How Joe Biden's leading VP contenders stack up in the wake of protests over George Floyd's death

Key Points
  • Joe Biden's options for his running mate may have narrowed even further in the wake of mass protests across the country in reaction to the death of George Floyd under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. 
  • As the Floyd protests continue five months ahead of Election Day, political observers are now paying more attention to Biden's potential running mate, particularly whether he will select a black woman.
  • CNBC looked at how Floyd's death and its impact on some of the biggest names on Biden's shortlist: Rep. Val Demings and Sens. Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren.
U.S. Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden wears a protective face mask as he arrives to visit the Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S. June 1, 2020. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Jim Bourg | Reuters

Joe Biden's options for his running mate may have narrowed even further in the wake of mass protests across the country in reaction to the killing of George Floyd, who died as a white Minneapolis police officer kneeled on the neck of the unarmed black man for nearly nine minutes. 

As the Floyd protests continue five months ahead of Election Day and President Donald Trump's response to the crisis comes under fire, political observers are now paying more attention to Biden's potential running mate. The protests have sparked a new wave of public lobbying for Biden to pick a black woman to be vice president. 

Biden has said he will make his choice by Aug. 1. He is ahead of Trump in a Real Clear Politics national polling average by close to 6 points. 

Three of the women on Biden's shortlist, Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., all have track records of working in or with law enforcement. Political strategists say their past legal work could push them out the running to be Biden's vice president. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., on the other hand, has openly said she would agree to be Biden's VP choice if he asked. A Morning Consult poll shows voters believe she would give the apparent Democratic nominee the biggest boost with voters under 45, and blacks and Hispanics. 

Here is a look at these four top contenders to be Biden's vice presidential pick: 

Sen. Amy Klobuchar

Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks into the microphone as his former rival for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, Senator Amy Klobuchar, endorses him during a campaign event in Dallas, Texas, U.S., March 2, 2020.
Eric Thayer | Reuters

Klobuchar's recent campaign for president in the 2020 Democratic primary was largely based on the platform that her moderate approach to governance would help her party overtake Trump in key Midwest swing states that he won four years ago, such as Michigan and Wisconsin. 

Still, her ability to appeal to Democrats and independents who backed Trump in those states may be overshadowed by her record as a Minnesota prosecutor before she made her way to the U.S. Senate in 2007.  Klobuchar was the Hennepin County attorney, where she declined to bring cases against multiple police officers and instead pushed them to a grand jury.

That piece of her past, according to people close to her, may have all but ended her chances of becoming vice president. 

"It's very bad and not good," an ally of Klobuchar's who was recently pushing her to Biden's team as the ideal choice, told CNBC. "The pickings are slim and this could push Val Demings up," this person noted, who declined to be named because these efforts have been made in private.  

In a recent interview with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell, Klobuchar admitted that, in hindsight, she made a wrong choice not to take on those cases herself as a prosecutor. 

"I think that was wrong now. I think it would've been much better, if I took the responsibility and looked at the cases and made the decision myself," she said, while later brushing off the idea that she is going to drop out of consideration for the VP slot, noting that it's Biden's decision to make. 

That hasn't stopped progressives from publicly calling on her to pull out of the running to be on the ticket with Biden, including the liberal organization MoveOn. 

Rep. James Clyburn, a black congressman from South Carolina and one of Biden's most loyal supporters, appeared to pour cold water on Klobuchar getting picked in recent comments he made to reporters. "This is very tough timing for Amy Klobuchar," he said. 

Sen. Kamala Harris

Democratic presidential candidate , U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks during the Nevada Democrats' "First in the West" event at Bellagio Resort & Casino on November 17, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
David Becker/Getty Images

Harris was California's attorney general before she was elected to the Senate in 2016.

Her record came under fire as the state's top law enforcer when she went against Biden and a plethora of other Democrats in the primary. And political strategists believe that her record as a prosecutor may come under siege again in the wake of Floyd's death. 

"She already had the scraping of her own record as attorney general during the presidential campaign. What does it look like in the wake of this?" Democratic strategist Mary Anne Marsh said. "She's got some challenges with her own record as AG, too." 

During a CNN primary debate last year, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, took on Harris' record as district attorney of San Francisco and later the leader of the state attorney general's office, including cases that went after people who were charged with marijuana possession. 

Harris' supporters, though, argue that she would be the best pick to appeal to the black community and women across the country, especially in the wake of Floyd's death. 

"In my view, Biden will satisfy more of the Democratic base by choosing a black woman — energized women of all races and energized black men and women – than he does from a Midwest white woman," said Julie Zebrak, a political fundraiser and Harris supporter. 

Harris has also apparently been angling for the job in public. 

She recently tweeted out a photo of Biden's deceased son, Beau, in honoring the five year anniversary of his death. Beau Biden and Harris were close friends. She also went to a protest in front of the White House this weekend and has called Floyd's death a "public execution." 


Rep. Val Demings

In this screenshot taken from a Senate Television webcast, Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) answers a question from a senator during impeachment proceedings in the Senate chamber at the U.S. Capitol on January 30, 2020 in Washington, DC.
Senate Television via Getty Images

Following Floyd's death, Demings, who was chief of the Orlando Police Department before she made it to Congress in 2017, came out with an op-ed in The Washington Post calling for changes to hiring and recruiting police officers. 

"As a nation, we must conduct a serious review of hiring standards and practices, diversity, training, use-of-force policies, pay and benefits (remember, you get what you pay for), early warning programs, and recruit training programs," she wrote last week. 

Demings has publicly confirmed that she is on Biden's VP short list. 

Yet she has no experience running for president, and some strategists argue that even if she is chosen to be Biden's running mate, Democrats still aren't likely to win Florida, a critical swing state that Trump and Biden are vying for. 

"Can she bring in Florida? Nobody can bring in Florida," Marsh said. 

Demings will have her work cut out for her if she wants the electorate to get to know her. A Morning Consult poll shows that voters believing she would be a net negative for Biden's chances against Trump. Three in 5 participants of that survey say they've never heard of or have no opinion of Demings. 

She did serve as an impeachment manager for Trump's Senate trial that ended in acquittal. 

Sen. Elizabeth Warren

Democratic 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., speaks at a campaign Get Out the Vote Event in Charleston, South Carolina, on Feb. 26, 2020.
Brian Snyder | Reuters

Warren has publicly reiterated that she would jump on the ticket with Biden if he asked her to be his vice president. 

Since the protests erupted she has positioned herself as someone who is trying to unify, not just the Democratic Party, but the nation as a whole. 

Warren was recently interviewed by the Color of Change, a nonprofit civil rights advocacy organization that was formed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. 

"We are past just protesting. We have to make real change in this country. And some of that is going to be on the legal side and some of it is going to be standing up and saying who we are as a people," she told the group's president, Rashad Robinson. 


Before the Floyd death, strategists observed that she had notably appeared to pivot on her "Medicare for All" platform, something she vehemently ran on when she was trying to overtake Biden in the Democratic primaries.

"I think right now people want to see improvements in our health-care system, and that means strengthening the Affordable Care Act," Warren recently told students at the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics, according to Politico. 

The move suggests that she's willing to ditch her original stance and instead broaden her appeal to moderate voters. 

"It's clear she would love to be picked and she's running for vice president as she did for president," Marsh said. "Her clarification on 'Medicare for All' shows she can be a team player." 

Representatives for Biden and all the potential VP nominees named in this story did not return requests for comment. 

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