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Hello and welcome to this emergency edition of the 538 Politics podcast, I'm Galen Truk. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden just announced California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. Well, it may not be a surprise if you've been listening to this podcast over the past few months. It is historic. Harris is the first Asian-American and the first black woman in American history to be a general election candidate for president or vice president of either of the two major political parties.
And here with me to discuss what Joe Biden's pick of Kamala Harris does and doesn't mean, our senior politics reporter Perry Bacon, Jr.. How's it going, Perry? Good to see you, Gayle. And also here with us is politics editor Sarah Frost and said, hey, Sarah, how's it going?
Good. Hey, Galen. All right. So, Perry, I think you've called this a couple times on this podcast recently or more or less called it. What's your first reaction to the fact that it was the most seemingly likely pick? In the end?
I'm not really into predictions, but what I was trying to say when I wrote about this, when I was talking about it, was in some ways like there's this whole theory that the party decides the candidate that sort of failed in 2016. But it's sort of predicted a little bit about Biden. This time, in my whole sense, was like a lot of people will say it's a personal chemistry question. Does the candidate like this person, in my view, is always know Joe Biden is a member of a party who's got to be considering the coalition that he's leading and what it was.
So Joe Biden promised a woman. So that was first of all. And then once you narrow that down, who are the most qualified people, senators who ran for president? Of course you're down. In my view, that kind of narrowed it closer to Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, people like that. You know, the George Floyd protested his dad. The president, I think, did sort of put more pressure to pick a black woman.
So when you really looked at who were the sort of most natural candidates were, I sort of thought it would be his Kamala Harris to lose. And maybe Joe Biden goes into a direction of picks like Susan Rice. But I thought it was always the most logical person who's run for president before, like she's to the left of Joe Biden, mean she's not as left as it is with Warren. You can imagine her doing the debate pretty well. She's black.
She's Asian, so she has a diversity in the party. So I just think she's the most logical person for the job. And on some level, no matter what Joe Biden's staff says about how she impressed in the interview or whatever they'll claim in the ticktock and reality, like me, a random person was able to pretty easily tell you who might be the pick, because this is a very logical pick pair.
You just wrote a piece for the website, which for anybody who has been paying attention to our website over the past couple hours or so. No, you did not manage to write that entire piece in the five minutes from when Biden announced you had written it so good on you. And I guess the fact that it was the predictable choice made it more simple for us here at 538. So thank you. And we're going to go through a lot of the different things that you discussed in the article.
I encourage people to go read it, but getting this out of the way up front. Sarah, how much does a vice presidential pick affect the ultimate outcome of an election?
The research we have in terms of the electoral impact of a vice presidential candidate is pretty limited. It doesn't actually have that much of a role.
As Perry was saying earlier, there's a lot of elements where it can be good for party unity or for signaling a direction of the party. And I know we'll talk about that a bit more later. But studies that have looked to see, you know, was there a home state's advantage or is this idea that now, you know, more women or more black Americans will turn out to vote? The research is much more mixed on that. There isn't a woman bloc vote.
And in terms of what we do know about black voters turning out because Harris is now on the ticket, you know, we only have one sample before this. Obama, right. And in yes, black voter turnout was up then, but it's a different dynamic. He was at the top of the ticket. He was running for president. And the research points in opposite directions there. So the overall effect in terms of her being added to the ticket electorally is hard to measure and would be small and is how our forecast would treat that as well.
When I look at the VP pick, I think people are voting for the top of the ticket. But I do think in some cases the VP pick affects how they see the top of the ticket. I think the problem, an example both in the research and in my own reporting, was voters did not look well upon John McCain picking Sarah Palin as vice president. Once it became clear that she did not probably have the experience and the knowledge for that job and he was an older candidate.
So I think if Joe Biden had picked somebody who was if Joe Biden had picked Pete boobage, I respect people to judge. I think there would have been some immediate questions about is this person in their 30s qualified to. Vice president and probably some criticism of should there be two white men on the ticket? I think that's an example of where there would have been some effect. So in terms of Harris, I think the two effects people are going to be looking for are does she sort of turn off voters who might like Biden as she perceived as too liberal?
Are there voters who don't like a person of color, other voters who don't like a woman? So I think the short answer that is we've had some polls of they've compared Biden, Harris versus Biden, Whitman versus Biden, Klobuchar versus Biden warned. And there seems to be very little effect so far. So I'm not really confident that there will be a huge effect downward for her. The second question would be, does she increase black turnout? As Sara referred to, black turnout was about 66 percent in 2012 and about 60 percent in 2008 and 2016.
And that's a big gap. And that mattered. And I think the data suggest Hillary could have won, probably Wisconsin and Michigan with higher black turnout. I mean, the reason I'm skeptical that Harris necessarily adds much in terms of black enthusiasm is A, because she's not the first candidate who's black, as Sarah referred to, and second, because she ran for president. And at least all the data is just in the Democratic primary. Younger black voters preferred Bernie Sanders and Senator Warren.
Older black voters preferred Joe Biden. So I'm not entirely I think there's a case that if Michelle Obama was on the ticket, I would be more sort of bullish on the idea that maybe black turnout would change based on the person. But I don't think in the case of Harris, we have particularly strong evidence that she has an electoral impact. I guess the third question might be like, how is Harris as a campaigner and would she be bad or good?
One challenge there is we don't really have a campaign. We sort of have Zoome speeches and Zoome events and so on. But in terms of thinking about how she campaign in twenty nineteen, she was fine in debates. She wasn't spectacular, she wasn't terrible, she didn't forget agency she's going to close or what have you. So I think generally watching her campaign is hard for me to think she's going to be spectacular, but also hard for me to think she will be terrible.
Now Perry walked through a lot of look. I mean, it's a historic moment, right? Like, we shouldn't discount the amount of enthusiasm that has. And I think things like putting, you know, the vice president on the ticket is good for more for party morale than it changes the outcome necessarily in any one given state. But I mean, I think the other thing that's a factor here, specific to Biden in particular, is if he wins, he's already the oldest nominee going into the election.
But if he wins, he'll be the oldest president. And so I think another factor in this VP stakes process has been thinking through, well, could this person be Biden's successor? Right. And I think that puts a lot of weight then on the decision, especially in regards to Harris, because as Perry was saying, you know, she she ran earlier this year and didn't win the nomination. And so I think she's obviously a proven capable politician. And the fact that she's won, what, one of the largest states in the U.S. and as a senator there.
But I think she still has a lot to prove in terms of how she will operate on that elevated national stage. And it's also with covid to it's just going to be so much harder to campaign like her and Biden aren't going to have the traditional stump speech, you know, tonight or anything celebrating the announcement. And I think that just complicates some of the rollout here.
I mean, one thing I don't know right now, but I think I'll know in 24 hours is how does the Trump campaign see her like they've had a hard time kind of hitting by it and they feel like he's older, he's considered a moderate, he's white, he's a man. He's been pretty good, I would say, by the end of this year and a half in running for president without necessarily, like, saying things that are easy to sort of he said a few things, unlike, you know, if you're if you don't want to vote for me, you're not black.
But he hasn't said a lot of things that are easy to attack him for being sort of ultra liberal or too liberal for versus my sense is like Harris is a senator from California. So I'm guessing her record has some things that the Trump campaign is going to seize on. And I don't know if it changes the results of the election, but I do think the Trump I expect Trump and Mike Pence to have new material to attack their opponents with. And I think that's an important part of the campaign.
And you've got to imagine Biden's staff has been is going to be up tonight thinking about what in her record they've already thinking about as when her record. Do we have to defend? What should we be nervous about? And how do we go about defending her record? And where are the weakest points? Yeah, that gets a significant question for the party and for the campaign. Sarah, you said that a VP selection can play into party unity. Where is Harris?
Within the. Spectrum of the Democratic Party, because in my recollection, she started running for president on quite a liberal platform, progressive platform, and then course corrected somewhat back towards the middle once it became clear that a Medicare for all that abolished private insurance was a no go for voters, seemingly. And I'm looking at the alerts that I got when his name was announced today. The New York Times called her a pragmatic moderate. You know, she has sometimes leaned into the idea that she was a prosecutor.
She has other times deemphasized that. So are there parts of the party on a ideological level that are happy or sad about this result?
Carus is not an ideological departure for Biden, right. If you'd really wanted to signal to Sanders or Warren supporters, he would have picked Warren. Right. That said, Harris is, you know, as the Times is saying in their push alert. Right. You know, a moderate candidate. But that's not really what tracks with her voting record. She's fairly liberal. If you look, you know, one metric for that is the W nominate scores.
We often will use that in articles to get a sense of a senator or representatives voting record. And she's pretty liberal. Now, it's true that she hasn't called, you know, to break up big tech in the way that Warren has, but she's not exactly Joe Manchin either. So it's not that Biden has made a safe pick, I would say, in Harris. But in terms of having overlap in policy goals and ideology, I think that, you know, even though they had that now infamous debate moment over segregation and the fact that Harris was bussed in to school, her and Biden actually in the end had the same policy, her stance on busing and integration in school.
So I do think there's a lot of similarity between the two. But the fact that she's so much younger than Biden, I think is probably the bigger thing at play here, because she could at least represent the new voice of the party. And to the extent that he's played that he's a transition candidate, it definitely could, I think, appoint Perry made in his article as well is I think we're moving away from a Democratic Party that has two men on the ticket, let alone two white men.
And I think Harris's nomination represents that. And that shift.
So is we're thinking about the party divided in maybe three ways, like there's an ideological ideological divide, which I think Sarah is right, that Harris is like left. I think she's like the fourth most liberal Senator Obama, quickly, something like this. She's in the top ten for sure. But the senator, the senators themselves often are elected statewide. So the like. There are a lot of Aoki's in the US Democratic caucus in the Senate in the first place.
So she's left, but not like Elizabeth Warren. Bernie left. So I think that's the way to think of her in terms so she balances terms ideology. Now, in terms of like age, even though Harris is young herself, the party is divided between this sort of like younger cohort that wants a lot more liberalism and this older cohort of voters who who don't. And in the polling I saw suggested Harris was often the favorite of Democratic voters over age 45.
So in some ways, she appealed to some of the same people. So she's sort of like Biden voters, second choice for president on some level as opposed to Sanders voters. She's like the third choice for president behind Warren to some extent as well. But the big thing in the room is that is in terms of she balanced the ticket for sure in terms of race, like you saw over the weekend, that there was a you know, Gretchen Whitmer, there was a there was some talk about Gretchen Whitmer, an interview with Biden.
And you saw this flurry of like letters and so on from like black elites in the Democratic Party saying basically, Joe Biden, you must you must pick a black person or we will be offended. And I think that's the part of the party that I've been a little surprised by. I'll be honest, like I'm old enough to remember when the Democrats were led by a black person because it was very recently. So I was a little surprised at how, you know, ferocious and strong the push has been and the demand has been along the lines of Joe Biden.
Black people supported you in the primary and basically you owe us for doing before that and therefore you must pick a black woman. So that's where the party unity really came in. I do think do I think black voters would have set out if Biden and you. No, I don't. But I think Biden would have had to deal with like a week or two of, like, criticism from like black elites, black columnists, black television host. And I think they avoided kind of elite criticism by picking a black person.
So when it comes to those three divides that you described in the party race, age and ideology, what parts of the party are maybe not satisfied by this pick? And is it up to a question of whether their votes are on the line or whether they might not turn out like you said, that she was the. Favorite for older people. Does this mean that young people are like, screw it, I'm out? Some of the data suggest that Biden is not beloved with people under under 30 in particular.
Does that mean they're going to stay home? I don't know the answer to the question, but that's where his weakness is like across the races under 30. The problem is, I don't. But Beyonce picking Sanders for vice president. There's not a lot of evidence that I see that there's anybody who's under 30 who be a viable VP pick who's popular. I don't think I think it would help if he picked AOC to get the under 30 vote. But you can imagine why they would create lots of other problems.
So I don't think there's anybody in the current list who he could have helped with. So I think you're going to see a lot of criticism from the left in the next couple of days like she's a prosecutor. People are going to pick apart the cases and argue she was too tough on crime, too tough on sort of minor crimes like this. There's a video of her talking about like enforcing truancy policy in San Francisco. I think that's where the criticisms that have come, people who and it's not going to be like cross racial like the black left, people who protested, people who are protesting now, like Kamala Harris is not a favorite of the people who emerge out of the George Floyd protests.
And those people are black often. So I think that's where the left, the Bernie Sanders people do not like her. That's where the criticism is going to come. And I think it's going to be sort of intense. And I think she's got to be thinking like, do you lose a lot of votes there? I don't know, because the end of the day, people who are very active in politics and very activist tend not to stay home election.
I think the question is more are their complaints strong? And one thing I was curious about, you know, what do you think about Trump's racial policies? He did sign a criminal justice reform bill that was pretty minor, but a bill in twenty eighteen. I wonder if Trump thinks about attacking Biden and Biden, Mr. Crime Bill and Harris, Mrs. Prosecutor, on the lines that, like, you know, they have been too harsh to black people.
It'll be a sort of a jujitsu move. But I wouldn't be surprised if Trump tried to make that.
Yeah, no, I to echo what Perry said. I mean, I think the left is going to be the most vocal critics of her. But even because we knew Biden was going to pick a woman. Right. That's all we knew until like an hour ago. But even if he had picked Warren, I was always a little unconvinced that that would have appeased or placated the left in the right way just because, like when you looked at her base in the primary, it was practically the same as Budha judges.
It was, you know, college educated, a little bit wealthier and white. And so I was never terribly convinced that someone like Warren would actually bring in the youth vote. And so then as Perry was saying, I wasn't sure who that would be. And I think there were other factors that Biden wanted to consider in his pick, which is why Harris was, I think, a smart choice for his campaign when it comes to the historical nature of this pick.
As I mentioned at the top, just the pick itself is historic. But also if Biden and Harris were now to win, it would surely be historic. It would be the first woman vice president, first black woman or Asian American to be selected as a running mate. That's something that we talk a lot about in the media. And it's something that got talked a lot about in the party. As you pointed out in your piece. And we've talked about on this podcast, James Clyburn very early on, you know, he was a big supporter of Joe Biden.
And along with supporting Joe Biden, he said you should pick a black woman as a running mate. Are voters enthusiastic about the history aspect of this? Like how does that play into electoral considerations or does it just shape the media narrative in a way that ultimately does affect voters decisions?
The polling I've seen suggests the number of people who say it was very like the polls asked, like, is it somewhat important or is it very important or is it? I've got an extremely important he picks a person of color, his running mate. I assume if you're a Democratic voter, you don't want to say you don't care at all. So it tends to be a lot of people say somewhat important, but the very or extremely important number was way below 50 percent.
And sometimes it's around like 20 or 30 that I saw among Democrats. It's not clear to me the Democratic voters and even black voters were clamoring for a person of color they want to win. Like that's been the whole dynamic. The result is that voters who are Democrats just want Trump out. And I don't think so. I think the historic nature I'm not saying it is a matter to people. I think people will be you know, I think Democrats, they prize being the diversity party.
I think they would prefer Kamala Harris to Wittmer in the sense that she's a minority. But I don't think they were like they really were invested in this the way that the media coverage. I think it's like not going to drive a lot of votes. And it's not something I don't think is a very a big priority to Democratic voters. I think that's right.
I think, though, you know, the fact that what was it? Biden was fifth in Iowa, fourth in New Hampshire, second in Nevada. So he makes a comeback there. But then because of Cliburn's, you know, endorsement before the primary. And that black voters in South Carolina didn't break with him. I think that's gotten baked in in a way that's almost outside of Biden's control. It's not reflective of, oh, this is what black Democrats want, but it's so tied up in this is how Biden got to where he is that I do think that that narrative takes on something else in terms of how the media covers it.
You mentioned to us towards the beginning, Sarah, but people are thinking a lot about twenty twenty four, twenty twenty eight, essentially just future election cycles. Is it fair at this point to say that whatever happens in the fall, Kamala Harris is the likeliest person to be the next Democratic nominee for president after Joe Biden? Easy question, sir.
Whatever happens in the fall? Well, I mean, it it really, I think, does depend on the outcome. Like, again, Perry had this great line in his piece where it's like if Biden loses Harris, his ambitions do take a hit write like ask Lieberman, ask Edwards, ask Palin. Like these are people who, you know, were the second on the ticket, but then haven't gone on to have a successful career trying to run again for president.
Right. That's not to say it can't be done.
You know, Richard Nixon ran for his party's nomination nomination twice, but I think it takes a hit. Right. OK, setting that aside, let's say Biden wins. Harris, I think then doesn't necessarily have an easier time. Even if Biden were to step down and say, you know what, I'm the transition candidate, I think of someone like Gerald Ford. Right. Like, yes, it was under different circumstances. Nixon had resigned in scandal, but he still had a very heated, contested primary to get where he was.
LBJ, you know, decided not to run for re-election at one point and then handed it to Humphrey. Right. Being V.P., don't get me wrong, helps you in terms of a national profile and running for president.
But it by no means paves the path for you or makes it that much easier. And I think it boils down to a very, you know, kind of laid out at the outset for us, too, is Harris wasn't a particularly effective candidate here in twenty twenty. She can change that now. You know, she obviously has had success in California and being a senator, but how will she, you know, change that narrative now going forward? That will be interesting.
Look at if Joe Biden and Harris win the election. Do I think Harris is the most likely if they win the election? I think is it what if they lose? No. If they win the election, is she the most likely Democratic? I mean, 24? I think the I think my answer that is way below 50 percent. I want to beat the field over her. But I think yes is the answer to the question. And the reason is I have learned my lesson.
I watch. I'm old enough to when Joe Biden ran for president 2008 because I covered him and he was a terrible candidate and he didn't do very well. But the sitting vice president or the one person who is vice president and who appeals to lots of black people, and I think Harris, in a race without Joe Biden in, it would probably be my favorite to win the South Carolina primary. Right. I think that seems, you know, seems true.
Running for vice president or something. Yeah, running it. Yeah. Running as the vice president. She's the yeah. I sort of think she is in a good position. And some of the people on, you know, follow who are more the left wing of the Democratic Party was sort of complaining today because they, they would they thought Wittmer was easy to beat, would have been easier for the left to be. But they're sort of nervous already in twenty twenty four.
If you're running like Elizabeth Warren or whoever the left person is in twenty, twenty four, if Harris is the vice president and the candidate of the black vote, which Biden was and Barack Obama was and Hillary was, I think that is a barrier of entry. I guess the reverse of that would be I'm uncomfortable with this kind of electability focus because I think it inevitably ends up as hurting people of color and female candidates. But the black voters in South Carolina in 2020, were they like Joe Biden?
But they also doubted America would be ready to vote for a black woman at the top of the ticket. So does Harris being vice president change that? I don't know. But I mean, but I still think I think in twenty twenty four, if Biden doesn't run, I think we're going to have I don't know who the equivalent of Biden is like. Let's say Terry McAuliffe is the best guess I have now. I certainly think there will be some like centrists, white man who runs in twenty, twenty four and runs the way Joe Biden does.
And I think that person will be a formidable candidate. Wrapping up here, you know, when Biden announced at that debate that he was going to pick a woman for vice president, he also said that he was going to pick a black woman as a Supreme Court justice. And at the time, people thought, well, OK, he's kind of like hedging his position in case he doesn't pick Kamala Harris because there was already so many expectations that he would pick Kamala Harris that he would definitely pick a black woman for the Supreme Court.
Now, he has obviously picked a black woman as vice presidential candidate. Do you think that still applies to his Supreme Court picks? And if so, people were thinking, well, Kamala Harris is the obvious pick there. Who's on that list now for Supreme Court next Supreme Court justice. We should probably look at who the appeals court judges who are black women are, I think that promise is still relevant. I don't expect him to break it. I guess I might name Sherrilyn Ifill as the head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund is a very prominent lawyer.
She's black. I do think that's one person who I think might be a name that I would look for. I do want to talk about that promise. I thought that promise was really important. And when I so so when Biden said, I'm going to pick a woman for vice president, a black woman for Supreme Court, I did think he was hinting that maybe, maybe, maybe I'm not picking Harris. What I think changed is the I think Klobuchar would have been a realistic pick and maybe in his top three, if not for the George Floyd protests, what happened there and the sense that she was was too lenient to the police in Minneapolis, which was the sort of the center of the racial issues here, I do think once may hit.
I don't know how realistic and I'm not sure I even agree with this. I'm not sure that racism or racial equality in America was more important after May 20 than before. But I do think that sort of shrunk his list down considerably. And I think that changed. Like when I look about this VP process, I felt like there was a pre May, twenty fifth period where there was like Klobuchar and Wittmer and Warren and Harris with a leakiness. And then there's a post that period which I think Susan Rice.
My sense is the runner up here was Susan Rice, and I don't know if the reporting will show that, but I think that we've really been sort of watching a witch, black woman, will he pick contests? And then Harris had a big advantage in that one. And I'm guessing he would not have made the black Skoda's pick promise had he known he would have been sort of boxed into a black woman for VP, as I sort of think he was now.
And I wonder, the one thing that came up consistently was that Biden's folks were nervous about picking someone for vice president who they thought would be angling for president from the jump. And it's hard to imagine Kamala Harris doesn't want to be president. It's not a theoretical issue here. So I do wonder if Biden you know, I wonder in two years if Biden tell Biden will feel like this pick. Like I do think my sense is that Biden preferred Susan Rice for governing.
But Harris made more sense for the campaign. And I wonder if some of the leaks that are coming out of this will reveal what I think was going on here.
Interesting. Interesting time indeed. Will tell Sarah. Any closing thoughts here?
Overall, I don't think the Harris pick is suddenly going to change the race overnight for Biden in terms of electoral odds. He still has a heavy lead right now against Trump. Right. But the fact that we're going into the conventions, all eyes will be on Harris during Wednesday when she gives her acceptance speech. I think given the factions of the party in which she could appeal to a little bit more liberal than Biden, but still moderate to some extent, a woman of color on the ticket, I think those are strong things in which Democratic Party wants to be moving.
And while that might not be easy to quantify, because another factor is this is a referendum election on Trump, well, how much of that had to do with Biden or Harris at all, really?
And just getting Trump out. But I think there's a lot of potential for her here moving forward on this ticket. All right. Let's leave it there. Thank you, Perry. Thanks, Galen. And thank you, Sarah. Thanks, Galen. My name is Galen Droog, and a Rothschild is in the virtual control room. You can get in touch by emailing us at podcasts at 538 dotcom. You can also, of course, tweet us with questions or comments.
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