IOWA CITY, Iowa ― Beth Gelding, a retired librarian in this university town, is a committed Joe Biden supporter in next week’s first-in-the-nation caucuses. She thinks he’s ready to deal with international leaders and Republicans on “day one” of his presidency. She’s even hosting a Biden campaign staffer at her house.
She’s also already making plans for his vice president. “We’re all assuming it’s going to be a woman,” she said after a Biden rally at the University of Iowa on Monday night. “We’re all thinking that this person can pick up the baton in four years.”
Biden, more so than any presidential candidate in recent memory, has faced intense speculation and questioning from his supporters about who he would select as vice president. Participants at events often ask him how he would make his pick ― a question rarely posed to the other candidates in the sprawling field of Democrats seeking the nomination to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in November.
There’s a multitude of reasons for voters to be curious about who Biden, a front-runner for the Democratic nomination, might select as vice president. Biden will be 78 by 2021’s Inauguration Day, which would make him the oldest person to assume the presidency, and there have long been rumblings he might serve only a single term at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. It also reflects the rise of pundit voters ― the highly informed primary voters who are trying to craft a dream ticket in order to put the biggest electoral hurt on Republicans.
But many voters, especially women, are also looking for reassurances that Biden will select a woman. They hope that picking the candidate they view as having the best chance of beating Trump doesn’t mean giving up on making history.
“It’s been a long time since Geraldine Ferraro,” said Marjorie Tully, another Biden supporter who works at the university hospital here. Ferraro, a New Jersey congresswoman at the time, was Walter Mondale’s running mate in 1984 when he challenged President Ronald Reagan.
“Absolutely. The right woman,” said Ellen Nelson, a nonprofit fundraiser who attended a Biden event in the Des Moines suburb of Waukee on Thursday, when asked if he should pick a female running mate. “It’s about time.”
The desire for Biden to pick a woman for his old job extends to the press: When the Sioux City Journal in conservative western Iowa endorsed Biden on Saturday night, it recommended Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
“We believe the two of them together would be a formidable team,” the newspaper’s editorial board wrote. (The recommendation is echoed by many voters in Iowa, though some hope Biden will select Sen. Kamala Harris of California or Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.)
Former Iowa Gov. Tom Vilsack, a Biden supporter who served as agriculture secretary in the Obama administration, said it would be unwise for Biden to announce a vice presidential pick so early, using an analogy from his time as a small-town mayor.
“I was asked one time to do the beauty contest at New London. There were five candidates, and four of them were quite attractive young ladies, and there was another one who wasn’t as attractive but she had great spirit and great spunk and she really loved her community,” he told HuffPost. “I made one friend. I made four enemies that day.”
Vilsack, who said he had twice been vetted for the position of vice president, also noted that the process of doing so is lengthy and difficult. Still, he added: “There are absolutely some women Vice President Biden should consider. Some of them have acquitted themselves quite well in this whole process.”
In the past month, Biden has been directly asked by voters at least twice about who his choice would be. At an event in Peterborough, New Hampshire, in late December, Biden expounded at length about what he would look for in a vice president.
“It has to be someone who shares my value set and my priorities,” Biden told the crowd assembled on the second floor of the town hall. “The day of picking someone to balance the ticket are basically gone, because the responsibility of the presidency is so immense no one person can handle it themselves. They have to be able to delegate.”
“There are a lot of people who are qualified,” Biden, who was President Barack Obama’s vice president, added. “I can think off the top of my head, not a joke, of seven women, not a joke, who are capable of being president tomorrow. As a matter of fact, there are a couple in your state who aren’t bad.” (New Hampshire has two female Democratic senators: Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen.)
Biden added that there were a “number of African Americans” he could select for his old job.
And at a town hall in Mason City, Iowa, last week, a woman told Biden he could lock down her support by agreeing to pick Klobuchar or another woman as vice president.
Besides floating Hassan and Shaheen, Biden has also pointed to two of his rivals as potential running mates. After Harris dropped out of the race, he said she could be a future vice president or Supreme Court justice. (Harris is considering an endorsement of Biden, The New York Times reported last week.)
“She has the capacity to be anything she wants to be,” Biden told reporters.
He’s also suggested Warren as a potential pick. “I’d add Sen. Warren to the list,” he told Axios in December. “But she’s going to be very angry at my having said that.”
It’s rare for the other candidates to get questions about accepting an offer to be someone else’s vice presidential running mate. Earlier this month, a voter at a town hall in Newton, Iowa, questioned whether Warren would join Biden’s “centrist administration.” (Biden aides had suggested he wanted Warren to serve as his vice president had he run in 2016.)
“I’m not looking to be anyone’s vice president,” Warren told reporters after the event.