For political soothsayers, it was the equivalent of the Holy Grail. As Joe Biden took questions from reporters on Tuesday, prognosticators homed in on handwritten talking points clutched in the former vice-president’s hand.
“Kamala Harris,” the note read. “Do not hold grudges.” “Campaigned with me & Jill. Talented.” “Great help to campaign.” “Great respect for her.”
As Mr Biden prepares to name his running mate next week, the note may have confirmed the long-held suspicion that Mr Biden will go with Ms Harris, a Democratic senator from California and a former presidential candidate. Or was it a red herring to distract from the other candidates Mr Biden has considered for the position?
So far, Mr Biden has given little insight into his thinking, beyond a promise to choose a woman for his running mate.
In recent weeks, Mr Biden’s team has been weighing the merits of the different candidates — including their ability to motivate the Democratic party’s progressive wing, win over moderate independents or help him carry swing states.
Personal chemistry with Mr Biden is a factor, and some Democrats have also suggested that, against the backdrop of the George Floyd protests, Mr Biden should pick a woman of colour. Given Mr Biden’s age (77) and his suggestion that he could step down after a single term, Democrats say the chosen candidate should be ready for the top job.
Here are some of the women that Mr Biden is considering for the role.
The former California attorney-general is seen as one of the most likely picks. The first black and Indian-American US senator for the country’s most populous state, Ms Harris, 55, is one of the few people on the list who already had a national political profile. She has already been vetted by the media during her 2020 presidential run.
At the same time, some Democrats worry Ms Harris’ background as a prosecutor could harm her at a time when progressives are clamouring for police reform. Allies of Mr Biden say she may have damaged her chances of joining the ticket when she took a personal swipe at Mr Biden onstage at one of last year’s Democratic presidential primary debates with a cutting remark on Mr Biden’s history on busing.
More recently, Ms Harris has become a powerful surrogate and fundraiser for Mr Biden. Her friendship with his late son, Beau, could also help her candidacy.
A colleague of Mr Biden’s from the Obama administration, Ms Rice is one of the only women on the list with significant foreign policy experience — an attribute that might separate her from the pack.
The daughter of one of the first black Federal Reserve governors and one of Washington’s top education policymakers, Ms Rice, 55, served on the National Security Council and in the state department during the Clinton administration, before becoming Barack Obama’s ambassador to the UN and national security adviser.
Ms Rice has faced controversy over comments made in the wake of the 2011 US embassy attack in Benghazi, which derailed her nomination to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. Those comments could come back to haunt Ms Rice. She is also the only woman on the list never to have run for public office.
A black Democratic representative from the state of Florida, Ms Demings rose to prominence as one of the House managers during Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial. As the former chief of police for the city of Orlando, Ms Demings, 63, has also become one of the key Democratic voices on the issue of police reform in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.
The daughter of a janitor and a maid, Ms Demings is becoming a more prominent voice in the party. Her local connections could help Mr Biden in the crucial swing state of Florida.
Still many Democrats worry that she does not have the governing experience required for a candidate who may be called on to succeed Mr Biden. Her police credentials could also pose a problem for progressives who have taken to the streets following George Floyd’s death.
A Democratic congresswoman from California and the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, Ms Bass, 66, has emerged as a late-breaking frontrunner for the job, despite her relatively low profile.
A former physician’s assistant, Ms Bass became a community organiser during the crack epidemic in the 1980s and then ran for the California state assembly, eventually rising to speaker, as she helped the state navigate the Great Recession. She was elected in 2010 to Congress, where she has worked on issues ranging from gun control and criminal justice reform to healthcare and voting rights.
Unlike some of the other women on the list, Ms Bass has never been elected to statewide office and is not a household name. But she has the progressive credentials to help Mr Biden with the Democratic base, and she has been well-liked and respected by colleagues in Congress.
Born in Bangkok to a US military veteran father and a Thai mother of Chinese descent, Ms Duckworth is a woman of firsts.
A US Army lieutenant-colonel, now a US senator for Illinois, Ms Duckworth, 52, lost both her legs while serving as a helicopter pilot in Iraq.
After returning to the US she continued to serve in the Illinois National Guard before running for office — first for the US House of Representatives and then for Senate in 2014. She is the first Thai-American woman and first female double-amputee elected to Congress. She is also the first US senator to give birth while in office.
While Ms Duckworth’s home state is safe Democratic territory, some party strategists believe her moderate credentials could appeal to swing voters, while her compelling personal biography could also be an asset.
Unlike some of the lesser-known candidates on the list, Ms Warren, a 2020 presidential contender, is a well-known political quantity.
A Harvard law professor who now serves as US senator for Massachusetts, Ms Warren, 71, is one of the most progressive names on the list. Her presence on the ticket could potentially help Mr Biden attract younger and more liberal voters.
As a former presidential candidate, Ms Warren has proven she could be ready for the job on day one, and is one of the few women on the list with a distinct policy platform that builds on her career advocating for tougher financial regulation.
While she is a hero among many progressives, some Democrats worry Ms Warren could turn off some moderate independents who might otherwise be inclined to vote for Mr Biden. Others say that it is important that Mr Biden pick a woman of colour.
Ms Whitmer, the Democratic governor of Michigan, was a virtual unknown on the national political stage until coronavirus hit her state. She has since become a favourite Twitter target of President Donald Trump.
Her presence on the ticket could help Mr Biden carry a state that narrowly voted for Mr Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016. She is also seen as a potential asset for Mr Biden in winning over some of the moderate white suburban voters who supported Mr Trump in 2016 but are now looking for an alternative.
At 48, Ms Whitmer represents a new generation of the Democratic party. But she has not been vetted on the national level, having been governor only since 2018 and Michigan senate minority leader before that. Like Ms Warren, she would also not bring racial diversity to the ticket.
The former minority leader in the Georgia House of Representatives burst on to the national stage in 2018 when she ran for governor of the state, making her the first black woman to be selected as the gubernatorial candidate for either of the two main US political parties.
While Ms Abrams, 46, lost the race, Democrats praised her for being competitive in a state once seen as a Republican stronghold.
A lawyer, Ms Abrams served in the Georgia House from 2007 to 2017 before her gubernatorial bid. In the wake of her defeat, Ms Abrams has become a leading voice on voting rights.
She has made no secret of her desire to be on the Democratic ticket and could potentially help Mr Biden in Georgia — a long-shot state for Democrats. Yet some party strategists worry that she is best known nationally for a race she did not win and does not have enough governing experience.
Keisha Lance Bottoms
The mayor of Atlanta became a serious contender in the wake of the George Floyd protests when she spoke out against city looting, while speaking to her own experience as a black mother.
A former prosecutor who represented children in juvenile court, Ms Bottoms, 50, later served as a judge before joining Atlanta City Council. She was elected the city’s mayor in 2017.
During the coronavirus pandemic, she has clashed with Georgia’s Republican governor over her decision to mandate mask-wearing inside Atlanta city limits.
Like Ms Abrams, she is seen as a potential asset for Mr Biden in Georgia and a fresh face for the Democratic party. But some fear she lacks governing experience and has not been vetted by the national media to the same degree as some other candidates.