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Columns, Opinions

Apple ’21: It’s Tammy Time!

By
Staff Columnist
Tuesday, April 21, 2020

With Joe Biden all but confirmed as the Democratic nominee, speculation has turned to who his running mate will be. Since Biden made his promise to choose a woman as his vice president, the usual suspects have been bandied about: Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Stacey Abrams, Kamala Harris. But all have distinctive flaws and would not be the best choice for the Vice Presidency. With Biden poised to be the oldest nominee in history, the Vice President must be a capable, experienced leader who could step into the presidency at a moment’s notice. But she will also need to energize the progressive base, increase turnout among young voters and voters of color, and win back some non-college-educated white voters in the Midwest. While less talked about than some other candidates, there is one woman, Tammy Baldwin, who fits the bill and would be the slam-dunk vice presidential choice for Biden.

Biden has staked his claims on returns to normalcy and unity. It’s why he’s formed policy working groups with Bernie Sanders’ people, and why he has signaled that he is willing to move left on some issues by adopting Warren’s bankruptcy plan and embracing part of Sanders’ proposal to make higher education more accessible by proposing community college be free to all. But progressives, who are a sizable chunk of the base, remain skeptical. While 80 percent of Bernie supporters have indicated they would vote for Biden, there remains a danger that many of these voters will stay at home, as they did in 2016. Baldwin offers him a vice presidential candidate who has worked within the confines of the party but is also unapologetically progressive and will not be afraid to push Biden on the issues.

Tammy Baldwin was elected as the junior Senator for Wisconsin — one of the key bellwether states this November — in 2012 after serving in the U.S. House of Representatives for 14 years. With Pennsylvania and Michigan tilting towards Biden in most polls, Trump likely needs Wisconsin in order to win the presidency. In 2018, Baldwin won by 11 percent in her Senate reelection campaign, the most of any Democratic statewide candidate. In particular, Baldwin was strong among typically Republican strongholds in the state, such as western and southern Wisconsin, and also ran up big leads in Madison and Milwaukee. Baldwin is also the only candidate other than Stacey Abrams to outperform Barack Obama among young voters in her respective state.

In terms of electability, no one has a stronger claim than Tammy Baldwin as the candidate who can secure the Rust Belt. At the same time, Baldwin’s progressive credentials are unimpeachable — she models herself off of “Fighting Bob” La Follette, who ran a third-party campaign in 1924 with the goals of breaking monopolies, strengthening unions and protections for civil liberties. Baldwin also supports some of Bernie’s flagship proposals — Medicare for All being one of them. Baldwin would be the strongest olive branch that Biden could offer to the progressive wing of the party, to show that he recognizes their importance and value and understands that they deserve a sizable place in his administration. 

But the Vice President should not only be someone who adds “pizzazz” or spark to the ticket. The Vice President should be a serious politician and someone who can be trusted to lead the country. Baldwin is a career politician, and one of the few people in Washington for whom that isn’t criticism. She has devoted her life — from Dane County Board of Supervisors, to State Assembly, to House, to Senate — fighting for the people of Wisconsin. 

The one potential downside of selecting Baldwin is that she would vacate a swing state Senate seat if she were to become Vice President, which would be up for special election in 2021. But this risk is largely exaggerated by those who discuss it. In 2018, Democrats won 54 percent of the votes in the General Assembly and elected a Democrat as Governor. While 2018 was a Democratic wave year, Baldwin’s popularity bodes well for Democrats in a special election, especially when considering the likelihood that Republicans have less fervor to get Biden out of office five months after the election than the Democrats had against Trump’s party during the 2018 midterms. For example, Joe Manchin ran in a terrible year for Democrats in a 2010 special election to replace a Democrat in West Virginia, which had voted for John McCain by 13 points. But Manchin still won. With Baldwin as the Vice President campaigning for the Democratic nominee (perhaps Mark Pocan, a progressive who followed in Baldwin’s footsteps as the 2nd District Representative in Wisconsin), Democrats have a good chance at holding this seat.

There are many women capable of assuming the Vice Presidency, but none of them offer as much to the Biden ticket as Baldwin. Amy Klobuchar or Kamala Harris would alienate many progressives. Biden needs to move left on criminal justice, and to appoint either of the two former prosecutors — both with problematic records — would show a lack of commitment to tackling the mass incarceration crisis in our country. Gretchen Whitmer, while a fantastic governor, has only been in the role for 14 months, and it is likely many Michigan voters would feel neglected if she turned her attention to campaigning while the state reels from a public health crisis. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the governor of New Mexico, is another compelling choice. With her on the ticket, the neighboring state of Arizona could be won by Biden, especially combined with Mark Kelly’s outstanding candidacy for Senate. But she is also a new governor, and would not help in the battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin, or Pennsylvania.

Which leaves three obvious candidates: Stacey Abrams, Tammy Duckworth and Elizabeth Warren. Abrams, while she mounted a fierce run in the 2018 gubernatorial election, must face similar questions as Pete Buttigieg in terms of lack of experience, having never held statewide office. It is also questionable whether she can help to expand the base. To be sure, her campaign for governor did increase Black turnout substantially in Georgia, and she would likely continue attracting suburban women voters, who are largely credited for helping her narrowly win the majority of the suburban vote — a group that historically voted Republican in Georgia — in 2018. But Abrams lacks Baldwin’s appeal to swing voters in the Rust Belt, which will undeniably be key in 2020. Tammy Duckworth is also a strong candidate, as a former U.S. Army helicopter pilot and Senator from Illinois, but she lacks Baldwin’s progressive credentials and does not come from a battleground state.

Elizabeth Warren would be a fantastic vice president, just as she would have been a fantastic president. However, she is only a few years younger than Biden, and their policy differences have been aired, in sometimes very contentious and unflattering ways, in debate after debate over the past year. In addition, Warren is unfortunately seen by many as an East Coast liberal elite, despite her Oklahoma roots. In the Minnesota primary, the closest thing we have to a Rust Belt swing state election that Warren participated in, Warren barely qualified for delegates, tied with Michael Bloomberg among white non-college-educated voters and Black voters, and finished third in young voters. While she checks off the “qualified to be president category,” she only expands the base among young voters, who should not be forgotten, but are less likely to vote than white non-college-educated and Black voters.

Tammy Baldwin is the one person who brings everything to the table. She won 64 percent of young voters, 84 percent of Black voters and 47 percent of white non-college-educated voters in her 2018 Senate election. In comparison, Hillary Clinton, who lost Wisconsin by only 22,000 votes, won only 47 percent of young voters and 34 percent of white non-college-educated voters in 2016. Baldwin would be an exciting VP choice to bring out progressives and working class voters in support of Biden, and she would be incredibly capable of stepping into the presidency should the need arise. Now is not the time for another bland Tim-Kaine-like choice, nor should Biden pick someone without the chops to assume the presidency. Baldwin is the best choice to inspire progressives disappointed in a Biden nomination and lock down key constituencies in swing states, making her the perfect vice presidential nominee and our best presidential candidate in 2024.

Caleb Apple ’21 can be reached at caleb_apple@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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