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Our Very First 2020 Vice Presidential Draft

Welcome to FiveThirtyEight’s weekly politics chat. The transcript below has been lightly edited.


sarahf (Sarah Frostenson, politics editor): We’re back with a snake draft of 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, but this time with a twist — we’re picking the … VICE PRESIDENT.

I know — we don’t know who the presidential nominee is yet. But let’s face it: Even if the primary field grows to 20-plus Democrats, only one can win the nomination. So we might as well talk about who would make a desirable running mate (if not commander-in-chief). And before you scoff, a candidate’s choice for VP can signal a lot about what he or she prioritizes or considers to be a campaign weakness.

Remember, we’re trying to pick someone who’d make a good second-in-command, although our picks tend to diminish in quality as the rounds wear on. The rules are as follows: Four rounds, so between the four of us, 16 potential 2020 Democratic veeps. Let’s determine the order. (I’m going to write our names on paper and recruit someone in the office to draw them out of a hat while Nate orders some Chinese takeout.)

natesilver (Nate Silver, editor in chief): I’m pretty excited about this, I gotta say.

(The VP draft, not just the Chinese food.)

geoffrey.skelley (Geoffrey Skelley, elections analyst): All about a well-balanced meal, or presidential ticket.

sarahf: The lineup:

  1. Clare
  2. Nate
  3. Geoff
  4. Sarah

natesilver: Pretty happy with the No. 2 pick here.

sarahf: I can’t believe I have to go twice in a row. I hate 🐍 drafts. Anyway, get us started, Clare!

clare.malone (Clare Malone, senior political writer): mmmmk

Cory Booker

natesilver: bad pick

sarahf: good pick

clare.malone: Here’s my reasoning:

I’m going to operate for a moment on the premise that the “electability” factor that Democratic primary voters say they are going for in 2020 is a stand-in for a centrist-type candidate, and probably a white person. Under those conditions, a white candidate would want to pick Booker for his identity and ability to appeal to black voters, which is a big part of the Democratic primary electorate. But Booker also appeals to the establishment wings of the party and has the sort of resume where you wouldn’t mind setting him up to run for president someday in the future, but with a West Wing office.

geoffrey.skelley: Booker would have been my first pick, too.

sarahf: Still think it’s a bad pick, Nate?

clare.malone: Yes, he does on principle, which I respect.

natesilver: There are two obvious picks, and Booker was maybe the third-best pick after those two obvious ones.

sarahf: Well, then. I don’t suppose I should delay the draft any longer.

You’re up, Nate!

clare.malone: I’m on tenterhooks, with bated breath, etc.

natesilver: I’m going with … Robert (“Beto”) O’Rourke.

clare.malone: bad pick

(I, too, have my principles.)

natesilver: No, it’s a great pick.

geoffrey.skelley: You guys are on a roll.

natesilver: Here’s why: 1) There’s about a 55 percent chance (per Betfair) that the nominee will not be a white dude. 2) If the nominee is not a white dude, the VP probably will be a white dude. 3) The other white dudes are too old (Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders) or would cost Democrats a Senate seat (Sherrod Brown). Hence, Beto.

sarahf: Hmm, I think Beto’s lack of resume disqualifies him (section IV in this article) as VP material, but not necessarily for a presidential run because in that case, charisma matters more than experience.

clare.malone: Nate is just coming at the likelihood of who will be at the top of the ticket differently than I am.

O’Rourke is the right pick if you’re doing Nate’s reasoning of a minority candidate being the nominee.

In that case, O’Rourke is popular, white and young, which would make for a good VP.

natesilver: See, I thought the lack of a resume would make him even more qualified to be VP since it’s a job where you don’t really do anything. He could go around the country eating ice cream and staying at weird motels and blogging about it.

sarahf: Maybe, but I’d argue that VPs have historically been a pretty overqualified bunch.

clare.malone: What do you think is his motel chain of choice?

natesilver: Lol, Beto doesn’t stay at chains, Clare!

clare.malone: You don’t think he’s racking up Holiday Inn Express points?

geoffrey.skelley: A corollary to the craft beer track is the local motel track.

clare.malone: (I love a Holiday Inn, by the way. Always my preference on the road. As is McDonald’s over Burger King.)

BRAND LOYALTY IS IMPORTANT AS AN AMERICAN

sarahf: OK, Geoff, take it away with pick No. 3.

geoffrey.skelley: I made up a little rubric for leading presidential contenders to get a rough calculation of who might best balance a ticket or meet some missing criteria for the major contenders. And this will shake things up, but I think Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth best hits the mark of the remaining options out there.

sarahf: Interesting pick.

Do tell us more.

natesilver: “Interesting” is a euphemism for “bad” where I come from.

geoffrey.skelley: She’s got one hell of a story.

She’s the first disabled congresswoman, having lost both of her legs while serving in Iraq as a helicopter pilot. And she is someone of mixed ethnicity from the Midwest.

Outside of Biden, I’m not really sure of the foreign policy credentials of any of the other Democratic presidential candidates. Booker is on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, but Duckworth’s military experience would be an asset.

clare.malone: I’m going to offend Foggy Bottom here and say that people don’t care about foreign policy all that much anymore. 😬

geoffrey.skelley: I think Duckworth could be a presidential candidate someday if she doesn’t get involved in 2020.

natesilver: She was born in Thailand, to a U.S. citizen, so there would probably be debate about her eligibility, a la Ted Cruz.

And I did have her on my list, as I think she’s one of the more plausible nonpresidential contenders who could become VP.

But … like … the fact that she hasn’t expressed any interest in the presidency — doesn’t that also mean she might not want the vice presidency?

sarahf: Her military background is definitely a win for Democrats, but like Nate said, I’m not sure she wants so high-profile of a gig.

clare.malone: She also just had a baby, which might have something to do with not wanting to run right now.

sarahf: OK, I’m here with picks 4 and 5! And I think you all will agree I have some very good picks.

First of all, Vice President Julian Castro.

natesilver: Not bad.

One of my top 2 is still on the board, though.

sarahf: I’m a little surprised no one has claimed him, but my thought is that Castro already has the grooming as a former Cabinet secretary. And I think his message as a Latino American challenging Trump is powerful.

That said, I don’t think it’s powerful enough to win him the nomination. (I just don’t think he has enough name recognition.)

geoffrey.skelley: I wrote Castro’s theory of the case and agree there’s definitely an “I’m running for VP” vibe.

clare.malone: He seems sort of a dull penny in a race filled with shiny pennies.

natesilver: But sometimes that’s what candidates are going for. Tim Kaine is in the “dull penny” bucket. Mike Pence, too.

clare.malone: I agree he has experience and the resume, but there are lots of other people who might make a more interesting choice with similar resumes.

And this is true, Nate, but are we in that era?

geoffrey.skelley: Castro would probably be a decent choice for Biden, Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

natesilver: Democrats could also talk themselves into thinking they need to double-down on the Hispanic vote.

Maybe Sanders or Warren, Geoffrey. Biden might need to pick someone who is more identifiably to his left?

geoffrey.skelley: Fair point regarding ideology — where Castro stands on a number of issues is a big unknown.

The Electoral College would also complicate — if not exclude — a Castro choice if O’Rourke were to become the nominee.1

sarahf: Guess that means no O’Rourke-Castro ticket in our future.

But OK, my next pick is Amy Klobuchar.

geoffrey.skelley: arrrrgh

Probably could’ve waited on Duckworth and taken Klobuchar, but the first pick is fun and splashy.

sarahf: Klobuchar’s Midwestern chops make her desirable electorally.

And with four women already among the major candidates, if a woman is not at the top of the ticket, she needs to be in the second spot.

natesilver: My suppositions are that 1) there will not be two women on the ticket; 2) there will not be two people of color on the ticket; and 3) there will not be two white men on the ticket.

But you could have a white man and a nonwhite man, e.g. Biden and Booker.

Or a white man and a white woman, e.g. Beto and Klobuchar.

sarahf: In which case, Nate’s first scenario could render my pick useless, but I’m not so sure a woman will win the top spot.

Also, at this stage Klobuchar is the highest-profile “moderate” to throw her hat in the ring, which could help someone like Kamala Harris or Sanders if they were to win the nomination, although I probably agree with Nate that two women on the ticket is not going to happen.

natesilver: Klobuchar definitely has the electability thing going for her, she’s not too old, and no big issues re: her qualifications.

sarahf: OK, remind me how snake drafts work … Geoff is up again?

geoffrey.skelley: This is kind of tough — I have a pick in mind, but I think she’s unlikely to take the No. 2 slot, so I’ll wait. So I’m going with Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet instead.

natesilver: ehhhhh

I guess he’s in the Kaine category of nonshiny white dude.

sarahf: 😴 But TBF, there are several possible nominees that fall into this category.

geoffrey.skelley: If the nominee is a woman and/or a minority, he’s a sort of bland Kaine-esque pick that might be needed. He hails from a battleground state, is Western and went viral recently with his floor speech during the government shutdown. Who knows, he might even be eying an under-the-radar presidential bid.

clare.malone: dull penny

But I guess a dull penny is still legal tender.

natesilver: Is Colorado really a battleground state anymore? Probably not with Trump on the ballot.

clare.malone: My favorite part of that Bennet floor speech was how uncomfortable Alabama Sen. Doug Jones looked to be caught on camera sitting next to the rant.

geoffrey.skelley: I get the dull penny point, but it’s also worth remembering that the presidential nominee is NOT going to want someone who outshines them.

sarahf: Fair.

natesilver: Is it my pick now? One of my top two — the one who isn’t Beto — is still on the board.

sarahf: Well then, take ’em off, Nate. Who is it!?!?

natesilver: Kamala Harris

clare.malone: fuck

You stole my pick.

And it doesn’t even go with your theory!

Not fair.

It goes with MY theory.

geoffrey.skelley: Well, I was tempted to take her both times. But I don’t think she’ll take it unless it’s as Biden’s VP. She can camp out in that California Senate seat, which isn’t up again until 2022, and wait for another chance in 2024 or 2028.

natesilver: I mean — I said earlier there’s a 55 percent chance that the nominee isn’t a white dude. That means there’s a 45 percent chance that it will be a white dude.

clare.malone: Wait, is that how percentages work??

natesilver: Clare, the way percentages work is that if you say something has a 29 percent chance of happening, that actually means there is a 0 percent chance.

clare.malone: ahhhh

natesilver: Biden-Harris is a very natural pairing, especially since Biden will have to shore up support on his left.

Beto-Harris could also work. It’s a bit more of a Clinton-Gore dynamic.

The thing is, though, that we could also very easily wind up with an unnatural arrangement where a deal is brokered on the convention floor.

So I like Harris’s VP chances partly because I like her presidential chances to win, but also to be one of the runners-up if she doesn’t.

clare.malone: OK, I’m up.

Stacey Abrams.

natesilver: Hmm

clare.malone: Since Nate stole my pick for my theory of the case for this chat — that the top of the ticket will probably be white — I’m going with Abrams as a popular black candidate who’s a rising political star.

Although I know there’s buzz about her running for the Senate.

natesilver: “Hmm” isn’t passive-aggressive like “interesting.” I’m generally hmm-ing about whether I like the pick.

clare.malone: But Abrams would be a really interesting, bold move for whomever the nominee ends up being. And Abrams would get a huge boost in national profile.

sarahf: Plus, even though VPs don’t necessarily help the ticket carry their home state, it could be an interesting move for Democrats to pick someone who hails from the Deep South.

geoffrey.skelley: Beto-Abrams: Losing to Win.

natesilver: But are there going to be questions about her experience level? Especially since a black woman isn’t likely to get the benefit of the doubt?

clare.malone: Definitely a criticism that would be leveled.

Then again, maybe we are in the midst of busting up the experience paradigm in presidential politics.

natesilver: Last full round, then a lightning round?

We used to go six rounds back in my day.

But we can treat this as a semi-lightning round, a “thunder round,” if you will.

OK, Clare, we need another pick from you.

clare.malone: I know, Nate. I’m thinking.

geoffrey.skelley: Lot of boring white guys out there.

clare.malone: I’m going to switch my theory of the case midround and operate with the theory that a minority will be at the top of the ticket, so I’m going with the wunderkind of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg.

A lot of the top tier people are taken, but he’d be an interesting Midwestern pick … despite his experience problem, obviously.

geoffrey.skelley: For what it’s worth, Abrams has more experience than Buttigieg — she served in the Georgia House of Representatives for about 10 years and was that body’s minority leader more than half that time. Buttigieg has been mayor of South Bend, Indiana, for seven years.

clare.malone: Well, she’s been picked and the pickings are slim!

sarahf: Potential VPs like Buttigieg, Abrams and Beto are all challenging my notion of the kind of experience a VP should have as an elder statesman or stateswoman.

clare.malone: Brown is someone you’d WANT to pick here, but the possibility of losing the Senate seat is obviously a big problem.

natesilver: So … uhhh … do we think a presidential candidate is going to feel safe picking a gay/lesbian/bi VP candidate?

The country is progressive, but it isn’t that progressive.

This is also relevant to Tammy Baldwin and Kyrsten Sinema, both of whom would also be interesting choices.

clare.malone: Yeah, Tammy Baldwin is maybe a better choice, actually.

And yes, Nate, that’s an open question for sure.

natesilver: OK, my pick?

sarahf: Yup.

natesilver: I am going with …. Pennsylvania Sen. Robert “Bob” Casey Jr.

sarahf: Deep cut.

natesilver: From a crucial swing state, but a Democratic governor would pick his replacement.

He also seemed to at least flirt with the idea of running for president, so he’d probably be interested.

geoffrey.skelley: Abortion politics make him a problematic pick, although the geography makes perfect sense.

And Tim Kaine’s personal pro-life position didn’t foul up Hillary Clinton, so maybe Casey would work for someone like Harris, too.

natesilver: I do agree the abortion thing could be an issue, although his record has shifted to the left over the years.

And he’d be the choice of a candidate who wanted to pivot to the center — someone like Warren. The Harris-Casey fit seems weird, but in theory that could work, too.

Booker-Casey is also not crazy.

geoffrey.skelley: All right. I’ve got some swing state women in mind — I’m going with Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada.

natesilver: Very deep cut.

geoffrey.skelley: Latina from a battleground state with a Democratic governor who could appoint her replacement.

natesilver: Yeah, it all makes sense.

geoffrey.skelley: Not a well-known name, but again whoever is at the top of the ticket may not want a high-profile pick. Instead, he or she may be looking for balance.

natesilver: O’Rourke-Cortez Masto really rolls off the tongue

sarahf: OK, I’m up. One “thunder pick” and then a “lightning pick” to take us home.

My thunder pick is: Sherrod Brown despite reservations about picking him earlier.

natesilver: Pretty good for the Thunder round.

Sorry, thunder.

(Reading too much NBA stuff so was thinking about the Oklahoma City Thunder.)

sarahf: He has the policy chops and geographical pull a ticket might need — Senate seat be damned.

geoffrey.skelley: He would make a lot of sense for many candidates.

natesilver: Brown has a real crossover appeal between the left and the “beer track” that makes him very interesting.

But it would help if Ohio weren’t soooo far gone as a swing state, or seemingly so.

Like, I think he’d put Ohio “in play” but not necessarily make the Democrat the favorite there in a 50-50 national race.

sarahf: ⚡️⚡⚡ LIGHTNING ROUND ⚡⚡⚡

Gavin Fucking Newsom

natesilver: 🙊

geoffrey.skelley: Say wut.

sarahf: Look, he’s got the ambition: two-term mayor of San Francisco before a quick stint as California’s lieutenant governor. And now he’s the governor of California! Depending on the tone Democrats want to strike in opposing Trump, he could be a formidable foe.

That said, I freely admit he’s a wild card. And a bit of a trollish pick from me.

clare.malone: HAHAHAHAHAHAHA

I have to say something here.

The recent New Yorker profile of him was fucking amazing

sarahf: It was, Clare. And may have inspired my choice.

clare.malone: I have very rarely seen the bald insecurities of a politician so perfectly laid out.

sarahf: But enough of my nonsense. You’re up, Geoff.

geoffrey.skelley: Sticking with Tammys, I’ll take Sen. Baldwin of Wisconsin.

sarahf: Nice. She’d made my list before I went renegade.

geoffrey.skelley: She said she isn’t interested in running for president, but maybe the VP slot? She would be a battleground senator from the Midwest, and as one of the most liberal senators, she’d be a friendly pick on the left of the party.

sarahf: Democrats are going to need that Midwestern cred.

natesilver: Clare claims she can predict my pick.

clare.malone: I think I know…

natesilver: It’s a pretty boring pick.

Kirsten Gillibrand.

clare.malone: booo

Not who I thought.

natesilver: Gillibrand’s just … I mean, out of the various presidential contenders who aren’t too old, she was the one left standing.

geoffrey.skelley: And she’d take it, too, I suspect. Unlike some of the others.

natesilver: Which is a bit damning with faint praise. But she’s theoretically got appeal to different parts of the Democratic base. She’ll probably raise a lot of money.

clare.malone: That’s a BIG thing, I think.

Very useful to have that fundraising know-how around.

natesilver: She has to perform reasonably well in the primaries. Have a “surge” at some point, even if she doesn’t win any states. If she totally flames out, I don’t think it works.

clare.malone: OK, I’m going to pick who I thought Nate was going to pick because I just want to.

natesilver: Haha, OK. I’m wondering if you’re going to pick who I thought you’d think I’d pick.

clare.malone:

Doug Jones.

Nate used to LOVE talking about Doug Jones as a presidential nominee.

And Jones is a moderate, up for a tough re-elect in 2020.

Why the heck not!

geoffrey.skelley: It’s going to be hard for him to hold on as a red state Democratic senator, so why not?

natesilver: Haha, I thought you’d pick Dougie J.

He’s a classic Nate last-round pick.

clare.malone: Yes, he is.

natesilver: And I was probably going to take him if Gillibrand weren’t still on the board.

clare.malone: In that case, I feel somewhat vindicated.

sarahf: A final look at our VP-2020 teams. Tweet at us whose lineup you like best:

2020 Democratic vice presidential draft

February 2019

Round Clare Nate Geoff Sarah
1 Cory Booker Beto O’Rourke Tammy Duckworth Julian Castro
2 Stacey Abrams Kamala Harris Michael Bennet Amy Klobuchar
3 Pete Buttigieg Bob Casey Jr. Catherine Cortez Masto Sherrod Brown
4 Doug Jones Kirsten Gillibrand Tammy Baldwin Gavin Newsom


Footnotes

  1. Electors get to cast one vote for president and one vote for vice president. But they can’t vote for two candidates from their own state, so an elector from Texas couldn’t cast both a presidential vote for O’Rourke and a vice presidential vote for Castro. That would leave some Texas electoral votes in doubt.

Nate Silver is the founder and editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.

Clare Malone is a senior political writer for FiveThirtyEight.

Geoffrey Skelley is an elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.

Sarah Frostenson is FiveThirtyEight’s politics editor.

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