The hottest spectator sport in America: Watching Biden choose a running mate

The former vice president knows what the political sages say about that: “First, do no harm.”

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Former Vice President Joe Biden

The selection of a running mate is a critical decision for presidential candidate Joe Biden

Rebecca Blackwell/AP

Who needs basketball, baseball or all our other beloved, now-banished, spectator sports?

America’s vice presidential sweepstakes is the hottest sport of the moment (except maybe ping-pong). Joe Biden, the presumptive 2020 Democratic presidential nominee, will soon choose a running mate. It is the most crucial decision he will make in the campaign to defeat President Donald J. Trump (except maybe leaving his basement).

The former vice president is deep into an intense, multipronged vetting process with at least 13 women reportedly in the mix. They represent a diverse and wide swath of America.

When registered voters nationwide were asked, “Who?,” no clear favorite emerged, according to a New York Times/Siena College poll released Friday.

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While a slew of Democratic Party influencers is calling on Biden to pick an African American, four in five registered voters said “race should not be a factor in his decision,” the Times reports. That included three quarters of Black voters polled and more than 8 in 10 white and Hispanic voters.

Only a few of those reportedly under consideration have “prominent national profiles,” the Times noted. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, who competed with Biden for the nomination, is known to 86% of voters and is “seen favorably” by 45% of those surveyed. Kamala Harris, the California senator and another former presidential competitor, was known to 74% of the voters; 40% had a favorable impression.

Down on the list, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, known to 36% of voters, our own U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, known to 28%, and Florida U.S. Rep. Val Demings, with 23%.

Duckworth is a popular Iraq veteran and Purple Heart recipient. Since making it into consideration, Duckworth has been hitting the talk shows, ramping up her profile and recently enjoyed a favorable profile in The New York Times.

A friend from Florida recently asked me, “Who’s that Thai woman from Michigan?” If name recognition matters, she is in trouble.

Could Biden choose an unknown wild card to generate excitement and media coverage, in the John McCain/Sarah Palin mode? Given how well that worked out, highly unlikely.

One brand-new entry intrigues me. I have followed U.S. Rep. Karen Bass’ career since I profiled her years ago, as she mounted her 2008 bid for speaker of the California Assembly, to become the first African American woman in the nation to lead a legislative body. Bass is a no-nonsense, feet-on-the ground legislator who knows how to work the hustings. She is now in her fifth term representing a Los Angeles district and chairs the Congressional Black Caucus.

Why did her name pop up so late in the VP game? Perhaps some in Biden’s camp want to make Harris nervous about another contender in her own back yard.

At a time when Black lives might finally matter, Harris still stands out. She can eloquently and resolutely speak out for women and people of color, those hit hardest by the vast array of racial and social injustices plaguing America. The former California attorney general and federal prosecutor is best equipped to slash and burn through Donald Trump’s lies.

Biden is one of a handful of people in the world who truly knows the VP game. Those who served in that role, and those who chose them.

He knows what the wise political sages say. When making a big decision in politics, the wise sages say, “Do no harm.”

Follow Laura S. Washington on Twitter @MediaDervish. She is a columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times and a political analyst for ABC 7-Chicago.

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