When former Vice President Joe Biden pledged to pick a woman running mate during Sunday night’s debate, one name that immediately came to mind in New Hampshire was Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. And for good reason.
While Shaheen has been oddly — some would say troublingly — quiet about her party’s presidential primary (she still hasn’t endorsed a candidate), her politics are viewed as similar to those of Biden: Less progressive, less confrontational and more bipartisan than the Sen. Bernie Sanders’ wing of the Democratic coalition. She would both check the identity politics box and reaffirm Biden’s brand — similar to the Bill Clinton strategy in 1992 of doubling-down on youth and reform.
That’s particularly important for the 78-year-old Biden, given the actuarial tables. While other candidates might try the strategy of balancing the ticket ideologically, the conventional wisdom for the Biden candidacy is that he needs voters to feel confident that his running mate will share his politics given the higher-than-average probability that she might be called on to serve.
“Shaheen is very well respected in the Democratic Party and she would be an effective debater on the ticket, too,” says Bob Shrum, veteran of eight Democratic presidential campaigns and Director of the USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future.
Plus, Shaheen comes from a state that Democrats nearly lost to Trump, one the president has focused on flipping for the past year. The Granite State’s four electoral votes aren’t crucial, but losing them would make taking the White House from an incumbent Republican that much harder.
Shaheen, with both executive experience and a strong foreign-policy portfolio, could comfort moderate Republicans who want to vote against Trump and help hold onto a swing state. But when the Washington Post released their own “likely VP” list on Monday, her name was nowhere to be found. Instead, it listed Senators Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, along with relative unknowns like Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.)
But not two-term Senator Shaheen? Why?
“She’s too old,” one New Hampshire Democratic insider and Shaheen supporter told NHJournal. That was a common refrain from NH politicos on both sides of the aisle speaking to NHJournal on background. Shaheen is 73 — the same age as President Trump — but her age is rarely mentioned as a political issue in New Hampshire. Biden’s senior status, however, changes the math, some strategists argue.
“It’s not just her age,” says NH Republican strategist Michael Dennehy. “Shaheen is also a lifetime politician. Biden is a lifetime politician and he needs to pick someone who is new and fresh. Biden’s pick should be pointing to the future of the Democratic Party.”
And while Shaheen is a woman, some Democrats say she’s not “identity politics” enough for the 2020 cycle. “I think Joe Biden has to pick a person of color for his VP slot,” Michael Starr Hopkins, a Democratic strategist, told The Hill. “If you look at what happened in South Carolina and the fact that the African American community saved his candidacy, I don’t think it would just be a bad political move to not pick an African American candidate, but it would be a slap in the face.”
Shrum declined to endorse Shaheen, or any other potential running mate, and he reminded his fellow Democrats that speculation at this point is premature. “The final choice is going to go through an extreme vetting process, and they are going to look carefully at who can help the most in the general election,” Shrum told NHJournal.
Where does Shrum fall on the “balance the ticket” question? Should Biden pick a VP based on their ability to carry their home state? Or to energize the progressive wing of the party?
“I think people underestimate the impact Biden had on the 2008 ticket. He made a real difference in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio. Someone like Kamala Harris could have a similar impact, energizing black turnout in Michigan, for example. It’s not about the state you’re from, it’s about the state where you can make a difference,” Shrum said.
And using that metric, it’s hard to think of a state outside New Hampshire where Shaheen would have an impact.
So, she’s probably not on the list, though nobody outside the Biden inner circle knows who’s actually being considered. But Shaheen serves as a reminder that Biden is running on a brand — moderate, traditional, a “return to normalcy– that he would be wise to protect when he picks his potential VP.