Wednesday, March 4, 2020

A running mate matters more this year -- March 5, 2020 column


Democratic voters have spoken, and they’ve said “no” to presidential candidates who are 1) youngish, 2) female, 3) black or 4) rich.

Gone are candidates Cory Booker, 50; Pete Buttiegieg, 38; Amy Klobuchar, 59; Kamala Harris, 55, and many others. Tulsi Gabbard, 38, is forgotten but not quite gone. 

Money didn’t buy presidential hopefuls love or victory. Mike Bloomberg spent an astonishing $560 million on TV, radio and digital ads as of Tuesday, according to CNN, and dropped out Wednesday after winning only America Samoa on Super Tuesday.

Tom Steyer spent $210 million on ads before he dropped out after coming in third in South Carolina, winning no delegates.  

So, we have a Democratic contest between two white male senior citizens: Biden, who will be 78 on Election Day, and Bernie Sanders, a heart attack survivor who will be 79. 

Both are said to be fit for the rigors of the job, as is President Donald Trump, who will be 74 on Election Day. Trump’s unscheduled visit to Walter Reed hospital last year remains a mystery.

Elizabeth Warren, 70, is assessing her future, as of this writing, after coming in no higher than third in any state. She is a smart, effective senator who has much to offer in the Senate.

Biden, the new frontrunner, won at least nine of the 14 Super Tuesday states, including Virginia. Sanders won Colorado, Utah, Vermont and is projected to win delegate-rich California, which is still counting votes. 

A presidential election between oldies is not necessarily a bad thing. In a country where the average life-expectancy age is 76 for men, though, running mates may become a bigger deal this year. Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, is 61.

First and foremost, the running mate should be qualified to be president. The Constitution requires only a natural born citizen at least age 35 and a resident of the United States for the last 14 years.

To energize women disappointed by the lack of a viable woman in the race, the nominee should pick a running mate who is not an old, white male. Sorry, Sherrod Brown, whose name often appears on short lists of potential running mates. The U.S. senator from Ohio is 67.

Another temptation to stifle is picking a running mate with more sizzle than substance. We’ve seen what happens when a presidential contender of a certain age wants to juice his campaign with a younger outsider running mate.

In 2008, Republican John McCain, 72, picked Alaska Gov. and self-described “Mama grizzly bear” Sarah Palin, 44. The disastrous choice made people wonder about McCain’s judgment.

A running mate can also be reassuring. In 2008, Democrat Barack Obama, 46, wanted someone with “gray in his hair” who he thought would not aspire to the presidency. Biden, 65, was a safe choice with decades of Senate experience, which Obama lacked.

Should he win the nomination, Sanders already has said his running mate must back Medicare for All, his controversial single-payer health-care plan. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, 30, is too young to be VP. Thank goodness.

Biden, should he win, will need to show he’s stable but not ossified. He has teased several women’s names as potential running mates – among them Stacey Abrams, failed gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, and Michelle Obama. Obama has repeatedly said she’s not interested in running for office.

Abrams said she’d be “honored” to run for vice president and “absolutely” wants to be president herself. She is African American, 46, a Yale law school graduate, former Georgia state representative and Georgia House minority leader.

But, she has baggage as a tax lawyer who didn’t pay her own taxes in 2015 and 2016. She said during the 2018 campaign she needed the money to pay her family’s medical bills.

Republicans attacked her on the issue and likely would again, even though last year she reportedly paid off the $54,000 in federal taxes she owed as well as $170,000 in student loan and credit card debt.

While presidential nominees usually shy away from picking former rivals as running mates, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar are all attractive former competitors who’ve been vetted and would balance a Biden or Sanders ticket.

Nobody votes for a president based on the running mate, but the choice is a candidate’s first big decision. Whoever wins the Democratic presidential nomination this year will need to make the choice seriously, carefully and boldly.

(C)2020 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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