Before today, I would have bet money that Elizabeth Warren would never get selected as Joe Biden’s running mate. However, I might have also bet even more money that Warren couldn’t outraise her competitors in the 2020 Democratic Veepstakes. Warren eschewed any super-PAC help in the primaries, and then foundered so badly that she had to beg for super-PAC intervention at the tail end of her campaign.
Of course, Joe Biden won the nomination based on a similar, earlier rescue from his own inept fundraising operation. The bar is low, apparently:
But as the vetting process enters its final stage, there’s another lesser-noticed facet to the veepstakes: how much cash the contenders have raised for him, and their ability to juice donations if they’re chosen.
Of Biden’s prospective running mates, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has brought in the most money for him, totaling more than $7.7 million combined from a high-dollar event — which she vocally swore off during her own campaign — and a grass-roots event that drew 50,000 participants. She’s also sent multiple emails to her own small-dollar list, as well as his. On Tuesday, Warren will host another event for Biden, alongside Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), with tickets ranging from $250 to $25,000, according to an invitation obtained by POLITICO.
Sen. Kamala Harris — who headlined two fundraisers alongside Biden and appeared at several other events — has raised more than $5 million, according to a source familiar with the total. And Sen. Tammy Duckworth has co-headlined three fundraisers with Joe and Jill Biden, and appeared at other events, bringing in more than $3 million for the campaign.
For the VP hopefuls and their donor backers, hosting events that generate eye-popping totals is “a flex,” or a means of showing off their political muscle, said one Democrat affiliated with one of the considered running mate candidates. Another Democrat aligned with a different VP contender called it a “measurable sign of enthusiasm behind certain people.”
Color me skeptical about this putting Warren in position for the bottom of the ticket. Biden has repeatedly pledged to choose a “woman of color,” a label which gives him some flexibility but not nearly enough to overcome a Warren pick. In fact, given Warren’s baggage with questionable-at-best claims of Native American heritage to advance her earlier career (along with other instances of fabulism), picking Warren would make the “woman of color” pledge into a sick joke.
This does show one other point, however — the problem with picking someone out of the House for running mate. Note well that Karen Bass and Val Demings didn’t finish on the medal platform in this contest. Bass raised $2.2 million in California, which is pretty impressive for a candidate who only represents 700,000 people in a congressional district, but it’s also California — a Democratic piggy bank for decades. It’s only a third of what South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg has raised for Biden, and he’s not on the presumed veepstakes shortlist at all.
The top three finishers all come out of the Senate. That’s because senators have higher national profiles than all but the most senior House members, and they have much larger constituencies as well. Democrats and Republicans both tend to look to the Senate for running mates, in large part for those reasons. Plus, both Warren and Harris raised their own profiles by running for the nomination. Duckworth represents Illinois, another ATM machine for Democrats.
Duckworth might be a good choice for Biden despite only taking the bronze in the fundraising race. She didn’t take part in the primary, meaning there are no lingering attacks that the GOP can use against her. Duckworth is a war hero, and she is a woman of color, having Thai-Chinese heritage on her mother’s side; she was born in Bangkok, a natural-born American thanks to her father’s citizenship. That might raise some kooky conspiracy theories on the Right, which Biden might enjoy provoking, especially if Trump takes part in it. At least no one knows whether Duckworth has the skill to campaign nationally, while we already know that Warren and Harris don’t really have the skills to hold up well.
Biden would probably still be better off with Michelle Lujan Grisham, whose Hispanic heritage would appeal to a constituency Biden needs more badly, and which is a much larger part of the electorate. Black voters might resent a non-African-American pick, but a boost in enthusiasm from Hispanics might outweigh any negative drain from the Democrats’ most loyal demographic. Duckworth’s not a bad choice, though.