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Gayest Cabinet Ever!!

History was made with the announcement that Pete Buttigieg will be nominated as the Secretary of Transportation in the upcoming Biden administration. This is the first time an openly LGBT person will be in a Senate-confirmed cabinet pick. (If you note that I am choosing my words carefully here, it’s became FDR’s Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, was quietly bisexual. Meanwhile, one of Trump’s appointments is technically of cabinet rank, although they are not really “secretary” of anything and they did not require senate approval.)

All this makes me wonder– could I construct an entirely LGBTQ cabinet? Let’s see….

  • Secretary of State: Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons, Randy W. Berry
  • Secretary of Treasury: President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Raphael Bostic
  • Secretary of Defense: Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning
  • Attorney General: Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey
  • Secretary of the Interior: Kansas congresswoman Sharice Davids
  • Secretary of Agriculture: Urban Oasis Project founder Art Friedrich
  • Secretary of Commerce: Apple CEO Tim Cook
  • Secretary of Labor: Fmr. Maine Congressman Mike Michaud
  • Secretary of Health and Human Services: United Therapeutics CEO Martine Rothblatt
  • Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Ford Foundation CEO Darren Walker
  • Secretary of Transportation: Fmr. Houston mayor Annise Parker
  • Secretary of Energy: SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson
  • Secretary of Education: Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, Denise Juneau
  • Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs: Fmr. South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • Secretary of Homeland Security: Oregon governor Kate Brown

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Here’s another list of possibilities to consider.

State: Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power.

Treasury: Economist Jeffrey Sachs.

Defense: U.S. Senator from Illinois, Tammy Duckworth.

Attorney General: Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Preet Bharara.

Interior: Former U.S. Senator from New Mexico, Tom Udall.

Agriculture: Feeding America CEO Claire Babineaux-Fontenot.

Commerce: Hensley & Co. Chair Cindy McCain.

Labor: U.S. Department of Labor Official and Congressional Candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar.

Health and Human Services: Chief Health Officer of Google, Former New Orleans Health Commissioner Karen DeSalvo.

Housing and Urban Development: Detroit mayor Mike Duggan.

Transportation: Former Massachusetts Governor, Deval Patrick.

Education: Former Colorado state senator, Mike Johnston.

Energy: Former Deputy Secretary of Energy, Elizabeth Sherwood Randall.

Veteran’s Affairs: Former Air Force General Darren McDew.

Homeland Security: Former Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas.

Ecology*: Climate Science Center director Katherine Hayhoe.


Cabinet-level offices:

Chief of Staff: Former Virginia Governor, Terry McAuliffe.

UN Ambassador: Former ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy.

Global Health Security*: Former U.S. surgeon general, Richard Carmona.

Small Business Administration: Maryland Lieutenant Governor, Boyd Rutherford.

EPA: Tucson mayor, Regina Romero.

DNI: Former Coast Guard vice-admiral and TSA Administrator, Peter Neffenger.

OMB: Former Florida CFO, Alex Sink.

CIA: Congresswoman from Michigan, Elissa Slotkin.

Trade Representative: Former U.S. Ambassador to India, Richard Verma.

Chair of the Council of Economic Advisors: Economic Advisor to Joe Biden, Jared Bernstein.

 

 

 

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I put forward my ideal presidency and cabinet back in January in my usual overdone style. My winning ticket was Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro. That isn’t going to happen. Joe Biden is going to be the nominee. Harris, Warren, Klobuchar, or Cortez-Masto is probably going to be the running mate.

What happens, though, when the difficult task of campaigning ends and the difficult task of governing begins. So now that the primaries have been all but determined, even as they continue on, I’d like to revisit some cabinet choices. In fact, treating that Warren-Castro cabinet as my first draft, I’ll do two or three more posts in this vein, each putting forth a different cabinet with no repeat choices. Maybe when it’s all finished, I will conduct a poll and let readers determine which of my four choices for the various offices they would prefer.

This particular version strives more for intra-party balance. Republicans get just one minor cabinet-level spot, although a number of my choices are not affiliated with any party. And I try to balance between people who supported various candidates in the primaries. I was going to do write-ups for each of them, but that seemed burdensome. Instead, when there’s a relevant article, I’ll hyperlink it.

Secretary of State: U.S. Senator from Virginia, Tim Kaine. 

Secretary of the Treasury: UC Irvine professor Mehrsa Baradaran.

Secretary of Defense: Former Pennsylvania Congressman and Under-Secretary of the Army, Patrick Murphy.

Attorney General: Former Acting Attorney General, Sally Yates. 

Secretary of the Interior: Former Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and Secretary of State of Vermont, Deborah Markowitz

Secretary of Agriculture: Former Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan.

Secretary of Labor: Congresswoman from California, Linda Sanchez.

Secretary of Commerce: Bioscientist, Investor, and Philanthropist, Patrick Soon-Shiong.

Secretary of Health & Human Services: Executive Director of the Detroit Health Department, Abdul El-Sayed.

Secretary of Transportation: International President of the Association of Flight Attendants, Sara Nelson.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development: Ford Foundation president, Darren Walker.

Secretary of Energy: Congressman from Illinois, Bill Foster.

Secretary of Education: Former State Superintendent of Education, South Carolina, Inez Tenenbaum.

Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs: Former South Bend mayor, Pete Buttigieg.

Secretary of Homeland Security: Retired Admiral Michelle Howard.

Secretary of Ecology (yes, we need a new cabinet department to handle climate change strategy): Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti. 


Cabinet-Level Offices:

Chief of Staff: Jill Biden’s Chief of Staff, Sheila Nix.

U.N. Ambassador: U.S. Senator from Colorado, Michael Bennet. (I’m wary of appointing sitting senators, but I actually think the chances of keeping this seat are higher if Bennet’s not in it. He barely beat a joke candidate in 2010 and barely ran ahead of Hillary as an incumbent in 2016.)

Trade Representative: Congressman from California, Ro Khanna.

Office of Global Health Security (we need this one too): Former Joe Biden Chief of Staff, Ronald Klain.

Small Business Administration: El Paso Mayor Dee Margo.

Director of National Intelligence: Former Deputy Director of National Intelligence in the Office, Susan Gordon.

Office of Management and Budget: Former director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray.

Environmental Protection Agency: Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter.

CIA Director: Congressman from New York, Sean Maloney.

Chair of Council of Economic Advisors: CEO of Washington Center for Equitable Growth, Heather Boushey.

 

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biden’s veepstakes

It’s reaching the end of April, and the Democratic primaries are functionally over. Joe Biden is the presumptive nominee. And an unusual nominee he is. He’ll be 78 on Election Day, 2021– older than Reagan when he left office in 1989– and only the fourth Catholic to head a major party ticket. Nor is it likely that he will seek a second term. No sane candidate in the modern era will pledge to only serve one term– it will destroy one’s political capital in one fell swoop– but it is likely that Biden will only serve as a caretaker president to right the ship after the Trump presidency and then hand his party off to a younger generation. If he wins, his running mate will be the presumptive favorite for the 2024 election, and if something happens to President Joe– he did suffer a near-fatal aneurysm in his forties– his #2 may very well inherit the presidency sooner than expected.

Here’s what we know so far. Joe Biden has already pledged that his running mate will be a woman. We also know that his vice-presidential search is in the early stages, consisting of perhaps a dozen or so candidates. We are also aware of certain names he’s publicly winked at– perhaps as a gesture of respect, perhaps as a trial balloon, perhaps as a genuine clue. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who was instrumental in Biden’s comeback victory in the Palmetto State, is urging him to pick a woman of color. Harry Reid, a figure Biden worked with for over two decades in the Senate, is selling him on his fellow Nevadan and heir-apparent Catherine Cortez Masto. Biden has also signaled that he wants someone who can disagree with him at times, but support him publicly when necessary. He has cited a desire that the vice-president be “simpatico” with him and on the same page generally, as well as suggesting someone who can lead the party into its next generation. It’s generally known that Barack Obama has encouraged his former vice-president to select someone who is strong in areas where he is weak– which might mean reaching out to younger people, rural voters, and/or Hispanic voters.

The race is in a limbo at the moment, though. Biden won’t be formally nominated until the summer convention, and at any rate, COVID-19 coverage dominates each news cycle, taking away from his ability to drive a media narrative. It’s possible he may reveal his running mate at any time between now and August. Picking a vice-president well in advance of the convention is relatively unheard of. When running in 1976, Ronald Reagan picked moderate Republican Richard Schweiker, and Ted Cruz picked Carly Fiorina in 2016. But these were both “Hail Mary” maneuvers during hotly contested primaries, and neither ended up winning that year. Biden, in contrast, has the nomination all but in the bag at this point. I don’t believe that a non-incumbent president has committed to a running mate more than a couple weeks before the convention at any point in modern American political history.

So, I’m going to list the ten women I think Biden is considering at this moment, with looks at both their strengths and weaknesses, as well as their likelihood of being chosen.

  1. Kamala Harris (U.S. Senator from California, 2017-present):
  • Strengths: At her best in the presidential debates, Harris was witty, direct, commanding, and even presidential. Her prosecutorial demeanor, honed during her time as Attorney General of California and further sharpened by her time in the Senate, will make her a useful attack dog and let Biden be the genial good guy. She knew enough when to get out of the presidential sweepstakes when the writing was on the wall– something that, say, Michael Bennett or Tulsi Gabbard can’t say. She was also good friends with another state attorney general- the late Beau Biden of Delaware.
  • Weaknesses: Harris never caught traction during the primaries despite a great deal of promise. Her campaign strategy was erratic, with a baffling “let’s go all-in on Iowa” gambit that made no sense whatsoever. Happily, she won’t be choosing Biden’s campaign team, but her underperformance and swift exit during the primaries was surprising. Then again, Biden also tanked in the primaries in 2008, and Obama picked him anyway for other strengths. There is also, of course, Harris’s standout moment in the debates– an attack on Biden’s stance on school integration from the 1970s. Biden’s been around long enough to know all is fair in politics, but the public may see any comity between them as manufactured and artificial.
  • Likelihood: If Biden and Bernie had stayed out of the race, who knows? Harris might very well have ended up winning. Even so, Harris is a strong contender. Biden did well with black voters in the primaries and doesn’t really need Harris to deliver that demographic, and the Asian-American community is so diverse that it’s impossible to say what effect she might or might not have in that area. Possibly, it’s suburban moms who might be Harris’s people, and they have a habit of deciding elections. I’d put Harris as the slight favorite, even though I think she’s not the strongest running mate Biden could pick.
  • What About Her Senate Seat? California has a Democratic governor to appoint a replacement, and the Golden State’s GOP is in no position to seriously contest the seat. There’s a dozen viable congresspeople, attorney general Xavier Becarra, John Chiang, Libby Schaff, Eric Garcetti, Alex Padilla….

2. Amy Klobuchar (U.S. Senator from Minnesota, 2007-present):

  • Strengths: Klobuchar has plenty of experience in the Senate, some 13 years so far. She has won three Senate elections in a blue-leaning swing state by landslide margins, including dozens of counties carried by Donald Trump in 2016– she needs to be only a fraction as successful elsewhere in the upper Midwest to turn Wisconsin and Michigan back to blue. Amy is also an accomplished legislator, with a talent for building bi-partisan consensus on bread-and-butter issues that haven’t been overly politicized. She over performed everybody’s expectations in the 2020 primaries, coming in third in New Hampshire and outlasting seemingly sexier rivals like Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Kirsten Gillibrand.
  • Weaknesses: I wasn’t overly impressed with her debating skills in 2020, although she had a few good moments. It’s also dubious to pick someone purely for their ability to win over Obama-Trump voters– Biden’s already reasonably strong in that area. Her treatment of campaign staff over the years is gendered (I’ve never heard a male politician come under fire for similar offenses), but nevertheless legitimate, especially in a party that identifies as one of worker’s rights.
  • Likelihood: National Review thinks she’s almost certain to be on the ticket, but as I always say, never take free advice from your enemy. Klobuchar will warrant a very serious look. If Biden is making “simpatico” one of his criteria, that’s a mark in Klobuchar’s favor. They are both liberals– not moderates, although perhaps on the more moderate half of their party– and institutionalists, with little patience for the burn-down-the-ship variety of social democrats with roses in their twitter handles. There’s little doubt Klobuchar would be a good soldier as a vice-president: supporting the president publicly, offering candid advice in private. In terms of partnership and electoral calculus, Klobuchar is probably #2 on Biden’s list.
  • What About Her Senate Seat? Minnesota’s governor, Tim Walz (who I’ve written about as a potential Warren running mate or Secretary of Defense) picks her successor in the short term. The GOP has not done well in statewide elections in the Land of 10,000 Lakes over the last decade, despite its swing-state nature. I doubt the My Pillow dude can successfully take on an incumbent Democratic senator appointed by Walz…perhaps Lt. Gov Peggy Flanagan or Congresswoman Angie Craig.

3. Catherine Cortez Masto (U.S. Senator from Nevada, 2017- )

  • Strengths: Cortez Masto is a solid legislator from the Southwest, perhaps America’s most rapidly growing region. As Harry Reid’s hand-picked protege, she shares his embrace of machine politics and his fundraising skills. Her record as attorney general gives her prosecutorial experience that plays well, and she would make history as the first Latinx person on a major party ticket. While Nevada is probably voting blue no matter what, the hope is that she might help motivate and enthuse Latino voters, a demographic that was far more supportive of Bernie Sanders in the initial stages of the primary. This might possibly help swing Arizona and cut down the margin in future purple-state Texas. I’m also impressed with her public speaking ability.
  • Weaknesses: Masto made history as the first Latina senator, yet is not a household name. This gives her the freedom to make her own narrative, as she is tied to neither the Biden nor Sanders wings of the party. Yet, her obscurity is not a mark in her favor. Cortez Masto is also in charge of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee; she’ll have to withdraw from that office, in all likelihood, if tagged as v-p.
  • Likelihood: Biden allegedly told Harry Reid that Cortez Masto is in his “top three.” If we take this comment at face value, that’s a strong signal that she is under serious consideration. If I were advising Biden, I’d direct him to either Cortez Masto or Tammy Baldwin, but everything I’ve observed from Biden-Land in the past eighteen months makes me think Harris or Klobuchar is the most Biden-y choice.
  • What About Her Senate Seat?: For the first time since I started observing politics in 2005, Nevada has a Democratic governor: Steve Sisolak. He’ll get to appoint the immediate successor, but Nevada Senate elections are usually close. Cortez Masto only won her seat in 2016 by less than 3%, barely outpacing Hillary in the state. It’s risky, but not too risky, given the state’s blue trend.

4. Gretchen Whitmer (Governor of Michigan, 2019- )

  • Strengths: Several years ago, I posted a question on U.S. Elections Atlas: “Suppose you have two candidates: similar personalities, identical stances on the issues, the same number of years of political experience. One is a senator. One is a governor. Who do you prefer?” Almost all the left-leaners picked the senator. Almost all the independents and right-leaners picked the governor. Governors give you executive ability, the experience of balancing budgets, and meeting the needs of a diverse range of citizens– at the expense that the national exposure and foreign policy credentials that being a senator might confer. Whitmer has become ever more prominent with her response to the Coronavirus pandemic in Michigan, guiding the state through a baffling and inconsistent federal response. She’s young for a politician (under 50!) and is from the Midwest. Team Trump’s inevitably misogynistic treatment of her will attract sympathy in her direction in a way that didn’t happen for Hillary.
  • Weaknesses: Look, Michigan is going back to the Democrats, all other things being equal this year. The question is: can her profile work elsewhere in the upper Midwest? She only has two years of experience as governor– a Palinesque resume. She’s already indicated that “it’s not going to be me.” Given Biden’s age, a less experienced running mate may make some people nervous.
  • Likelihood: Protestations aside, I still think Whitmer has an outside chance if Biden wants to be unconventional and unpredictable. It all depends on how his chemistry with Whitmer has developed, and if he and his team think she has “it”– the je ne sais quoi that can translate to the national stage.
  • What About Her Senate Seat? She’s not a senator, you turkey!

5. Tammy Baldwin (Congresswoman, 1999-2013; U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, 2013- )

  • Strengths: She’s won two competitive elections in a state that is trending away from the Democrats. She beat a three-term governor of the state in 2012 by six points and won in 2018 by eleven points. In terms of raw chances of winning, Baldwin puts Wisconsin– the tipping point state last time– in your column. She is also a fine public speaker with a folksy mien that will translate well into the upper midwest. She’s further to the left than, say, Klobuchar or Duckworth. With eight years in the Senate, she’s in the sweet spot between novelty and calcification.
  • Weaknesses: It’s possible that, because she identifies as a lesbian, this might hurt the ticket with more traditionalist voters– cradle Catholics, black Protestants, aging mainliners, and so on. But really, this is the only downside I see.
  • Likelihood: Although Baldwin seems like a strong choice– a slam dunk, really– to me, there hasn’t been that much buzz about her in the pundit-sphere. It’s possible that things are happening under the radar, but I’m not feeling especially confident about her chances.
  • What About Her Senate Seat?: Yeah, that’s going to be an issue. Wisconsin has a Democratic governor, Tony Evers. While he would get to pick an immediate successor, he or she would not fill the remainder of the term, but merely be a placeholder until a by-election is held. If someone like Scott Walker decides to enter the race, this could be a costly fight the Democrats don’t need.

6. Tammy Duckworth (Congresswoman, 2013-2017; U.S. Senator from Illinois, 2017-present)

  • Strengths: Duckworth is bold and outspoken, both physically and morally courageous. It’s possible she might win over the traditionally Republican demographic of military families, though. She’d be a wonderful attack dog, and even coined the phrase Cadet Bone Spurs to describe Trump. To that effect, she provides military service to the presidential ticket: the first person to do so since John McCain back in 2008. She has history on her side too: one of the first two female Asian-American senators and the first to bring a baby onto the Senate floor.
  • Weaknesses: Duckworth does little to swing a critical state or region to Biden. Although she is clearly a “natural born citizen”– being born in Bangkok to a father serving in the U.S. Army– the same Garbage-Americans who spread rumors alleging that Obama was born in Kenya will similarly sow doubts about her eligibility to the presidency. Duckworth has been sour on the social democratic wing of the party, diminishing AOC’s victory “the future of the party in the Bronx.”
  • Likelihood: Duckworth is almost certainly on Biden’s longer list, but I’m not sure she’ll make it to the short list. Although Biden might appreciate the symmetry: he was picked by the junior senator from Illinois, so he might pick the junior senator from Illinois in turn.
  • What About Her Senate Seat? Pretty safe. Illinois has a Democratic governor, too– one who is probably smart enough not to sell the seat to the highest bidder this time. Kwame Raoul is waiting in the wings, and will be a very strong candidate.

7. Elizabeth Warren (Advisor for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, 2010-2011; U.S. Senator, 2013-present)

  • Strengths: She’d energize progressives and give encouragement to those hoping for more structural change to render the market more fair. Warren did well throughout the debates and was briefly a front-runner when Bernie Sanders was sidelined with a heart attack. If she is half as devastating to Mike Pence as she was to Mike Bloomberg, the debate is over; give Chuck Todd a nightcap and send the audience home. She knows finance, the mechanics of banking, and the perils of bankruptcy perhaps better than any other elected official in America.
  • Weaknesses: Warren might have been seen as an olive branch to the social democrats at an earlier point in the cycle. However, Warren and Sanders’ clashing memories over whether Bernie said that a woman couldn’t beat Trump several years ago led to a number of angry Berniecrats making #WarrenIsASnake go viral. She can easily be dismissed as a liberal, academic coastal elite (although she was once a struggling single mom in Oklahoma and Texas), and her indelicate handling of her trace amount of Native American ancestry will be a turnoff for those who oppose affirmative action. In addition to offering little geographical balance, she would also be north of 70 on inauguration day.
  • Likelihood: Warren is probably being considered out of respect for her stature in the party. Although there was talk of a Biden-Warren ticket in 2016, it’s hard to picture Warren being quiet when she disagrees with Biden. Furthermore, Biden comes from a state where virtually every corporation is technically headquartered as a cheap tax write-off while Warren has been fighting against corporatism her entire career. If Biden is looking for “Simpatico”, Warren isn’t his best option.
  • What About Her Senate Seat? Despite being one of the most liberal states in the country, Massachusetts has a moderate Republican governor, Charlie Baker. Baker would pick the immediate replacement (unless the Massachusetts legislature’s Democratic supermajority changes the law on him!). But– much the same as when Ted Kennedy died– there will be a special election a few months later. Joe Kennedy III, if he loses his primary challenge to Ed Markey, would be the presumptive favorite. Also, as Kevin Kruse pointed out, if Warren is announced early enough, she can resign her seat and make sure that the special election happens before Trump leaves office, all but ensuring a Democratic victory.

8. Michelle Lujan Grisham (Congresswoman, 2013-2019, Governor of New Mexico, 2019- )

  • Strengths: She’s one of the rare governors who are on the prospective list of vice-presidents. Grisham would also make history as the first Latina on a presidential ticket, and brings both executive and congressional experience to the table.
  • Weaknesses: Grisham is even less of a household name than Whitmer. While New Mexico is now a blue state on the presidential level, it’s unclear whether Grisham’s Southwest roots will translate into support in Arizona, Nevada, Colorado, and Texas. Her approval rating has been under 50% for most of her governorship.
  • Likelihood: Not likely at all. Because she adds gender, racial, and regional balance to the ticket, I can see why she’s generating a bit of buzz, but it’s not going to happen.
  • What About Her Senate Seat: Not a senator either, you sockdologizing man-trap!

9. Val Demings (Chief of the Orlando Police Department, 2007-2011, Congresswoman, 2017-present).

  • Strengths: Demings is from the quintessential swing state of Florida and might be just enough to tip it in a close race, coming from the equally swing-y region of Orange County: Disney World! Her law enforcement background might assuage those (ahem) skeptical of a black woman on the ticket, and she comported herself well during Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, as the prosecution’s manager in the house. Coming from a poor background (her father was a janitor and her mother was a housekeeper), she has an appealing American story of upward mobility.
  • Weaknesses: Four years as one of 435 congress-critters isn’t especially outstanding. For all her good work on the impeachment case, it still resulted in a “Not Guilty” verdict when it reached the Senate. Given Florida’s mass psychosis, there’s no guarantee that Biden will win it even if a Floridian is on the ticket.
  • Likelihood: I’m glad she’s being discussed, but I’d rather see her vie for a Senate seat or the governorship in 2022.
  • What About Her Senate Seat? Are you scrupple muffins even listening to me anymore?

10. Stacey Abrams (state assemblywoman from Georgia, 2007-2017).

  • Strengths: Lots of grassroots energy, came close to flipping Georgia’s governor race. She works well with members of the opposite party. She has “it” – for lack of a better way to put it– an ineffable magnetism and limitless potential. She polls well with younger voters, and polls better than any other prospective veep with black voters. In terms of generating the kind of enthusiasm that might tip, say, North Carolina or even her home state of Georgia, this isn’t something to sniff at.
  • Weaknesses: She has never held an office higher than a spot in Georgia’s state legislature. You could argue that she’s no less unqualified than Pete Buttigieg and you wouldn’t be wrong, but given Biden’s age, this will make a lot of people very uneasy. And rightly so.
  • Likelihood: It’s not happening. Nothing in Biden’s campaign or his 48 years in the national spotlight suggest a move this risky. Having said that, I’d love to see Abrams as the next DNC chairperson.
  • What About Her Senate Seat? For the last time….

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s been a surreal few years under the Trump administration. I remember being in shock, disbelief, and frankly dangerously depressed when he won the 2016 election. We now look to 2020 not only to undo much of what has been done, but to forge a fairer, more equitable, and more charitable America going into this new decade. To help do this, I’m assembled my dream administration– the folks I’d personally like to see occupy the highest offices and the sundry executive departments.

As a general rule, I’ve tried to avoid “shiny objects” as cabinet secretaries– household names who ~seem~ like they might be good choices but would be constrained by the cabinet officer’s need to work within existing systems and be answerable to the president. In other words, this is an administrative job, not a bully pulpit. There is plenty of room for reformers, but very little for revolutionaries. God bless Bernie Sanders, but he wouldn’t be put to his best use as Secretary of Labor; his talents aren’t in administrative minutia, they are in speaking out boldly from his perch in the Senate. High name recognition does not have any correlation to getting the job done.

I’ve also made a rule against sitting senators (aside from President Warren). The problem with putting senators in is that they have to be replaced, and there’s always the danger they will be replaced by someone in the opposite party– either immediately (depending on who is governor) or after the next election. Think of how much of a headache President Obama made for his party when he displaced himself, Biden, Clinton, and Salazar from the Senate, with three of these becoming contested races in 2010. I do, though, have a couple former congressmen and two current congresswomen.

Finally, to sketch out my vision: I wanted the right blend of progressivism and administrative competence in the cabinet. I wanted a good blend of perspectives– and folks come from executive departments, business, the non-profit world, the military. We have governors, mayors, and in our president, an exemplar of the public service-oriented academic. Finally, I wanted geographical balance as well, with New Englanders, southerners, Midwesterners, Mountain Westers and West Coasters all represented. There’s a couple non-partisan folks, a few of the more decent Republicans, but in general, people who have actively worked within the Democratic Party.

Elizabeth WarrenPresident: Elizabeth Warren. I’ve been on Team Warren for the better part of a year now, and I’m still happy with my choice. People who underestimate her or dismiss her as a radical or elitist do so at their peril; she’s a master communicator of complex economic ideas and unlike Hillary, is not so far removed from her modest background. In other words, you can buy her backstory as a working mother with hardscrabble Oklahoma origins and her family’s military background. She offers systematic change but with a keen mind for the complexities and consequences it will have.

julian castroVice-President: Julian Castro. I write this just a day after he ended his presidential campaign. Unlike most of the also-rans, his reputation came out stronger. I had dismissed Julian Castro as an overhyped lightweight, but he impressed me with every debate, often drawing connections between issues in an incisive way. Castro has the managerial experience from being the mayor of one of America’s ten biggest cities and his time at HUD has given him critical White House experience. (I picked Castro and wrote this part before news hit of the secretary’s endorsement of Warren. I’m not sure whether that helps or hurts his prospects of being her running-mate, but there we go.)

russ feingoldSecretary of State: Russ Feingold. He lost a winnable Senate race twice in Wisconsin, but there’s little that could diminish my respect for Feingold. He boldly condemned the Iraq War and the national security state that developed in the wake of September 11th. He has years of experience on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and would have been its chair had he not been defeated in 2010 or had John Kerry headed State during Obama’s first term. While it may be overstating it, one could make an argument that he ended a civil war in Congo. If the purpose of this department is to resuscitate relationships with allies and keep crises from boiling over into violent conflict, Feingold’s the man.

sarah raskinSecretary of the Treasury: Sarah Bloom Raskin. It’s tempting to put a firebrand in this spot, but I think that’s unwise. I hope the next presidency helps remold America’s economy into something more fair, less dominated by a handful of big names, more truly meritocratic. But Treasury isn’t necessarily where those changes are going to be made; here, you need someone to keep the ship afloat and stable as a transition to social democracy is made. Raskin, therefore, is my choice. She’s been on the Federal Reserve Board, worked at Treasury under Obama to help stanch the bleeding of student loan default, and is keenly attuned to the problems of income inequality. Assuming that Warren will partly be her own Secretary of the Treasury, Raskin is the right synthesis of competent and conscientious– and also would be the first woman to serve in this cabinet spot.

tim walzSecretary of Defense: Tim Walz. I’ve advocated for Walz as an underrated running mate, but I think he’s similarly a sleeper pick for Defense. The smart money is on Michele Flournoy–who was essentially Hillary’s Defense secretary in waiting–but I want somebody less Hawkish and one fewer Ivy League groupthinker here. Walz is the highest ranking enlisted man to serve in congress, has been doing great work as governor of Minnesota, and was an Iraq-skeptic from the start. Military experience, Washington experience, managerial skills. Boom. Incidentally, Walz’s departure from St. Paul would leave Peggy Flanagan as governor, the first female governor of the Land of 10,000 Lakes, and only the third Native American governor in US history.

brian sandovalAttorney General: Brian Sandoval. I’ve selected another governor for a key cabinet spot. Sandoval was one of the best and most popular governors in the country during his eight years at the helm of Nevada. He avoided needlessly stoking the culture wars, was fine with raising taxes when necessary, and was generally fair and honorable, even being the lone GOP gubernatorial holdout against the refugee ban. Out of all major Republican figures, it’s difficult to find someone who has less of the stink of Trump about him than Sandoval. The Attorney General’s office is not like the other cabinet spots, and needs to be especially free of partisanship. Picking a Republican here who has acted in good faith would be a start.

christy goldfussSecretary of the Interior: Christy Goldfuss. I’m not rewarding Steve Bullock for his ill-conceived presidential run and stubborn refusal to run for the Senate. Instead, I’m going with an old hand– a young old hand– from the Obama years. She headed the Council on Environmental Quality under Obama and was deputy director of the National Parks Administration. In an era where federal workers at our national parks and historical sites are some of the most demoralized by the present administration, Goldfuss’s social media savvy, climate hawkishness, and deep desire to protect public lands will be put to good use here. Interior usually goes to a Westerner; so counterintuitively, this spot goes to a Connecticut native, one of two in this cabinet.

phil karstingSecretary of Agriculture: Phil Karsting. My single biggest criterium for USDA is: not beholden to Monsanto. Karsting certainly has that going for him. He’s worked at Agriculture helping bolster US exports (helpful for farmers hurt by the trade wars), and he’s helped feed children in third-world countries through the McGovern-Dole programs. Karsting is also familiar with the budget and economics side of the agriculture equation and was once part of Herbert Kohl and Jim Exon’s respective staffs. Today, he’s interim president of World Food Program USA. For me, the USDA’s greatest mission is to make sure hungry people get fed. Karsting is better equipped than anyone I can think of to make that happen. Oh, he’s also a chef, which suggests to me that he gets the ultimate goal of agriculture.

Jobs with Justice National Conference

Jobs with Justice National Conference, Day 2 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel. Aug. 6, 2011 © Rick Reinhard 2011

Secretary of Labor: Ai-Jen Poo. For years, she has mobilized domestic workers and caregivers, most recently serving as leader of Domestic Workers United. (Many domestic workers are exempt from state and federal labor laws, allowing them to overworked, underpaid, and vulnerable to harassment.) She has been a consistent voice for humane immigration policies, workers’ rights, and just as importantly, making sure workers have the tools and resources they need to make a positive change. She knows, better than most, that part of the labor movement is the ability to make good on your own vocation.

mick cornettSecretary of Commerce: Mick Cornett. Second of three Republican picks. Cornett was mayor of Oklahoma City for over a decade, and in that time, he got the city a professional sports franchise, a number of key health initiatives, and a great business environment, ultimately coming within a whisker of a World Mayor Prize. (This is what a successful mayoralty looks like, by the way.) He attempted to run for governor of Oklahoma but predictably lost in the GOP primary to a Trump acolyte. Sharp and innovative, he’ll make sure business leaders don’t feel too disenfranchised by the Warren administration.

neera tandenSecretary of Health and Human Services: Neera Tanden. One of the most progressive figures in Hillaryland. Tanden worked at HHS during the Obama administration and was a key architect of Obamacare, but her heart was in something more comprehensive and has suggested a Medicare-for-All scheme that wouldn’t abolish private insurance. It’s worth noting that she was also a big wheel at the Center for American Progress, one of the most significant liberal think tanks. She has the policy chops to help make truly universal health care–and not just a mandate to buy it–a reality.

ana gsSecretary of Housing and Urban Development: Ana Gelabert-Sanchez. This woman–one of the most obscure of my cabinet secretaries–revitalized downtown Miami as the city’s planning director. She altered the city’s moribund building code that created inconsistencies of height and density to create a blueprint for the city that was more sustainable and walkable and ascetically pleasing– and she did so in conversation with Miami’s various cultural neighborhoods and communities. Her Miami21 plan also won the American Planning Association’s Excellence Award.

keith parkerSecretary of Transportation: Keith Parker. Parker has been tearing it up over the last decade by helping major Southern cities revamp their infrastructure: Charlotte, San Antonio, and a city that had hitherto terrible public transportation, Atlanta. His work with MARTA in Atlanta, especially, helped attract new businesses to the metro area. He now works for the Georgia branch of Goodwill. To me, that would ordinarily be a red flag–the company has faced criticism for hiring workers with various cognitive disabilities to justify paying them less–but Parker has made a good-faith effort to change these practices from within and advocate for income equality.

jay insleeSecretary of Energy: Jay Inslee. Inslee–former congressman and current governor of Washington–was clearly running for a cabinet position when he was running for president. He ran on one big issue–addressing climate change–and got out of the race gracefully when he had made his point. Inslee has worked to reframe climate change as a justice issue. As such, Inslee has been able to connect the economic, environmental, and infrastructural, and health components to this complex and overacting issue. Check out Vox’s useful take on his climate plan. Energy is a small-ish department and so Inslee can take on a larger portfolio as the administration’s “climate czar.”

jahana hayesSecretary of Education: Jahana Hayes. Hayes made history in 2018 by becoming the first woman of color to represent New England in Congress. Hailing from western Connecticut, Hayes won accolades as the National Teacher of the Year in 2016, in part for her pedagogy and in part for her focus on service as a necessary component of learning. I’m a little hesitant to let someone with only two years of Congress and limited administrative experience to helm a cabinet post, but you have assistant secretaries to handle the bureaucratic angle. I need Hayes as an advocate, someone who has spent the long hours in the classroom, to rebuild America’s public education after the disastrous tenure of Betsy DeVos.

Mike MichaudSecretary of Veterans’ Affairs: Michael Michaud. In 2014, Michaud averred re-election in Maine’s rural 2nd district to run for governor of Vacationland. That didn’t work out, and after some speculation about his future, took a job as an Assistant Secretary of Labor in a role that facilitates the training and hiring of veterans. Maine- especially the 2nd district- has an unusually large number of military veterans, and Michaud is no stranger to representing their interests. He was one of the first to identify the VA incompetence under Eric Shinseki and demand reform. Michaud also sponsored an act in Congress that would have given tax credits to businesses that hire veterans. After his unsuccessful gubernatorial run, he worked at the Labor Department and oversaw VETS, Veterans’ Employment and Training Service. As someone conversant in the fields of veterans’ affairs, health care, and labor, he’d be a slam dunk at the VA. Oh, and if confirmed, he’d be the first openly gay cabinet secretary.

Michelle_Brane_webSecretary of Homeland Security: Michelle Brané. I thought about William McRaven for this spot, but I want DHS to be much more transparent a guy who led secret ops in the Middle East–much as I admire him–didn’t feel right. Elissa Slotkin might be great in a few years, but she’s a freshman congresswoman from a lean-Republican district in Michigan that it would be a shame to risk losing. I went, in the end, with an activist. More than most departments, DHS is in need of profound reform– not just in terms of its structure but its very mission. It can serve important functions–even the most stalwart leftist I’m aware of isn’t suggesting truly open borders or zero safety protocols. But ICE needs to be remade from the bottom up after wrecking havoc on countless families and bearing responsibility for carrying out family separation. Anyway, Michelle Brané. She’s a co-director of the Women’s Refugee Commission, and in the words of her bio on their webpage, “advocates for the critical protection needs of immigrant women, children and other vulnerable migrant populations in the United States.” She’s also worked for Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and coordinated the Detained Torture Survivor Legal Support Network as a lawyer and legal advocate, while authoring several books on the present global migration crisis.

And short write-ups for other cabinet level offices:

jeremy bernardChief of Staff: Jeremy Bernard. I worry sometimes that Rahm Emanuel has been ensconced in our minds as the quintessential chief-of-staff: a grim, unsmiling, foul-mouthed bad cop who knocks heads together and demands inhuman levels of efficiency and loyalty. I envision something more edifying. I’ve chosen a former White House social secretary: Jeremy Bernard. He recently co-wrote an excellent book about civility, Treating People Well, and will bring that ethic to the White House without being a milquetoast or pushover. Graciousness and effectiveness are not mutually exclusive virtues.

hillary schieveSmall Business Administration: Hillary Schieve. Implausibly, there’s a second Nevadan in my dream cabinet. It’s especially shocking since it’s possibly the blue state I respect the least (although Illinois might win that particular sweepstakes.) Anyway, Schieve is the non-partisan mayor of Reno who ran a small chain of clothing resale shops. She’s revitalized the downtown and helped bring Reno’s unemployment rate from 13% to 3.5%.

ben rhodesNational Security Administration: Ben Rhodes. A bit of a young showboater, Rhodes was nevertheless a key part of Obama’s foreign policy team. For all of his spotlight grabbing, you can’t argue he’s been ineffective, having played a key role in the Iran deal and the establishment of relations with Cuba.

kristen coxOffice of Management and Budget: Kristen Cox. The third and final Republican in this batch, Cox holds down OMB in the state of Utah.  Cox has a knack for identifying bottlenecks and redundancies and her fiscal discipline–different, I think, than ideological conservatism–will be a useful balancing wheel in an administration brimming with badly needed but admittedly expensive progressive ideas. She’s also a strong advocate of stress tests, implementing a number of measures to test how Utah’s finances could whether a severe recession. Kristen Cox may be legally blind, but in every way that matters, she sees more clearly than most.

maria oteroUN Ambassador: Maria Otero: An immigrant born in Bolivia, Otero was a fixture at the State Department in the Obama years as Under-Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights. I want the USA to assume credible leadership on questions of human rights as right-wing governments are in ascendance throughout the globe, and her background–which includes pioneering micro financing work and stints at two of my favorite organizations, Bread for the World and the U.S. Institute of Peace, makes her an ideal choice as our representative to the U.N.

Pennsylvania Governor DemocratsEPA: Katie McGinty. McGinty missed becoming senator from Pennsylvania by a whisker in 2016. She’s worked in and out of the private sector, worked as a legislative assistant for Mr. Environment himself, Al Gore, chaired the White House Council on Environmental Quality in the Clinton years, and served as Pennsylvania’s chief environmental officer.

janet wolfenbargerDNI: Janet Wolfenbarger. First woman to serve as a four-star general in the Army. Fairly self-explanatory.

jennifer granholmUS Trade Representative: Jennifer Granholm. Trade policy has unexpectedly become a sexy topic, and free trade fever that’s dominated the last 30 years of public policy has been called into question by grassroots groups across the political spectrum. International trade is inevitable, and rightly so, but who better to protect U.S. interests than someone who was Governor of Michigan for eight years? She even got Hillary to reconsider her stance not he TPP. As a Rust Belt governor who weathered the automotive crisis, she’s been a sharp-elbowed advocate for policies that favor U.S. industrial development while maintaining strong internationalism- working with Sweden in recent years to support a green energy economy.

val demingsCIA director: Val Demings. Orlando’s first female police chief and now a congresswoman. Her work on the Homeland Security and Intelligence committees will be of great benefit in helming the CIA post. Her sharp, analytical, and reformists instincts will be badly needed there.

Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers: Stephanie Kelton. It’s technically not a cabinet position any more, but I’d bring it back and staff it with one of Bernie’s economic advisors, SUNY Stony Brook professor Stephanie Kelton. She favors modern monetary theory, which posits a great deal of centralized government spending to stimulate the economy equitably– Keynesianism on steroids. We’ve ignored the deficit for the Iraq War, and possibly an upcoming Iran War, and for unnecessary tax cuts. This time, let’s ignore the deficit to remake America’s economy for the average citizen.stephanie kelton

So those would be my dream cabinet picks for my dream ticket of Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro. Competent. Ethical. Reformist. Progressive. Out of the “official” cabinet offices, without consciously trying, I almost had gender parity, with 8 men and 7 women. For the whole gamut, including the POTUS and VPOTUS, women actually outnumbered men 16 to 11. What do you think? Did I miss the mark on any of these selections? Let me know in the comments.

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As of this writing, we are nearing the fourth Democratic debate. And as we languish in mid-October, I am thinking that Elizabeth Warren is likely to take the nomination. No disrespect to Joe Biden, who was actually my first choice in 2008–but his age, the lack of focus in his campaign, the gaffes, and the new Ukraine imbroglio show some of his weaknesses. It’ll all come down to grass roots activism, though– and there, I think, Warren has an advantage. As Sen. Sanders heals from a heart operation, Sen. Harris endured a few lackluster debates, and the others have failed to get out of the single digits, I think she’ll end up as the insurgent/left-liberal darling to take on the party establishment, much as Obama ended up doing in 2008: an outsider pick who isn’t ~too~ far outside as to be threatening. There’s a reason why relatively few endorsements have happened within the party yet.

I might be wrong about all this, but let’s imagine for a moment that I’m correct. Within the next several months, she’ll need to address the first big, public choice that a presumptive nominee can make: selecting a running mate. Get it wrong, and you might end up like McGovern picking Tom Eagleton and have your campaign’s credibility hopelessly damaged. Or you could get it wrong and still manage a win, like Bush Sr. picking a clearly underprepared Dan Quayle. It didn’t help him one bit, but he won in spite of this puzzling selection. You could pick a great running mate who helps you win– think Kennedy picking an older Southern Protestant in Lyndon Johnson, or Trump using Pence to assuage the doubts of just enough evangelical voters. And finally, you can pick the right person and things will still turn out badly: Ed Muskie was the perfect running mate for Hubert Humphrey in 1968 given the political gravity at the time, and he still lost.

What kind of running mate should Elizabeth Warren pick? I have a few guidelines:

  • AVOID picking someone from either the Northeast or the Left Coast. Right now, one of the Democrats’ biggest problems is its seeming cultural dissonance from Middle America– the Midwest, the farm states, the Southwest, Appalachia. Warren, who was born in Oklahoma and has strong ties to Houston, is far more Middle American than people realize, certainly more Middle American than Trump. But it’s perception that counts. Aim for the heartland.
  • STRIVE TO pick someone who can win over a demographic that might be Warren-skeptical. Perhaps suburban voters, who Democrats did well with in 2018, but might be wary of a candidate too far to the left. Or someone who can win over blue-collar Obama-Trump voters.
  • AVOID picking someone from the Senate who will be replaced by a Republican. In most cases, that means a Democratic senator serving a state with a GOP governor. That’s bad news for Sherrod Brown, among others.
  • STRIVE TO pick someone with a different set of political expertise- environmentalism, foreign relations, energy, executive experience…they are all possibilities.
  • IGNORE gender. Let’s put it this way: someone who isn’t going to vote for a ticket with two women probably wasn’t going to vote for Liz Warren to begin with. If the running mate is male, fine. But given how many all-male tickets we’ve had that were accepted as perfectly legitimate, an all-female ticket shouldn’t be seen as such an iconoclastic move.

Our ten veepstakes leaders:

  1. Pete Buttigieg: A solid, steady debater who has always acquitted himself well. He exceeded expectations and may be the only Democratic also-ran who is politically stronger at the end of this process than they were at the beginning. Like Warren, he speaks well from a “religious progressive” angle, and understands the struggles of small Rust Belt cities. He’s more moderate (he would say “pragmatic”) than Warren, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing; Warren’s a policy wonk, Buttigieg as mayor had to deal with how ideas play out in practice. He adds military service to the ticket–something conspicuously absent from Trump-Pence, and I would LOVE to see him take down the homophobic Pence in a debate. He ticks the most boxes too: age balance, regional balance, ideological balance.
  2. Julian Castro: Castro also had a strong first debate, and while his star has dimmed slightly since, he hasn’t been afraid to go for the jugular in a way that belies his youth and pleasant demeanor. He caught some flak for implying Joe Biden was too old, but I think that moment is overblown and even misinterpreted. So far, Elizabeth Warren is struggling with minority voters in the Democratic primaries. They’ll probably come around in the general election if she’s the nominee, but it’s important to generate enthusiasm. Putting the first Hispanic person on a major party ticket would accomplish that. It may not be enough to flip Texas, but it could very well make the difference in Arizona and help nail down Nevada and Colorado.
  3. Tammy Duckworth: Vice-presidents have historically been the “attack dog” so that the guy on the front of the ticket can be lofty and principled. (Think Bob Dole’s role  on the Ford ’76 ticket, or Biden on the Obama ticket). Duckworth would make a tremendous attack dog: sharp, pointed, and lots of military experience. Indeed, seeing an amputee take out someone she dubbed “Cadet Bone Spurs” would be amazing. Moreover, in a “woman power” election, she has credentials as the first senator to bring a child she is caring for onto the Senate floor. She won’t make much difference in electoral math, coming from safe blue Illinois, but she is capable, and Trump won’t be able to help himself: he’ll inevitably say something about her Asian heritage or her disability that will show just how craven he is.
  4. Tammy Baldwin: Um…she just won re-election in Wisconsin– an Obama ’12 state that Trump won– by a double digit margin. Put her on the ticket, and assuming you win Michigan and Pennsylvania (scratch that- don’t assume you will win those states!), hold the Clinton states, and congratulations! You have 270+ electoral votes. Baldwin is a good, stalwart liberal, never one to shake things up, but she would nonetheless be historic as the first LGBTQ person on a major ticket. Wisconsin governor Tony Evers would pick an immediate replacement for the Senate, but a special election would be held several weeks later, and there’s a real possibility someone like Scott Walker could take it.
  5. William McRaven: Picking pure military figures is risky: for every subtle and crafty Dwight Eisenhower, there’s a politically incoherent Zachary Taylor or a senile James Stockdale. Yet McRaven shows promise: he, of course, was the commanding officer of the Seals unit that took out Osama bin Laden. As chancellor of the University of Texas system, he’s been on the front lines of controversial issues, such as guns on campus, and is a very effective public speaker. Once again, he paints a contrast with Trump in terms of both military service and public service. And unlike Castro, maybe he will help carry Texas.
  6. Doug Jones: Look, Doug Jones is going to lose his re-election campaign. He’s a good man, but he’s not going to win a Senate race in Alabama in a presidential election year when his opponent is not a pedophile. Rather than have him go out losing re-election by double digits, just make him your running mate, knowing this seat is flipping red no matter what you do. While white, his work on behalf of bringing the Birmingham bombers from the civil rights era to justice will probably help mobilize the black community. And he reassures Southerners that the Democrats do not hold them in contempt. If he doesn’t end up on the ticket, he’d make a compelling choice for Attorney General.
  7. Martin Heinrich: You can always play it safe. Heinrich–the junior senator from New Mexico–is young, telegenic, and is a champion of environmental issues, which have rightly gotten so much attention lately. He’s also strikingly handsome. Far from an empty suit, he’s nevertheless a low risk choice from everything we can see, and he may be a tip of the hat to Democrats’ growing strength in the Southwest. This will also give him some credibility to speak on immigration. He won re-election by 24% in a former swing state.
  8. Tim Walz: Walz’s congressional district, comprising much of the southern rim of the state and including small cities like Rochester, is likewise the exact kind of place where Democrats need to rebound. Walz wracked up a sufficiently progressive record without necessarily having many truly progressive constituents. The upper midwest turned against the Democrats big time in 2016, but they made a comeback of a sort two years later in the midterms. Walz won an open seat by 11 points– the first time Minny elected two consecutive Democratic governors ever. There’s a saying in politics that veeps can’t win an election for you, but they can lose it. Civil, service-oriented, and nondescript, Walz ain’t hurting anyone. His military service once again provides a good contrast to a Trump-Pence ticket.
  9. Jon Tester: Steve Bullock’s terrible presidential campaign and worse judgment in not running for what I think is a winnable Senate seat in Montana takes him out of the running. Let’s stay in Big Sky country, though: Tester, in contrast, won three elections, albeit each of them narrowly, in a red state. And he did it through authenticity, good constituent relations, and learning how to communicate to voters in rural areas. Given how poorly Democrats have done in these areas, Tester offers a lifeline to improving. They may not carry many rural counties in 2020, but with someone like Tester, maybe they can shift the balance to 45% in some tiny counties where Hillary only got 35%. A “cutting losses where you are weak” strategy could help, under certain circumstances, pull out the win in places like Iowa, and who knows? It might even make Montana competitive. Clinton carried it in 1992, and Obama came within striking distance in 2008. But be warned— Bullock would pick Tester’s successor, and he whiffed picking a replacement for Max Baucus last time. (He also screwed up more than one lieutenant governor selection.) Eventually, there will be a reckoning and its tough seeing a Democrat win a special election here for Tester’s rest-of-term replacement.
  10. Russ Feingold: Let’s keep left-wing energy going, shall we? For progressives of my age, Feingold is a hero: his opposition to the war in Iraq, his Warren-esque love of campaign finance reform, his sole Senate vote against the Patriot Act. Feingold lost the 2016 Senate re-match with Ron Johnson, but I honestly don’t think it was his fault. National Democrats assumed he couldn’t lose, and poured their resources elsewhere. He did everything he could do to win, including strong grassroots operations, but the national environment did him in. He would become the second Jewish person on a major-party ticket, after Joe Lieberman. And as a former senator, nothing would be risked by picking him. Moreover, he is also a strong foreign policy guy; had he not lost his 2010 Senate race, he probably would have become chair of the Foreign Relations Committee.

What do you think team? Did I miss anyone? Who do you think would best help Elizabeth Warren win and govern?

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We are still very early in the primary season, and anything can happen. Yet, I am still somewhat confident that Kamala Harris (my second choice after Liz Warren, btw) will be the nominee. Coming off a strong performance at the first debate, her name recognition and poll numbers are heading in the right direction, while Joe Biden’s front-runner status remains real, but fraying.

It’s early, but not too early to start thinking about running mates. Historically, running mates are used to balance the ticket: by age, by ideology, but especially by geographic region. Every once in a while you will get a double-down ticket (Clinton-Gore as reconstructed moderate Southern Democrats, Romney-Ryan as business-friendly conservatives), but it’s rare.

For someone like Kamala Harris, you have a number of strengths: prosecutorial demeanor, a good record as California attorney general, and she’s in an optimal “lane”: not likely to run into problems with progressive activists as much as Joe Biden, but less likely to turn off middle-of-the-road voters as Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren might be. That doesn’t mean that a running mate can’t help; as a person of color, Harris could inspire higher black and South Asian turnout (as Obama did with the former), while subject to the very real structural disadvantages of being a minority candidate.

In general, I believe that the first priority for Team Blue should be: at least one person on the ticket from the heartland: that might mean the industrial Midwest, the Rockies, even Appalachia. Wherever it is, there needs to be a sense that the party isn’t purely coastal, that it’s concerned with and listening to, the country’s interior as well. To that end, 14 of the 15 persons on my shortlist are from America’s bounteous interior.

  1. Pete Buttigieg: two-term mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
    • Why he’d work: young, a good ‘explainer-in-chief’. Comes from a Rust Belt town whose manufacturing has taken a hit over the last several decades. Military experience. He’s polling well with younger voters, is an excellent fundraiser, and can help Democrats in small cities and their hinterlands. He may not be enough to win Indiana, but I think there is a good chance that support for him will bleed into other midwestern states. Having him tell his own story about being a gay man in America in debate with Mike Pence would be epic. He is also reengaging voters of faith, something Hillary’s campaign struggled mightily to do.
    • Why he mightn’t: As much as I like the guy, two terms as mayor of South Bend Indiana also makes me a bit uncomfortable, which is why I didn’t include him in my first list of running mates several months ago. Yet his debate performances show a very good working knowledge of the issues and a knack for framing them in accessible ways. He’s had difficulties with black voters in South Bend– most recently in a tragic police shooting.
  2. Tim Walz: Current governor of Minnesota. 12 term congressman. According to his wikipedia page, he’s the highest-ranked enlisted man to ever serve in congress.
    • Why he’d work: Walz’s congressional district, comprising much of the southern rim of the state and including small cities like Rochester, is likewise the exact kind of place where Democrats need to rebound. Walz wracked up a sufficiently progressive record without necessarily having many truly progressive constituents. The upper midwest turned against the Democrats big time in 2016, but they made a comeback of a sort two years later in the midterms. Walz won an open seat by 11 points– the first time Minny elected two consecutive Democratic governors ever. There’s a saying in politics that veeps can’t win an election for you, but they can lose it. Civil, service-oriented, and nondescript, Walz ain’t hurting anyone. His military service once again provides a good contrast to a Trump-Pence ticket.
    • Why he mightn’t: The downside of Walz’s civility is a certain kind of blandness. He’s not going to make punchlines and his tweets won’t go viral. Minnesota’s also a relatively safe bet to stay blue in 2020, even if it’s going to be a problem in the long term, given its demographics. He’s also only had two years on his current job.
  3. Russ Feingold: 3-term senator from Wisconsin.
    • Why he’d work: From a must-win state that could decide the election. He’d shore up Kamala Harris’s relative lack of strength on foreign policy. Feingold served for years on the Foreign Relations committee and might have been its chairman if things panned out differently. He’s also a progressive hero to my generation, having been the sole vote against the PATRIOT Act, and a rare swing-state vote against the war in Iraq. And while saying it is a bit uncomfortable, a Jewish running mate won’t hurt in places like Florida. In an age of John McCain Nostalgia, he co-sponsored major campaign finance reform that most Americans look on with favor.
    • Why he mightn’t: He lost two senate elections in Wisconsin to the same terrible candidate, and lost in 2016 by a bigger margin than Hillary in the state. He sometimes comes across as eccentric (some say he rarely flies in planes, afraid of meeting the same dubious fate as Paul Wellstone.)
  4. Tammy Duckworth: Double-amputee veteran of Iraq. Congresswoman and Senator from Illinois. Currently my favorite senator.
    • Why she’d work: Tough as nails, clever, brave. She’d be a fine attack dog against Donald Trump, with her artificial limbs serving as a visual reminder of her valor in combat. Trump won’t be able to resist lashing out at her, and it would backfire every time.
    • Why she mightn’t: We’ve never had a major party ticket with two women, let alone two women with non-European ancestry. I want to believe that America could handle it, but I’m not optimistic. With another shady dude as governor of Illinois, shenanigans that culminate in a Republican getting her Senate seat in a special election down the line are a real possibility.
  5. William McRaven: Led Operation: Neptune Spear that ended in the death of Osama bin Laden. Former chancellor of the University of Texas system.
    • Why he’d work: So far, he’s been critical of Trump, but otherwise fairly apolitical. In other words, he’s hardly a party hack, although the president has already attacked him as such. He’d perhaps help make Texas more competitive. Manifests the difference between patriotism and mere nationalism. Oh, and he lead. the. operation. that. killed. Osama.
    • Why he mightn’t: He’s never held elected office before, and his retail politics are untested. His tenure as chancellor was not without controversy and disappointment, making one wonder how he’ll thrive in other civilian systems.
  6. Steve Beshear: former two-term governor of Kentucky
    • Why he’d work: He won twice in a landslide in Kentucky– although that hasn’t always been uncommon for Democrats at the state level. He succeeded at implementing Obamacare at a level arguably higher than any state. Understands red state voters. Also has military service, but he’s never made it part of his political biography. I don’t expect him to help carry Kentucky, but he might be able to contribute down-ticket and help Amy McGrath knock out McConnell’s re-election bid.
    • Why he mightn’t: He’ll be 76 on election day– younger than Biden and Bernie, but still. Being from Kentucky, he’s had to take positions at odds with the national Democratic Party. His nationally televised response to Trump’s joint session of Congress to talk about health care was a near-disaster.
  7. Joe Kennedy III: Scion. Congressman from Massachusetts.
    • Why he’d work: For one thing, he is refreshingly not running for anything. He could have made a semi-credible entry into a presidential race, but he didn’t. He could have primaried Ed Markey and run for the Senate. He didn’t. Kennedy has taken his time and played the long game. Kennedy delivered a great rebuttal to one of Trump’s SOTU addresses, and has many of the family’s better traits and few of their vices: public service, charisma, a genius for getting to the core of a complex issue. When the country is filled with voters who have personally- or earlier generations of their families- gone from blue-collar Kennedy Democrats to Reagan Democrats, recapturing that family magic has great potential. He’s ideologically unproblematic, acceptable to virtually anyone–in or out of the party– whose vote is “getable.”
    • Why he mightn’t: Do we really need another prominent political family getting a precious berth on the ticket? California and Massachusetts is also a bad ticket balance; you have two states associated– wrongly but frequently– with coastal elitism and contempt for flyover country.
  8. Tammy Baldwin: former congresswoman and current senator from Wisconsin
    • Why she’d work: She won re-election in Wisconsin, maybe the single most critical state, by 10 points last year. Strong heartland credentials, but one of the most stalwart progressives on this list. She would also make history, as would Buttigieg, as the first openly LGBT person on a major party ticket. She might be the candidate we originally thought Amy Klobuchar was.
    • Why she mightn’t: Same problem– two women on a ticket may not be palatable to some Americans. Without a real signature issue to hang her hat on, Baldwin’s selection might come across as pandering. With a Democratic governor in Wisconsin, her Senate seat would be filled in the short-term by someone from her party, but a special election will take place shortly thereafter. It’s very possible for Republicans to win that race, costing her party a valuable Senate seat down the line.
  9. Julian Castro: former mayor of San Antonio, former HUD secretary
    • Why he’d work: He would also help in Texas and potentially mobilize plenty of Latinx voters. His perspective would be valuable in challenging the morality of child separation, and the harassment Trump’s policies have caused Hispanics. Castro did wonderfully on his first debate- crisp, clear, visionary, and memorable. He finally delivered on the potential I’ve been hearing about for almost a decade now. Having worked in Obama’s cabinet, he’s White House-ready.
    • Why he mightn’t: Texas is still a long shot, and Castro would mean that- for the first time ever- there was nobody of European ancestry on a major party ticket. Cue the tiny violins playing the world’s most lachrymose melody– but lots of people–particularly Boomers– who don’t like Trump would have some “there’s something wrong with this ticket I can’t quite put my finger on” moments.
  10. Josh Shapiro: Attorney general of Pennsylvania
    • Why he’d work: As with Feingold, being a Jewish politician can’t hurt the ticket in Florida’s sundry retirement communities. His biggest moment was his report on Pennsylvania’s Catholic hierarchy harboring and protecting priests accused of pedophilia. Shapiro’s work to bring those who endangered children to justice will be…uncomfortable…for Mr. Trump, given his long association with Mr. Epstein. Shapiro will also help lock away a state that Democrats lost in both the presidential and senate races in 2016.
    • Why he mightn’t: He probably has the lowest name recognition on this list. He isn’t familiar with how Washington runs. He also had the same job Kamala Harris had in his respective state, which makes the ticket a bit too prosecutorial.
  11. Martin Heinrich: former congressman and current senator from New Mexico
    • Why he’d work: New Mexico may no longer be a swing state at the presidential level, but winning re-election by 23 points is nothing to sneeze at. Heinrich is a great “do no harm” candidate– broadly acceptable to everybody, young for a national ticket (47 right now), but not inexperienced. Fine environmental credentials. Probably won’t cost the Dems a senate seat if the governor appoints someone like Hector Balderas. He might very well be the handsomest senator, and for better or worse, that’s not insignificant.
    • Why he mightn’t: Like Baldwin, Heinrich lacks many distinctive qualities. He hasn’t had a breakout or viral moment after 6 years in the Senate. In other words, despite looking great on paper, he might come across as an empty suit. It’s not entirely clear if being a senator from New Mexico will help Team Blue in neighboring Arizona, Texas, Nevada, or Colorado.
  12. Brian Schweitzer: former governor of Montana
    • Why he’d work: Strong temperamental balance. If Harris is cool and controlled, Schweitzer is a hardcore populist with Western turns of phrase and an anti-elitist attitude. (Don’t get him started on drug companies!) He’s the polar opposite of a coastal snob. He was extremely popular as governor of Montana. While that state will be very tough to win in the general election, Schweitzer’s resonance with rural America will pay dividends elsewhere. And it might help pull Wilmot Collins across the finish line in his Senate race.
    • Why he mightn’t: He has a reputation for gaffes that probably exceeds Biden, and he will almost certainly say something embarrassing for the ticket at some point. He has also stayed out of politics for a while and avoided “taking one for the team” and running for the Senate in 2014 and 2020.
  13. Tom Harkin: former congressman and senator from Iowa
    • Why he’d work: Harkin is a master of retail politics and served 30 years as a senator from a politically bipolar state. He has army service, yes, but his ability to reach rural Americans- especially farmers- and win their trust is his strongest asset. Winning Iowa will be a stretch, but Harkin gives you the best chance of pulling it off.
    • Why he mightn’t: The man will be just shy of 81 on election day! He should certainly pledge only one term as vice-president. It’s also been 12 years since he ran in Iowa, and the state has changed a great deal since then.
  14. Joe Sestak: former three-star admiral, former congressman from Pennsylvania
    • Why he’d work: If you want someone Joe Biden-like without actually picking Joe Biden, there’s a different Joe born in Pennsylvania. Sestak has very strong military credentials– in fact the highest ranking military officer of any sort to serve in congress. In terms of issues of national defense, Sestak should be able to mop up the floor with Trump and Pence. Unlike McRaven, he has held elected office, and represented a fairly Republican district.
    • Why he mightn’t: He has never won statewide, so his upside in Pennsylvania is debatable. His late and frankly pointless entry into the presidential race raises questions about his political judgment. It seems to be a transparent angling for…the vice-presidency? Sec. of Defense? He has also earned a reputation for not being a team player in Democratic Party politics, but that might not be a bad thing in winning over voters.
  15. Ruben Gallego: congressman from Arizona
    • Why he’d work: Arizona has arrived as a legit swing state. Gallego is young, sharp, a military veteran, and a child of immigrants, he is part of a key generational shift and will generate lots of positive buzz.
    • Why he mightn’t: He also represents a safe Democratic district and has never had to win over moderates and conservatives. Same race issues– if a person of South Asian and African heritage is balanced with someone of Hispanic heritage, this might cause problems with Joe Sixpack. He inexplicably served as chair of Eric Swalwell’s dumpster fire of a presidential campaign– again, questions of political judgment on this fool’s errand.

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It happened even earlier than I was expecting. Not even six weeks into 2019, we are seeing a flood of candidates for the presidency on the Democratic side formally entering the race: Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Julian Castro, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigeig are already in. Rumors suggest Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke, Joe Biden, and Amy Klobuchar aren’t far behind. So begins 22 months of punishing, round-the-clock coverage. It’s punishing for us. It’s punishing for journalists tasked with covering it. And heaven knows it’s punishing for candidates, their families, and their staffs.

And certainly a lot can happen, given that we are still a year out from even the earliest primaries and it will be months before we even start to see debates happen. If I were a betting man, though, I would wager that California senator Kamala Harris has the best chance of winning. Don’t be fooled by the early polls giving an advantage to Sanders or Biden– the polls are almost meaningless at this stage of the game, and there is plenty of opportunity to make an impression in a crowded field. There’s a number of reasons why I think that Harris will prevail. Fivethirtyeight does a good job of representing this visually: she covers most of the Democratic Party’s key demographics, with strong potential among black voters and Asian voters, while still performing respectably among party loyalists and millennials. A group that is characterized vaguely as “The Left” might represent some trouble– she’s not going to be the first or even second or third choice of Sanders partisans– but overall, Harris has strong potential even in a crowded field. It also helps that California, where Harris is a prohibitive favorite at this stage, has moved it’s primary up early this year. It’s part of a Super Tuesday after Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.

Anyway, it’s never too early to start thinking about running mates. Now, Harris is a historic candidate for a number of reasons. If elected, she would be the first woman to be president, the second president of African heritage, and the first of Asian heritage. Conventional wisdom suggests that her running mate be a white man. Is conventional wisdom correct, though? Is the U.S. willing to vote for a ticket with two women? Or two minorities? Or a woman and a queer person? It should be. Given the number of presidential tickets with two white guys that we’ve had in our history, it shouldn’t be an issue. And yet, groups that were once in a position of unchallenged power share that power unreadily, and often need to have their hand held in the process.

Kamala Harris’s platonic ideal of a running mate would therefore probably be a reasonably good-looking man in his 40s from the Midwest– a populist and a progressive with a knack for communicating with and energizing millennials and new Gen Z voters– but who can also articulate the needs of voters in smaller towns and in less urbane communities. There isn’t any one person who ticks each of these boxes, and every prospect comes with his or her own disadvantages. With this in mind, my fifteen top vice-presidential candidates for Kamala Harris are:

15. Cheri Bustos: If you look at a map of Illinois’s congressional delegation, there is only one Democrat from outside of the greater Chicagoland area, and that’s Bustos. Her 17th district hugs the northwest corner of the state, including Rockford, East Moline, and parts of Peoria. Given her constituents, Bustos is well positioned to articulate the needs of rural voters, as suggested by this video. It’s also very helpful that her district borders two swing states: Wisconsin and Iowa. In just a few terms, she’s already ascended into House leadership, and now serves as the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. With that position comes fundraising prowess and a keen awareness of how to recruit candidates and maximize the potential of grassroots politics.   Disadvantages? She is more of a moderate Blue Dog (which I don’t see as being electorally advantageous) and looks vaguely like Michelle Bachman.

14. Tom Harkin: This is a stretch, but hear me out. Harkin, as you may know, was a senator from Iowa from 1985 to 2015, choosing to retire ahead of the 2014 elections. Personally, I think he would have won another term if he chose to run. But to my point: Harkin has a stellar track record in this quintessential rural midwestern state winning handily in every statewide election he’s been in. He’s practically royalty in Iowa, and his annual steak-frys are where national political careers can be made. Moreover, he has a reputation as a congressional work-horse, and served as chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Indeed, Bill Clinton in ’92, John Kerry in ’04, and even Obama in ’08 considered him as a running mate. For Harkin, the main disadvantage is age: he’ll be a few weeks shy of 81 on Election Day, 2020. But current footage suggests he hasn’t missed a beat, and I know many, many octogenarians who are as sharp as anyone decades younger. Perhaps if he chose up front to only serve one term as vice-president, that might allay some fears.

13. Russ Feingold: Another name from yesteryear. I don’t mean to keep pushing the upper-midwest thing, but I’m pretty sure Team Blue has 268 of the 270 votes they need to win: Hillary’s states, plus Pennsylvania and Michigan. One more state gets them over the hump, and Wisconsin is the best candidate. With Feingold, the warning sign is obvious: he lost winnable Senate races in 2010 and 2016 to a lackluster candidate. But other advantages abound. For one, in terms of generating grassroots progressive enthusiasm, Feingold hits the bull’s eye: people of my age, certainly, remember his courageous opposition to the Iraq War, and even his lone Senate vote against the PATRIOT Act. He also, of course, was for universal health care before it was cool and sponsored major campaign finance reform legislation with the late John McCain. If the DNC is held in Milwaukee, which is a distinct possibility, Feingold sends a clear message to the upper Midwest that their perspectives are valued. You get lots of progressive credentials with Feingold, as well as 18 years of Senate experience.

12. Tim Walz: While we’re in the upper midwest, let’s look at Tim Walz, who was just elected governor of Minnesota in November. The magnitude of his election is striking, for one. He succeeded a two-term Democratic governor in a swing state (not easy)- and did so by a margin of 10 points. For twelve years before that, Walz represented the southern part of Minnesota, easily winning in Trumpy territory and connecting with voters in a district with medium-size towns and small cities like Rochester. Walz also provides a quarter century of military service– a sharp contrast with the Republican ticket. Minnesota gave us two exemplary vice-presidents in Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale. Perhaps Walz will be a third.

11. Greg Stanton: Alright, we’re moving out of the Midwest for the Sun Belt. Stanton was mayor of Phoenix for six years before getting elected to the House in November. If “Mayor of Phoenix” seems like an iffy qualification, remember that it’s our fifth or sixth biggest city. As mayor, Stanton put Phoenix on a long-term path to sustainability in an unforgiving desert environment. That’s included recycling wastewater, improving public transportation and infrastructure, and running the city’s vehicles on alternative fuels. Best of all, his environmental policies are correlated to Phoenix’s booming economy and the highest wage growth of any city in America. Look, if you win Maricopa County in Arizona, you’ve almost certainly won the state. And if the Democrats win Arizona, then all other things being equal, they’ve won the election.

10. Tammy Baldwin: So, Feingold’s problem is that he lost two statewide elections in Wisconsin within the last decade. In contrast, Baldwin has won two– including a near-landslide last November. Baldwin is also a progressive with a record of support for Medicare-for-All and gun safety. More importantly, she has a knack for communicating these ideas in an authentically Midwestern way, more Robert LaFollette than Ivy League. A Harris-Baldwin ticket would be additionally historic. Not only would it be the first to include two women, but it would also be the first to include an openly LGBT person. As a sitting senator, her replacement would be initially chosen by governor Tony Evers, a Democrat. But Wisconsin law holds for a statewide election not long afterwards to fill out the term–which might result in the loss of a Senate seat.

9. Jared Polis: Polis would also be the first LGBT person on a major party ticket if chosen.   Like Walz, he was just elected governor of his state (Colorado) in November after serving in congress. He’s also a businessman of some note, having started a few very successful online companies that earned him a fortune. His positions are generally within progressive orthodoxy, although he’s a bit more bullish on charter schools, even as his years on Colorado’s Board of Education give him solid education credentials. His favorable positions on bitcoin and marijuana legalization should also make him somewhat more appealing to the Bernie Sanders social libertarian wing of the party and attract some young “South Park Democrats” to reframe an old political phrase. Polis also opens some gateways in terms of funding the campaign, and his Jewish heritage might even make Florida more competitive. While Colorado’s definitely a blue-leaning state at this point, every bit of help to shore up the Southwest is appreciated.

8. Josh Shapiro: This choice is something of a wild card, and an unexpected selection. Shapiro is neither a governor nor a congress-critter, but the attorney general of Pennsylvania. Is it enough of a pedigree to be “one heartbeat away” from the presidency? I think so. He’s used that position to root out sexual abuse within the Catholic church, prevent residents from 3-D printing guns, and fight back against the Trump administration’s travel ban. A devout Jew, Shapiro would, like Polis, be the first person of that faith to serve as vice-president if elected. He would also be the first Pennsylvanian vice-president since the 1840s, oddly enough. He’s clearly ambitious, and potentially could be the deciding factor in both Pennsylvania and Florida in 2020.

7. Joe Kennedy III: Robert Kennedy’s grandson and a congressman from Massachusetts, Kennedy has the quintessential family pedigree. That includes not only the Kennedy name and the money and media attention that it brings, but public service (such as JK3’s time in the Peace Corps), the youth and “vig-ah”, and the unmatched ability to articulate a vision for the future. And that’s important– Vision, not not merely opposing Trump in visceral terms, but painting an alternative way that we shall live. His State of the Union response– compassionate and energetic– speaks volumes, and he should be able to decimate Mike Pence in the veep debate. (Stacy Abrams did a great State of the Union yesterday, but since she hasn’t held a high office yet, I can’t consider her a true contender. Experience matters.) I’ve tried to avoid picking running mates from the East Coast– it would be regrettable if the 2020 ticket gave no voice to the great American interior, but Kennedy is too talented a prospect to ignore.

6. Amy Klobuchar: All signs point to Klobuchar running for president on her own. But I don’t think the odds are in her favor. If she does everything right, she might be able to win the Iowa caucus, but like Tom Harkin in 1992…where does she go from there? No, Amy’s a born vice-president. Her work as a senator and Hennepin County Attorney is a testament to her ability to get across-the-aisle results, seek broad consensus, and please Americans who aren’t especially ideological, but simply wants the government to do the people’s work. She’s won all three of her Senate races by massive landslides, and– not to beat a dead horse– that kind of success in the suburban and small-town upper Midwest translates to an ability to reach voters in Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan. To that effect, her 2018 re-election saw her winning forty counties in Minnesota that Trump had carried two years earlier. At the same time, her story adds a lot to the equation. Trump’s ratings were never lower than when he tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Klobuchar’s story– her daughter was born with a condition that inhibited her ability to swallow, thus requiring frequent hospital visits– makes the urgency of health care reform more personal and accessible.

5. Steve Bullock: Bullock is Montana’s governor, and like Brian Schweitzer before him, has a talent for getting elected even in unfavorable headwinds. Bullock won in 2012 when Mitt Romney carried Montana 14 points, and again in 2016 when Donald Trump won Big Sky by over 20 points. He has carried one of the most rural states in the country, and governed effectively even with the opposing party controlling Montana’s state legislature. As Bullock put it, “The Democratic Party didn’t necessarily change; we just haven’t been able to figure out the ways to speak to people off of the coasts. And if we can’t speak the language of Iowa or Michigan or Wisconsin, even if you get an electoral majority you’re never going to have a governing majority.” Yet Bullock screwed up a few times, botching up an aide’s sexual harassment scandal, and having some bad working relationships with former lieutenant governors. Bullock cannot win the presidential nomination– it defies everything we know about political gravity in the United States– but he might work as a vice-presidential choice and an envoy to rural America. But I’d rather he just run for Senate against Steve Daines in 2020.

4. Sherrod Brown: Brown is right out of central casting and checks most of the boxes I talked about earlier. He’s from the all-important swing-state of Ohio. He’s a scrappy champion of the working class. And he knows what makes Obama ’12/Trump ’16 voters tick, which is one reason why he’s much more of a tariffs and protectionism guy than almost anyone else on this list or in the wider Democratic field. Brown thinks and acts and legislates overtly in terms of class, and sides himself with the aggrieved persons of the deindustrialized Midwest. He’s made a few missteps lately…if he were going to run for president he should have made more noise about it sooner, and his skeptical answers about Medicare-for-All suggest a strikingly less-than-progressive stance. Yet, in terms of uniting the Clinton and Sanders wings of the party, nobody can do it better than Brown. One significant drawback, though– Governor Mike DeWine– who Brown unseated in the Senate back in 2006– gets to pick his replacement, costing Team Blue a critical spot in the chamber, and one that might be very difficult to win back.

3. William McRaven: One of the significant weaknesses of a Trump-Pence ticket is the lack of foreign policy experience and the lack of any kind of real service, military or otherwise. McRaven, of course, directed the Navy SEAL team that killed Osama bin Laden, and has for years been esteemed within the military community for his leadership and character. In terms of picking someone not for their geographical strengths but strengths of character and experience, McRaven is a surefire win. Recently, he has served as chancellor of the University of Texas system. He has also criticized Trump for removing security clearance from his critics, and Trump’s response (“Wouldn’t it have been nice if we caught Osama sooner?”) blew up in the president’s face. McRaven demonstrates that this election isn’t about rock-em-sock-em politics, but about a nation’s destiny and its honor. The contrast couldn’t be clearer.

2. Martin Heinrich: The first rule of vice-presidential selection: do no harm. Heinrich offends no one, has strong environmental credentials, and just won a massive landslide re-election in his home state of New Mexico. Now, New Mexico isn’t really a swing state any longer, but Heinrich’s understanding of the issues of the Southwest– including immigration–could create some spillover appeal in Arizona, Nevada, and even Texas. He and fellow New Mexico senator Tom Udall have recently teamed up on legislation to prevent future family separation, helping take the moral initiative on this issue. He’s issues-oriented, and focused with a discipline that suggests his engineering background. As a partner for governing and campaigning, Heinrich is going to be near the top of the veepstakes.

  1. Beto O’Rourke: Is Beto running for president? Who knows. Lots of people are worried that he squandered his “moment” after nearly beating Ted Cruz in a Senate race for the ages, but that strikes me as an awful lot of pearl-clutching. Beto’s tapped into something, as advocate for a sensible, visionary, neighborly, and compassionate brand of politics that caught on. Beto towed a remarkable line in making somewhat moderate and sensible positions palatable to the Democratic Party’s squadron of young leftist activists by shear persuasion and personality. Harris-O’Rourke as a ticket would hit a kind of sweet spot in American politics, creating a ticket that touches on America’s multicultural identity, and is broadly acceptable to party regulars, grassroots activists, AOC people, Bernie people, minorities, and all permutations thereof. And Beto has six years in Congress, lest anyone think this guy is an empty suit– and has represented the crucial border city of El Paso.

 

So, those are my fifteen picks for vice-president, should Kamala Harris get the nomination. Did I miss any of your favorites? Are some of these choices better than others? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

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One element that I will re-evaluate as 2019 and 2020 continue is the ideal presidential ticket and cabinet. Now, as most people reading this blog know by now, I identify politically as a progressive old-school McGovernite and would align myself with the “Christian Left” such as it is. That means, among other things, greater access to health care, LGBTQ protections, humane solutions to immigration, and more equitable taxation.

So, I need to find an ideal ticket to carry those ideas in the 2020 election. That means I need candidates who 1) can actually win the Democratic primaries, 2) beat Donald Trump in the general election, and 3) govern wisely, effectively, and honestly.

There are already something close to two dozen prospective candidates: Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Beto O’Rourke, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, Steve Bullock, Kamala Harris, Kirstin Gillibrand, Andrew Cuomo, Sherrod Brown, Joseph Kennedy III, Mike Bloomberg, Terry McAuliffe, John Delaney, Eric Garcetti, and lord knows who else.

duckworthMy pick for president isn’t on that list. But she should be. It’s Illinois’s Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth was a congresswoman from the suburban Chicagoland area and until being elected senator in 2016. I might add that she decimated her incumbent opponent by 15 points. Before her career in congress, she served in the Iraq War, losing both of her legs in a combat mission, and worked for Illinois’s department of veterans affairs. More recently, she made history for being the first sitting senator to give birth. And she’s only the second female Asian-American senator.

But there is much more to Duckworth than her biography. Her steely resolve, her grace and good humor under duress, even her biting wit- she was the one who named Trump “Cadet Bone Spurs”-work in her favor. She has the energy, discipline, and intellect to do the job and doesn’t come off as a policy wonk. Nobody else has the credibility to challenge military waste–think of the social programs we could have if we got that under control. Moreover, Duckworth’s story would resonate in ways that confound political geography. Her family’s military service and financial hardship add to the relatable factor. See, Duckworth’s appeal isn’t precisely suburban, or hispanic, or millennial. If the goal is simply to get to 270 electoral votes, Duckworth could easily win Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. If Wisconsin could elect another Tammy- this one an open lesbian- to the Senate in 2018, it shouldn’t have an issue sending the other Tammy to the White House.

Indeed, Duckworth’s background addresses a glaring issue. The last four presidents have had military service that was either non-existent (Trump, Obama, Clinton) or farcical (Bush 43). One can, of course, be a great commander-in-chief without much in the way of military experience, as Lincoln and FDR both demonstrated. But it is not ideal. Her experience in politics may not amount to a great many years, but her eight years of holding high office by 2020 nonetheless beats out Bush 43, Obama, and Trump. It isn’t why I picked her, but she would also be the first Asian president, first female president, and the first amputee president.

For her running mate, I have selected Beto O’Rourke, who ran a campaign for the betoSenate in Texas that exceeded all expectations. O’Rourke served for three terms as congressman of an El Paso-based district, and this proximity to the border gives him real insight on immigration issues. O’Rourke figured out the secret sauce between grassroots campaigning, projecting personality, and finding a good way to have lots of energetic support on the ground while not being so left-wing as to turn off suburban Texas. He’ll be a crucial mode of outreach to Hispanic voters, and will help generate no small number of eager activists.

So…Duckworth-O’Rourke 2020! Stay tuned, because I have an ideal cabinet for this administration all mapped out.

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The 2018 midterms are over at last. After agonizing over them for nearly two years, I should be grateful for a fallow period of political interest. In truth, there’s no such thing. As soon as the midterm results are over, I started looking at possible Senate candidates for 2020. Democrats, having lost a balance of two seats in the Senate, have their work cut out for them. However, they only lost a Senate race in one swing state in 2018. And they certainly can’t face worse headwinds than the number of seats they had to defend this year. In 2020, they only have 12 seats to defend–alas, including Alabama–compared to the Republicans’ 22. But many of those 22 are in deep red territory.  It’s a distant possibility, but Team Blue can retake the Senate if a number of factors break in their favor: the political climate, good campaigns, and excellent candidate quality.

As to that latter point, here are my picks for the Democrats’ Senate races in 2020.

I would expect Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Mark Warner (VA), Gary Peters (MI), Chris Coons (DE), Jeff Merkley (OR), Tina Smith (MN), Doug Jones (AL), Tom Udall (NM), and Cory Booker (NJ) to run for re-election.

For retirements? We’re seeing some folks getting long in the tooth. Dick Durbin will be nearly 76, Jack Reed will be nearly 71 (both have been senators since 1997), and Ed Markey will be 74 and clogging a rich Democratic bench in the Bay State. I’d predict all three to retire. (Shaheen will be just as old, but will have “only” had 12 years in Washington compared to the decades these three men have had.) So for our purposes that means vacancies for Illinois, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island.

I have also reluctantly given up on Wyoming, Arkansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Louisiana, Idaho, and Tennessee.

Illinois: Dick Durbin is a key party leader in the Senate and would leave big shoes to fill, but Cheri Bustos would do the job nicely. As the only Democratic congressperson from Illinois outside the Chicagoland area, she’d play a crucial role in representing interests from other parts of the state, in the same way that Kirsten Gillibrand gave upstate New Yorkers a necessary voice in statewide politics.

Massachusetts: It’s time for Joe Kennedy III to step into the fray. After a well-received response to the State of the Union address last year, he’s been an articulate and thoughtful advocate for progressive causes, avoiding the maverick-y tendencies of Seth Moulton that will hurt him among party activists and primary voters. The Kennedy sense of public service seems to have mostly skipped a generation, but the former Peace Corps volunteer is ready to take the mantle.

Rhode Island: Jack Reed’s ideal successor might be Providence mayor Jorge Elorza. He is the son of Guatemalan immigrants who takes up this key issue with an understandable level of interest. He has lead a U.S. Council of Mayors task force on reforming illegal immigration and has come around to the position of abolishing ICE.

Georgia: It is clear that Georgia is slowly trending toward becoming a swing state. After decades of being fully Dixiecratic, Georgia has elected only Republican office-holders since 2004. But as suburbs turn blue across the country and as Atlanta continues to grow young and cosmopolitan, that may well change. Stacey Evans, the congresswoman who came in 2nd to Stacey Abrams in the gubernatorial primaries, has earned her chance to show what she can do. Like Kay Hagan in 2008, she is from a winnable Southern state facing a damaged one-term incumbent from a political family. Hagan had Liz Dole, Evans would have David Perdue.

Kentucky: Mitch McConnell is actually deeply unpopular in his home state, but will voters have the gall to kick out a Senate Majority Leader? It’s only happened twice within living memory. Amy McGrath just might be able to do it. She ran a close race in a suburban Kentucky district this year, and as a tough Marines veteran who made one of the best commercials of the 2018 cycle, she stands a good chance of winning crossover votes. Kentucky is a red state in presidential elections, but they have a decent history of electing Democrats to statewide office. McGrath might become the first Democratic senator from Kentucky since 1999.

Maine: Will Susan Collins retire or not? She’s winding down her fourth term, finding herself sandwiched between a Maine that’s tilting red, a GOP lunging right with little patience for bipartisanship, and a swath of independents and Democrats no longer willing to give her the benefit of the doubt after her vote for Kavanaugh. Rather than face a primary challenge and a general election, Collins might step down. If she does, Jared Golden, the recently elected congressman from Maine’s rural 2nd district, would be an ideal choice. He won (barely) in a district Trump carried easily, and frankly, his life would be easier as a senator. Rather than contest a competitive district every two years, he could win fairly comfortably as a senator every six. As a military veteran who distances himself from the Democratic mainstream on some issues, Golden would be a good fit for Vacationland.

South Carolina: What shall become of Lindsey Graham? The man who was once a loyal McCainiac and spoke out against Trumpism became an administration lap dog. Do the Russians have dirt on him? That’s the rumor, but it’s dangerous to treat it as more than such. But if something does hit the fan, Democrats may have a competitive race on their hands if all the breaks go in their favor. Enter Mandy Powers Norrell, the unsuccessful lieutenant governor pick for the Democrats in this year’s gubernatorial race. Norrell is a self-made woman with deep agricultural roots who can, with the right grassroots support, keep rural losses to a minimum and suburban crossover votes to a maximum.

Mississippi: Having just defended her seat in an off-year special election, Cindy Hyde-Smith has to stave off another challenge in 2020. For a Republican in Mississippi, she proved to have an especially brittle glass jaw, even running against ethically-challenged Mike Espy. Her racial faux-pas hearkened to an uglier stage in Dixie’s history. Although Mississippi is very Republican and quite inflexible in its voting patterns, it still has a number of ancestral Democrats who can switch under the right conditions. Brandon Presley is someone who can make that happen. He serves in the Mississippi Public Service Commission and…oh yes…is a cousin of Elvis.

Kansas: Pat Roberts has been in the Senate for four terms and is now 82 years old. He was in serious danger of losing in 2014 before an influx of GOP cash saved his bacon– and this was in a very good Republican year. He may call it quits, and if so, an open race without an incumbent advantage opens up. Josh Svaty is the man of the hour. His work as Kansas’s Secretary of Agriculture will help him in the hinterland, and his opposition to abortion will allow him to cut down on the religious right’s advantage, as Bob Casey Jr. has done in Pennsylvania. Svaty is young (he’s only 39 now), capable, and well positioned to be Kansas’s first Democratic senator since the FDR years.

North Carolina: Thom Thillis won what was then the most expensive campaign in Senate history in 2014, edging out Kay Hagan. Can he win again? Thillis hasn’t quite marked out a public persona, and North Carolina is slowly, painfully moving left, even with a remarkably awful GOP in power in the state legislature. Anyway, Jeff Jackson could ignite a Beto-style grassroots revival that Texas wasn’t ready for quite yet, but North Carolina certainly is. Jackson, a state senator, is also an army reservist, in his mid-30s, telegenic, and has fought back hard against the excesses of the GOP legislature. I hate not picking a person of color like Anthony Foxx, but the South just doesn’t seem to be in a place of electing progressive minorities.

Iowa: This is going to be a tough one. Joni Ernst won her first term easily in a Republican-trending rural state back in 2014. As enamored as I am with Abby Finkenauer, I’m reluctant to pick first-term congresspersons unless there is no alternative (see Jared Golden.) So I think Amber Gustafson is the way to go. She almost took out Iowa’s Senate majority leader this year, and has the right kind of resume for succeeding in difficult territory: populist, a former Republican, and walking a smart line on gun control. She grew up on a farm that her parents lost in the 80s farm crisis. She is Iowa to the core.

Colorado: This represents perhaps the Democrats’ best pickup opportunity. You have Cory Gardner, a one-term incumbent who won in a fluke in 2014, and hasn’t shown a whit of the moderation you’d expect of a state that is on the cusp of no longer “swinging” but being legitimately blue. I’d pick Mike Johnston— essentially Colorado’s other senator, Michael Bennet, but better. Like Bennet, he is an education specialist and an ivy league graduate. Unlike Bennet, he has a strong sense of the grassroots, and probably would have won the 2018 gubernatorial primary if Jared Polis hadn’t entered flush with his own cash. Johnston has been a high school principal, a state senator, an Obama education advisor, and a board member of a half-dozen worthy causes from the I Have a Dream Foundation to City Year. In a well-educated, suburban state, Johnston has the recipe for success down cold.

Montana: This is a highly flexible state: Republican on a presidential level, but dependent on retail politics and personal connection otherwise. Although rural, white, and libertarian, it has elected Democrats multiple times to the Senate and the governorship in the last two decades. One exception was Steve Daines’ victory in 2014. Governor Steve Bullock could enter the race and perhaps be the favorite. Bullock won the governorship twice in presidential election years when Montana voted for the GOP candidate. At present, Bullock is mulling a presidential run, but this seems like a fool’s errand. Democratic primary voters are not going to vote for a consensus-building, somewhat moderate mountain stater in the states he’d need to win– especially with Sanders or Beto’s or even Amy Klobuchar’s strength in rural areas, should they choose to run. No, Steve– you’ve got to try for the Senate.

Arizona: Ordinarily, there wouldn’t be an Arizona Senate race this cycle. But the timing of Senator McCain’s death meant that a temporary appointment would carry over until 2020. Just last month, Arizona elected its first Democratic senator since the eighties in Krysten Sinema. Ruben Gallego would be my choice to run. He fits a common profile in my choices: a young military veteran. A progressive and an environmentalist, he would tap into a strong core of leftist activism while still doing well enough in the pivotal Maricopa county suburbs.

Nebraska: Ah, Ben Sasse. A Never-Trumper who somehow ends up always voting Trump’s way. An academic who is constantly pwned by his own former Ivy League advisors on twitter. It’s not hard to imagine him throwing in the towel after one term or going on a suicide-run primary challenge against the Donald himself. Or getting primaried. In any case, I have a surprising challenger, whether his opponent is Sasse or someone else: Howard Warren Buffett. That’s right, Warren Buffett’s grandson. Lest you think this is dynastic politics (and to some extent it is), Buffett the younger is a man of accomplishment in his own right. He’s helped stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan’s agricultural sectors after the War on Terror, brought an Energy Innovation Conference to Nebraska (a state where potential wind power is lucrative), and runs a farm. With the amount of money at his disposal and the common theme of a young (37 in 2020) man running a Kennedyesque campaign, this race could be a captivating one.

Alaska: Let the record show that Dan Sullivan won a close Senate race in a very red year in Alaska, with pitiful voter turnout. Let the record also show that his approval rating is, last we checked, underwater. This isn’t a great place to be, and Alaska can be a surprisingly volatile state. I considered more candidates for this race than any other before finally landing on Ivy Spohnholz. Young-ish (45), she’s carved out a niche as an Alaska State House legislator and nonprofit leader, having led the Salvation Army in Alaska. In terms of being “authentically Alaskan”, she was actually born in a log cabin!

Texas: John Cornyn is up this time. Shall Beto challenge him, too? Nah- I have other plans for Beto further down the line in this series. Instead, I want former admiral William McRaven to challenge Cornyn. Cornyn is a different kettle of fish than Ted Cruz…less ideological more a part of the party apparatus. Cruz is disliked even by fellow Republicans, Cornyn is not. But McRaven could provide a vital contrast– Cornyn is part of a water-carrying Senate Republican leadership, while McRaven has stood strongly against Donald Trump and his attacks on reporters and military veterans. McRaven, of course, oversaw Operation Neptune Spear that took out Osama bin Laden and has lately been chancellor of the University of Texas system.

So- those are my picks for the 2020 Senate races. Thoughts?

 

 

 

 

 

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