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Jules Witcover

Not yet assured of the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, former vice president Joe Biden has surprisingly volunteered he will select a woman for the job he held for eight years under President Barack Obama. It clearly enhances his own chances of being elected, considering the political clout of the female vote in current American politics.

But voters almost always base their own choice on whose name is on the top of the ticket, not on the running mate. When John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960, some said his selection of Lyndon B. Johnson as his No. 2 enabled him to carry Texas and be elected, but that view was far from confirmed.

The important consideration in the process for Biden, he said in an earlier MSNBC interview, will be whether or not the person is "simpatico with where I want to take the country." He went on: "We can disagree on tactic but not on strategy. That's the first test, and there are a number of women, and African Americans as well, who meet that criteria for me."

On another occasion, he said his choice would have to be younger than he is, and be "ready from Day One to be President of the United States."

He also volunteered that it would be "very important" that his running mate had been tested earlier as a presidential candidate, as he himself was in 2008. That condition has been met by three 2020 Democratic rivals: Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Kamala Harris of California.

All have since endorsed Biden, but Harris in the first primary debate pointedly and harshly attacked him on grounds he had opposed school busing as a desegregation tool in Delaware as a senator, a policy that had benefited her as a young girl. It earned her national notice but also was cited as transparently self-serving, and she soon faded in the polls. Warren earlier supported Medicare For All but later embraced Biden's public option for retaining private insurance. So has Klobuchar, whose genial temperament might be a better fit for him than the often-combative Warren, and at age 59 is right for the job and from the Midwest he may need to win.

Biden has often emphasized the importance to him of his personal compatibility with Obama. Speaking at the funeral service of Joe Biden's son Beau in 2015, the then-president identified himself as an adopted family member and Joe as his "brother." None of the three now mentioned as possible running mates has had a similar kinship with him.

In any event, Joe Biden will bring to the selection his unique experience in having been a personal sidekick to a sitting president for eight momentous years. Himself heavily experienced in foreign policy as a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and then as a globe-trotting vice president, he might well look for a seasoned domestic policy veteran focused on gender or racial matters.

For now, however, it's imperative that he keep his eye and, as he often puts it, his "word as a Biden" on the unfinished business of nailing down the nomination, and then fulfilling his goal of uniting the Democratic Party.

An essential part will be finding a comfortable place in it for Sanders and his huge progressive following. He must do so not only to defeat Donald Trump but also to fashion an agenda that will have wide public support over his prospective presidency.

As for occasional calls for Biden to commit himself to serve only one term in light of his age — 77, soon to be 78 — it would be folly to self-anoint himself as a one-term president before even getting started. That matter would take care of itself in due time, should he get there.

He has been the resurrected comeback kid so far. Now his long-sought goal of being the rightful occupant of the Oval Office, rather than just a frequent visitor and heir apparent, will require more campaigning, persuasion and endurance from him, eventually along with an acceptable running mate.

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