic Ticket in 2020: Should GOP Laugh, Fear or Dismiss?” — discussing the pros and cons of a Harris/Warren or Warren/Harris ticket. Sure, it could happen because, in politics, anything is possible, but conventional wisdom and common sense dictate a male running mate would be the safer choice.)
The two men I believe have the best chance at the Harris VP slot are Julián Castro from Texas and Rep. Tim Ryan of Ohio. Both are currently running for the presidential nomination, but are they doing enough to merit second place consideration?
Castro is the top choice of only 1.3% of Democratic primary voters, according to the RealClearPolitics poll average, while Ryan fares even worse at 0.1%.
But popularity with primary season voters – or even widespread name identification at VP selection time – is not often a factor. (See Gov. Sarah Palin and Sen. Joe Biden in 2008 and Gov. Mike Pence in 2016.) Instead, what matters most in the modern era are the constituencies a candidate can bring to the ticket or help boost a perceived weakness with the presidential nominee.
In Castro’s case, two huge constituencies could prove electorally decisive — he is Hispanic and from Texas. An extra bonus is his youth. Castro turns 46 in 2020, which would make him the first 1970s-born candidate and Hispanic to appear on a national ticket.
How important is the Hispanic vote?
In 2016 Hispanics comprised 11% of the electorate when Hillary Clinton won them over Trump by 66% to 28%. In 2020, it is estimated that the Hispanic vote could increase by two percentage points. For a hint, look to the 2018 midterms when Hispanics also made up 11% of voters — a record level of participation that is sure to increase in the presidential election.
And let’s talk about Texas. Already speculation abounds that it will be a swing state or possibly (gasp) go “blue” in 2020. With 38 electoral votes at stake, that would be “game over” for Trump and the GOP. Even if Texas stays in the “red” column, having Castro on the ticket means that Team Trump would have to spend mucho dinero to retain those 38 votes — drawing valuable resources away from more traditional battleground states.
The only downside of a Harris/Castro ticket is that two non-whites might be a bit overwhelming in a majority-white nation. And that is why Rep. Tim Ryan, a white male, age 47 in 2020, could also bring tangible enhancements to a Harris ticket.
Ryan first rose to national prominence in November 2016 when he boldly, but unsuccessfully, challenged Nancy Pelosi as party leader of the House Democrats. First elected to Congress in 2002, Ryan has long represented a white working-class district in northeast Ohio spanning from Youngstown to Akron. Theoretically “Trump Country” but not quite, since in 2016 Hillary Clinton won Ryan’s 13th Congressional District by a margin of 6.5% while Trump won the state by eight percentage points.
Therefore in 2020, Team Trump considers Ohio’s 18 electoral votes “safe” without expending too much time or effort. And, similar to a Harris/Castro ticket in Texas, a Harris/Ryan ticket will make keeping Ohio “red” more challenging, irritating, and expensive.
Then we can expect strategically irresistible optics of Sen. Harris, a mixed-race female from the West Coast paired with Rep. Ryan’s white bread from the heartland.
Moving on to Joe Biden, if he wins the nomination there is only one name that stands out for veep choice — Kamala Harris. Biden is an “old white male” from a party growing younger, non-white, and female. That makes Harris, with her Jamaican father and mother from India, the obvious choice. A Biden/Harris pairing would ignite the Obama coalition like a firebomb with the popular former first couple virtually on the ticket.
And remember that in 2015, well before she was elected to the U.S. Senate, a Washington Post headline boldly asked, "Is Kamala Harris the Next Obama?" Also, there’s that little history of public affection between Barack and Kamala.
Undoubtedly, a Biden/Harris ticket will make Team Trump tremble.
Finally, there is Sen. Elizabeth Warren. As an “older” white female from Massachusetts, Warren’s ticket will need geographical, gender, age, and racial balance. Again, Julián Castro from Texas checks all the boxes. No need to go any further because a white female/Hispanic male ticket is political gold. Castro is even “qualified” by low-bar modern presidential standards, serving as Obama’s secretary of Housing and Urban Development and before that, mayor of San Antonio.
All of the above is meant to be entertaining speculation but still based in reality. Highlighted is the emergence of racial, ethnic, and gender identity in American politics with the pressing need to “balance” a presidential ticket.
With this rapidly, demographically changing new American electorate, I would bet that the Trump/Pence ticket will be the last time a major party pairs two white males.
To be determined is whether “double boy vanilla” can win in 2020.