Val Demings vs. Susan Rice

Representative Val Butler Demings (L) and former National Security Advisor Susan Rice (R).

One is heiress to Hillary, the other to Obama.


he website PredictIt now shows California senator Kamala Harris as the clear frontrunner in the Biden veepstakes, with close to a 50 percent chance of getting the nod. The second most likely Biden VP, according to the site, is Florida congresswoman Val Demings — who is at 14 percent — and in third place is Susan Rice, the former national-security adviser to President Obama, who is at 12 percent.

The conventional wisdom appears to get the three finalists in the veepstakes correct. Biden seems increasingly likely to pick an African-American woman, so that rules out Elizabeth Warren. And other potential female African-American running mates, such as former Georgia legislator Stacey Abrams or Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, lack experience in federal government, which is a real deficiency during a pandemic.

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So, which of the three will it be? I think it’s closer to a tossup than conventional wisdom has it. Kamala Harris’s strengths and weaknesses are well known to anyone who followed the Democratic primary. She is the only black woman to hold statewide office. She’s been vetted by the national press and is cautious enough that it’s likely she wouldn’t commit any earth-shattering gaffes that would sink the Democratic ticket.

On the other hand, Harris endorsed a radical and unpopular plan to abolish private health insurance by passing Medicare for All, so she could alienate some of the suburban voters that abandoned the GOP for the Democrats in 2018. At the same time, she waffled on the issue and generated little enthusiasm on the left. She also effectively accused Biden of being racist for opposing busing policies, and she could face withering attacks from the left and the right for her record on criminal justice.

If Biden comes to see Harris as the wrong choice, who has the upper hand: Demings or Rice?

If you’re trying to get a sense of the strengths and weaknesses of Demings and Rice as political campaigners, watch these two recent interviews.

Here’s Rice on MSNBC on June 19:

Here’s Demings on CNN on June 22:

The contrast in demeanor and tone is pretty striking. Rice comes across as cold and negative, while there is a certain warmth and positivity to Demings.

Rice hammers the Trump administration, calling “racist to its core,” and repeatedly denounces the “disgraceful despicable lies that this president tells.”

Demings, by contrast, seeks to establish a sense of empathy with viewers, discussing how she grew up in the South as the daughter of a maid and a janitor. “I know what racism feels like,” she says. Asked if she’s seeking the VP slot, she tells Anderson Cooper: “I’m not sure I want the job as much as the job may want me.”

“People are chosen, I believe, at certain times to address certain things,” Demings says. Is she the one Biden’s been waiting for?

As an outsider and a natural politician, Demings seems to follow in the footsteps of candidate Barack Obama, while Rice, a creature of Washington, seems to be in the mold of Hillary Clinton.

And yet, I wouldn’t write off Rice. Demings might be exactly who Biden would want to pick during a period of relative normalcy or if he were behind and needed to generate excitement. But during a time of crisis, Biden, the former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, may come to see Rice’s State Department and National Security Council résumé as a strong asset. And if his wide lead over Trump endures, Rice or Harris could seem like a safer pick than Demings, whose record as police chief in Orlando hasn’t been fully vetted.

With the Democratic National Convention looming in mid-August, the 77-year-old Democratic presidential nominee has about six weeks left to make the most important political decision of his life.

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