Days before Joe Biden is set to announce his running mate, Democrats including confidants of the former vice president say the race is fluid, with different candidates gaining or losing momentum.
Three candidates — Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), former national security adviser Susan Rice and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) — are seen as the top candidates in contention.
But as Biden examines internal polling and conducts one-on-one interviews with each of the contenders this week, sources say another candidate could pull a surprise.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who was seen as a front-runner in the spring but seemed to fade from the spotlight, is still very much in the race, said several sources.
“Joe has always liked her,” one source close to Biden said of Whitmer. “They’re very similar. He can relate to her. It shouldn’t be surprising to anyone that she’s still very much in the mix.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is also not out of the running and has taken part in the final stages of the process, sources say, and several Democrats say a surprise from Biden is possible.
“I think the list has narrowed a bit but … it’s going to be a surprise to whoever gets it,” said one source who has spoken to one of the contenders.
The source described the process as “being in a pitch-black room.”
“You know where you are but you don’t know where everyone else is,” the source said. “You can only speculate like everyone else.”
Harris has been making rounds of last-minute phone calls to make the case for herself privately, sources say.
“She really, really wants it,” one source said. “And she wonders what the delay means for her.”
There have been reports that some in Biden’s orbit are opposed to Harris being his running mate, and speculation that her attacks at the first Democratic primary debate on his past position on school busing was a lingering issue.
In an interview Thursday with journalists at the virtual convention of the National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), Biden was asked about any resentment he might have for Harris after the two clashed.
“I don’t hold grudges and I’ve made it really clear that I don’t hold grudges,” he told CBS News reporter Errol Barnett. “I think it was a debate and it’s as simple as that. And she’s very much in contention.”
One Democratic strategist, who has worked on recent presidential campaigns, predicted Harris would get the nod at the end of the process — even if the delay does point to some reservations.
“The delay this week suggests to me that there’s a lot of churn about it internally and they are doing some gut check which may or may not be good for her,” the strategist said.
Another source close to Biden and the campaign said there are many “positives” for Harris that keep her in the “top two or three.”
For starters, Biden and his team feel confident that she’s “already had a national vet,” meaning she’s been through a full vetting process given her own high-profile run for the White House.
“You can’t say that about most of the others,” one Biden confidant said.
Rice has not run for office before, though if Biden decides his pick is the person he works best with and is most comfortable with, she could still get the nod.
“She’s loyal as shit and he knows that,” the confidant said. “And that carries a lot of weight.”
In an interview with “CBS This Morning” earlier this week, Rice lobbied for herself publicly, saying she brings “almost 20 years of deep experience in the senior most ranks of the executive branch.”
Some worry, however, that her lack of experience running for office will hamper her ability to help Biden.
Rice, in the CBS interview, acknowledged those concerns, before noting that she has worked on three presidential campaigns and has hit the trail for other candidates.
At the same time, she added: “I do think this is going to be quite a different election given the pandemic and much of the interaction unfortunately with the American people will take place remotely.”
Bass has received endorsements from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), but some around Biden wonder if she’s ready for the running mate role. They point to the criticism she received this weekend on her comments about Cuba and the late Fidel Castro.
Yet those remarks haven’t knocked her out either.
“I think the VP could find reasons he could work with all of them and do so effectively,” one longtime ally added.
In the interview with the NABJ and NAHJ journalists, Biden said the process to select his running mate has been “very orderly.”
“I’ve narrowed it down and I’ll be ready to make that announcement,” he said. “You’ll find out shortly.”
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