It’s that time of year again when pundits and analysts begin to think about what happens next in the race for President. More specifically, as Bernie Sanders increasingly looks like the favorite to take on Donald Trump, the public has begun to muse about who might be picked as his running mate. Sanders’ quick rise to frontrunner status, unorthodox style, and icy relationship with the Democratic establishment means that the likelihood of a non-traditional pick is higher than ever.
While most nominees attempt to ideologically balance the ticket, or make a pick that assuages concerns from adversarial wings of the party, Bernie is unlikely to follow the same path. He has characterized his long career by emphasizing the same central themes over and over. If he is to win the nomination, it will be without pivoting very much if at all from these core ideas that have defined him for so long. Given that, it is very likely that Bernie will not pick a moderate to balance the ticket, instead he will probably go with another progressive, one that reemphasizes and strengthens his message.
Of course, saying Bernie will pick a progressive leaves the field of potential candidates far too broad. The pool needs to be narrowed in order to talk about possibilities with any accuracy. While Sanders might want to reinforce his central message, he is likely smart enough to recognize that he is weaker than other Democrats in sun belt states such as Arizona, North Carolina, and Georgia. He is also smart enough to recognize that another ticket that is entirely white and male would not sit well with many Democrats. Given that, the candidates listed below are largely not white, not men, and from the sun belt (with some exceptions).
Of course it is impossible to rule out the possibility that Sanders picks a moderate. However, if he does, these moderates are unlikely to be in the traditional mold. Instead, he’ll want a moderate with working class appeal who can help Bernie regionally. Without further ado, here is a fairly lengthy list of candidates based on broad ideological categories.
The House – Congressional Progressive Caucus Members
Val Demmings: Demmings is an attractive choice for any potential Dem nominee for a number of reasons. She is a progessive black woman from a critical region of the country. Florida is always a closely contested state, and having a politician who served as Chief of Police for Orlando could make a real difference. That would be especially important for Sanders, who conventional wisdom holds will be weaker with Cubans in Florida than Hillary was. However, her law enforcement background might make this pick a tough sell for Sanders, who hails from a wing of the party that has historically been deeply critical of law enforcement. Kamala Harris, for example, faced numerous questions from progressives about her record as a prosecutor, and Demmings may endure the same.
Ruben Gallego: Gallego has been out of the spotlight since he declined to run for Senate in Arizona, but he may re-emerge as a VP contender on a Sanders’ ticket. Gallego has not been talked about as a potential pick, but his profile is attractive to Sanders for a number of reasons. He’s a hispanic progressive from an absolutely pivotal area of the country – downtown Phoenix. He is younger, only 39 years old, and served as a Marine. Both of those could help deflect the likely criticisms of a Sanders ticket that it is too old or too weak on foreign policy issues. Of course, youth is a double edged sword. Bernie’s age will bring Gallego’s youth to the forefront in popular discourse, which could end up hurting the campaign if voters feel the man a heartbeat from the presidency is too inexperienced.
Rho Khanna: Again, a younger progressive of color, Khanna compliments Bernie’s ideology and image nicely. Khanna is popular with the progressive grassroots, and co-chairs Bernie’s presidential campaign. However, Khanna comes with numerous liabilities: he is a wealthy tech entrepreneur that represents the Bay Area, he fits the mold of an “out of touch coastal elite” to such a degree that he may be a drag on the ticket, and he has faced criticism in the past for flip-flopping on his image and ideology in between his two elections for Congress.
Nanette Barragan: A more under-the-radar choice, Barragan represents a deep blue district in the heart of Los Angeles. Far from a high profile, she has a compelling story and could help Sanders balance the ticket. A younger progressive Latina, she was the youngest of eleven children raised by immigrant parents. After graduating law school, she worked in the United States Attorney’s Office, working on organized crime and terrorism cases.. Of course her youth and relative anonymity could be an issue as much as an asset. As with all the candidates, Sanders needs to carefully balance contrast with risk, and that especially applies to candidates like Barragan who are unknown quantities.
Barbara Lee: A longtime supporter of left-wing policies, Barbara Lee represents CA-13, centered around Oakland. She is popular with the progressive grassroots, and much like Bernie was a vocal critic of the Iraq war from the start. However, she is one of the few major elected officials in the country whose views are likely left of Bernie’s – a fact which could prove problematic. Additionally, she is older. At 73, she is only five years younger than Sanders. Having the two of them on the ticket risks making it look like they are running for president of the retirement home instead of the United States.
Due to the closely contested nature of the Senate, Sanders is unlikely to pick a Senator who’s seat would be lost upon ascension to the office either through gubernatorial appointment or a difficult special election. So that rules out choices that conventionally would work well, such as Sherrod Brown and Tammy Baldwin. In light of that, his options are more limited.
Tammy Duckworth: Ever since her election to the Senate from Illinois in 2016, Duckworth has been talked about as a potential national force in Democratic politics. A double amputee, woman, and Asian-American that served in Iraq, she is a fairly progressive senator with a story that would make her a great addition to the ticket. However, the main question with this choice is not whether she has an obvious liability, but if Duckworth would want the job. She seemed to show no interest in running for president even though she would have been a strong contender off the bat. She may simply desire to stay in the Senate for now.
Catherine Cortez-Masto: First elected to the Senate in 2016, Cortez-Masto has a long history in Nevada politics. Her father was a Clark County Commissioner and she served two terms as the state’s Attorney General from 2007-2015. She is not generally considered as part of the progressive wing of the party, but she has also stayed out of the primary fight entirely. If Sanders feels that the establishment wing of the party is putting up more of a fight than expected in terms of getting behind him, then Cortez-Masto could be a good compromise candidate to satisfy their concerns. She could also help lock down Nevada if Bernie feels that his weakness in sun belt states is a bigger problem than he anticipated. Of course, she could also end up as a Tim Kaine type pick; too safe to make an impact and ultimately forgettable. Additionally, while her replacement would be a Democrat, there would be questions about whether Democrats could hold her seat in a special election.
Kamala Harris: Harris, obviously a former contender for the nomination herself, remains an attractive option for the Sanders campaign. While her record as a prosecutor came under scrutiny by many progressive Democrats, that background could very well help her be an asset on the ticket as it tries to make a case against the first four years of Donald Trump. Obviously she is not beloved by the progressive grassroots, but if she can get past that, she could make a strong addition to Bernie’s ticket.
Corey Booker: Booker, like Harris, contested the nomination for a time. While he never gained the traction Harris did, his record was less scrutinized by the left wing of the party. There is little doubt about his experience or resume, as he gained a national profile for his tenure as the Mayor of Newark and for his time as a Senator. The only question with Booker is if Sanders feels he fits his ideological vision for the ticket closely enough.
Until 2018, the Democratic bench of governors was vanishingly thin. The one’s they did have were largely non-descript administrators from deep blue states. Given that, if Sanders wants to reach to the state level to select a running mate, he’ll likely need to go after someone in their first term. But even now, the gubernatorial bench for Democrats is mostly devoid of dyed in the wool progressives. Sanders would have to go for someone less ideologically stringent than himself. In this scenario, he likely goes with a moderate who has won in the white working class areas where Hillary Clinton tanked.
Gretchen Whitmer: If there’s a newly-elected governor that can claim she knows how to win swing voters in the midwest, it’s probably Gretchen Whitmer. She won Michigan by double digits, a state that shocked the political world by backing Trump in 2016. However, her only experience prior to 2018 was being a state senator, a fact that may matter more than most years given Bernie’s age. She is less exciting than some of the other candidates on the list, but she has a proven record, and remains an intriguing option for Sanders.
Laura Kelly: A governor that has flown mostly under the radar since her election, Laura Kelly arguably had a more impressive election than either Whitmer or Walz. She won by 5% in Kansas, a state Donald Trump carried by 20%. According to polls, she boasts high approval so far at this early part of her term. She also has experience defeating a Trumpy campaign, winning over former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who closely tied his candidacy to the president and his agenda. However, like Whitmer, she has no federal experience, only becoming a governor after years of being a State Senator, a fact that could raise concerns.
Tim Walz: The only white man profiled here, Walz fits the image of a politician that should be able to win back Obama-Trump voters to a tee. A former teacher, Walz was elected Governor of Minnesota last year after a decade in the House of Representatives. Like Whitmer, his record is undeniable, but unlike Whitmer, he provides very little demographic balance to the ticket.
The Best of the Rest – Freshman Representatives and Non-Traditional Picks
Below is a list of picks that fall outside the traditional search parameters. Virtually all of the candidates in this category bring something interesting to the table, but all would face questions about their lack of high level political experience.
Colin Allred – Representative, TX-32
Lucy McBeth – Representative, GA-06
Deb Halaand – Representative, NM-03
Jared Golden – Representative, ME-02
Rashida Tlaib – Representative, MI-13
Katie Porter – Representative, CA-45
Angie Craig – Representative, MN-02
Joe Neuguse – Representative, CO-02
Stacy Abrams – Former Minority Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives and Democratic Nominee in the 2018 Georgia Gubernatorial Race
Andrew Yang – Businessman and former presidential candidate
Sara Nelson – Union president, Association of Flight Attendants