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How it happened: Inside Biden's search for a running mate

Joe Biden (left) and Kamala Harris. AP images.

Joe Biden's selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate capped a monthslong process. Biden started with a list of roughly 20 contenders, including governors, senators, mayor, House members and other Democratic leaders.

Posted: Aug 12, 2020 6:33 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — Gretchen Whitmer wanted out.

The Michigan governor had caught the interest of Joe Biden and his vice presidential vetting committee, who were drawn to her prominence in a crucial battleground state and her aggressive response to the coronavirus outbreak there. But by late spring, the nation was in the midst of a reckoning over race and inequality following the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes.

Whitmer sent word to Biden’s team that while she was flattered, she no longer wanted to be considered for the running mate slot, according to a high-ranking Democrat familiar with the process. She recommended Biden pick a Black woman.

But Biden still wanted Whitmer in the mix, and he personally called her in mid-June to ask if she would continue on to the second, more intensive round of vetting, according to the official. Whitmer agreed.

But forces in the country, and within the Democratic Party, were indeed pushing Biden toward a history-making pick. As protests over the death of Floyd and other Black Americans filled the streets across the country, an array of Democrats urged Biden to put a Black woman on the ticket — a nod to this moment in the nation’s history, to the critical role Black voters played in Biden’s ascent to the Democratic nomination, and to their vital importance in his general election campaign against President Donald Trump.

On Tuesday, Biden tapped California Sen. Kamala Harris to be his running mate, making her the first Black woman to serve on a major party presidential ticket. This account of how he made that decision, the most important of his political career, is based on interviews with 10 people with direct knowledge of the vetting and selection process. Most spoke on condition of anonymity to disclose private conversations and deliberations.

___

Biden, well aware of the potential pitfalls of being a 77-year-old white male standard-bearer of a party increasingly comprised of women, people of color and young voters, made clear even before he had clinched the Democratic nomination that his running mate would be a woman.

His initial list of possible contenders was sprawling: roughly 20 governors, senators, congresswomen, mayors and other Democratic stalwarts. They were young and old; Black, Hispanic, white, Asian; straight and gay. Some, including Harris, had competed against Biden for the Democratic nomination.

From the start, some Biden advisers saw Harris as a logical choice. She was among the party’s most popular figures, a deft debater and a fundraising juggernaut. She had been thoroughly vetted during her own campaign and Biden’s team expected there would be few surprises if she was the pick.

Indeed, Harris’ potential downsides were well-known to Biden advisers. Her record as a prosecutor in California was already viewed skeptically by some younger Democrats during the primary and would face even more scrutiny against the backdrop of a national debate over inequality in the criminal justice system.

There were also nagging questions about Harris’ most high-profile moment of the primary campaign — a harsh and deeply personal broadside against Biden over his position on school busing in the 1970s. Though Biden would later brush the moment aside as campaign tactics, the attack was said to have stunned the former vice president, who had considered his relationship with Harris strong. It also raised concern among a small cadre of Biden advisers that Harris would be eyeing the Oval Office herself from the start, a particular worry given that Biden has not firmly committed to serving two terms if elected in November.

And so, as spring turned to summer, a string of other Black women would take a turn in the spotlight as Biden weighed his options. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Florida Rep. Val Demings impressed Biden’s team with their leadership during the police brutality protests.

Some House Democrats — including South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, a close Biden confidant — advocated for Rep. Karen Bass, a Californian who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus. Biden also took a strong interest in Susan Rice, with whom he worked closely when she served in the White House as President Barack Obama’s national security adviser.

The leading contenders, who also included Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, submitted reams of financial records, texts of speeches and other personal information. Biden’s selection team canvassed a vast array of Democrats to ask for their views on the candidates’ temperament and families, then grilled the candidates on much of the same.

Biden, too, regularly discussed his potential pick with his sprawling network of friends and advisers. He used Obama in particular as a sounding board, though confidants to both men say the former president was careful not to tip his hand in those conversations as to whom he preferred.

But in private, Obama suggested to others that he believed Harris was the favorite.

___

In one of Harris’ conversations with the vetting committee, Chris Dodd — a longtime Biden friend who served alongside him in the Senate — asked if she had remorse for her debate stage attack on his busing record.

Harris, as she had previously done so publicly, brushed it aside as simply politics. Dodd, a member of the running mate selection committee, was put off and let that be known. The incident was first reported by Politico and confirmed to The Associated Press by a person with direct knowledge.

The public disclosure of Dodd’s comments angered some of the highest-ranking women on Biden’s campaign team. Some of Harris’ allies also mobilized to defend her, including California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, who organized a call with Biden’s vetting team about two weeks ago to assuage any doubts about whether the senator was the right choice for the ticket.

On the 45-minute call, Kounalakis and other statewide officials, labor and business leaders took turns sharing their personal histories with Harris and their impressions of her as a leader.

“Speaking out as strongly as we did, collectively, helped them understand how supported she is and why,” Kounalakis said on Tuesday.

The call ended with Biden’s vetting team telling the Harris supporters that they had all recommended her as one of the top candidates for the job.

___

The pandemic had largely grounded Biden in his home state of Delaware throughout the summer, and also upended some of the ways he had expected to build a rapport with the running-mate contenders. There were no joint rallies or carefully orchestrated, yet casual-looking, outings to local restaurants in battleground states. Biden was also accepting few in-person visitors at his home.

But he did want to speak one-on-one with the women who had made it through the vetting process and interviews with his selection committee. He would hold conversations with 11 women in the final nine days before he made his pick — a mixture of in-person meetings and video teleconferences.

Whitmer was among those who flew to Delaware for an in-person audience. She boarded a private plane in Lansing, Michigan, on Aug. 2, spending just a few hours on the ground before returning to Michigan.

Rice, who had perhaps the closest personal relationship with Biden of all the contenders, spoke twice with Biden in recent days. Duckworth also had a formal interview over the weekend, as did Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, who was initially viewed as a leading contender for the job.

On Tuesday, in the hours before his campaign announced Harris as the pick, Biden would call each of those women to inform them that they had not been selected. Warren, whose relationship with Biden has deepened in recent months through regular policy discussions, was also among those to receive a personal call from the former vice president.

In some of the conversations, Biden left open an opportunity. Please consider joining me in another role in the administration, he said.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 453808

Reported Deaths: 6131
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin941381495
Ramsey40509748
Dakota33463350
Anoka31283368
Washington20471234
Stearns18051190
St. Louis13916247
Scott1213098
Wright11756107
Olmsted1073975
Sherburne827868
Carver703139
Clay657684
Rice621170
Kandiyohi556772
Blue Earth546833
Crow Wing489178
Otter Tail463167
Chisago458138
Benton423288
Winona394248
Douglas378466
Nobles374447
Mower372129
Goodhue355362
Polk330660
McLeod327947
Beltrami315048
Morrison314145
Lyon304738
Becker288839
Itasca287143
Isanti284842
Carlton283543
Steele278510
Pine269614
Freeborn253623
Todd233130
Nicollet227938
Brown217434
Mille Lacs215045
Le Sueur213516
Cass210524
Meeker201233
Waseca192816
Wabasha17413
Martin171726
Roseau166317
Hubbard150238
Redwood141027
Houston139814
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Renville138040
Chippewa132332
Cottonwood128918
Fillmore12646
Wadena120218
Rock111912
Aitkin111233
Sibley10947
Faribault108816
Watonwan10688
Pennington101016
Kanabec99318
Pipestone96423
Yellow Medicine94916
Murray9096
Jackson87310
Swift84418
Pope7465
Stevens7078
Marshall70315
Clearwater68714
Lake66315
Lac qui Parle66016
Wilkin6349
Koochiching60310
Lincoln4892
Big Stone4693
Unassigned44568
Grant4388
Norman4258
Mahnomen4147
Kittson37320
Red Lake3204
Traverse2613
Lake of the Woods1961
Cook1150

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 310915

Reported Deaths: 4432
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk46760465
Linn18037279
Scott15838172
Black Hawk14076243
Woodbury13111181
Johnson1228552
Dubuque11615159
Pottawattamie9146115
Dallas907772
Story879438
Cerro Gordo472572
Webster472077
Sioux459657
Warren458039
Clinton457768
Marshall430762
Buena Vista396230
Muscatine395878
Des Moines394943
Plymouth352870
Wapello349898
Jasper331659
Lee324132
Marion308953
Jones274650
Henry267331
Carroll258234
Bremer249848
Crawford234324
Washington222933
Boone222717
Benton213050
Mahaska197637
Jackson194932
Tama190159
Dickinson188329
Kossuth178544
Delaware176036
Clay172021
Wright166624
Fayette165924
Hamilton162230
Buchanan162024
Winneshiek160820
Harrison158162
Hardin156931
Cedar155519
Clayton153849
Butler150924
Page146415
Floyd141436
Cherokee140027
Mills138517
Lyon137533
Poweshiek134924
Hancock131524
Allamakee130930
Iowa127722
Madison123610
Calhoun12349
Grundy122528
Jefferson122125
Winnebago121729
Mitchell116837
Louisa116230
Cass114843
Chickasaw113712
Appanoose112440
Sac112015
Emmet111232
Union111023
Humboldt106619
Shelby105427
Guthrie104224
Franklin103318
Unassigned10110
Palo Alto91711
Montgomery88324
Keokuk86326
Howard85519
Monroe82220
Clarke8108
Pocahontas78111
Ida75930
Davis70121
Greene6977
Adair69620
Monona67018
Lucas66610
Osceola64711
Worth6184
Taylor5999
Fremont5246
Van Buren50215
Decatur4964
Ringgold44811
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Wayne41921
Adams2993
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