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Spotlight on Joe Biden as his VP reveal nears

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With the White House campaign heading into its coronavirus-hobbled home stretch, Democratic nominee Joe Biden is preparing to announce his vice-presidential running mate, a woman likely to play an outsize role in a new administration.

[WASHINGTON] With the White House campaign heading into its coronavirus-hobbled home stretch, Democratic nominee Joe Biden is preparing to announce his vice-presidential running mate, a woman likely to play an outsize role in a new administration.

Some 100 days before his showdown with President Donald Trump, Mr Biden, himself a former vice-president, is juggling competing pressures as he narrows his choice.

The big reveal - expected in early August, weeks before a mostly virtual Democratic National Convention - could be seen as more consequential this year given that Mr Biden reportedly said he views himself as a "transition candidate" who could stock his administration with a new generation of leaders.

Mr Biden, 77, would be the oldest person ever elected president. He has said he would not serve a second term if his mental or physical health declined, fuelling speculation that his running mate would likely top the ticket in 2024.

He has publicly committed to choosing a woman, and with recent protests against racial injustice following the police killing of George Floyd, many Democrats are calling on Mr Biden to name an African American.

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Will he pick Senator Kamala Harris or former national security adviser Susan Rice, both 55, as a nod to a black constituency crucial to his primary victory and the Democratic Party?

Does he elevate Senator Elizabeth Warren as a way to energise the party's progressive wing, even though at age 71 she is hardly seen as the face of a new generation?

Or does Mr Biden choose Asian American Tammy Duckworth, 52, the war-hero-turned-US-senator who could appeal to frustrated Republicans, former Trump supporters or independents looking for a moderate alternative?

Complicating matters, the coronavirus pandemic that has killed 145,000 Americans will certainly deny Mr Biden a splashy in-person running mate rollout and threatens to remain a number one priority for the White House next year.

"He has to make choices, and all of the arguments and all of the pressures don't point in the same direction," Joel Goldstein, a vice-presidential scholar at Saint Louis University School of Law, told AFP Friday.

"My guess is that Biden doesn't know who he's going to pick yet," the professor said in an interview.

"The threshold question has to be: are they ready to perform on the national stage?"

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Mr Biden leads Mr Trump in national polling as well as in key swing states like Florida, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Mr Goldstein says that Mr Biden faces less pressure to reshuffle the campaign with a game-changing pick, as Republican John McCain did in 2008 with Sarah Palin, a little-known Alaska governor who fired up conservatives, but flopped on the national stage.

If history is a guide, the senators in the so-called veepstakes are in prime position, as 15 of the last 18 Democratic running mates have been sitting senators, including Mr Biden in 2008.

But other contenders are holding firm.

Congresswoman Val Demings, who helped prosecute impeachment charges against Mr Trump in January, was Orlando's first black female police chief.

House Democrat Karen Bass, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, is in the mix along with Keisha Lance Bottoms, the Atlanta mayor who contracted Covid-19 in early July.

Two Hispanic women are being discussed as prospective picks too: New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and Nevada's Catherine Cortez Masto, the first Latina ever elected to the US Senate.

Mr Biden told CBS News in June that his wingwoman must be "totally sympatico" with him in terms of political philosophy, but also someone who would be "ready to be president on day one". 

Experts say that, given the tumultuous nature of Mr Trump's presidency, and the intensity of the coronavirus pandemic, they are expecting a conventional, experienced running mate.

"I think that for Biden, readiness has to be numero uno," Alyssa Mastromonaco, a White House deputy chief of staff under Barack Obama, said in a July podcast.

"I don't think he has the luxury of making a real outside-the-box pick here."

Mr Goldstein said that while differences exist between Mr Biden and potential running mates like Ms Warren, who is more progressive on health care and climate change, such distinctions pale when compared to Mr Biden versus Mr Trump.

In the end, Mr Biden's choice is unlikely to shift masses of voters.

But for someone "at the margins", or who prefers a Republican agenda but can not stomach another four years of Mr Trump, Mr Goldstein said, "if Biden picks someone who is reassuring to them, they might say I've got to go with Biden". 

AFP

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