Should Mr. Biden become president, few other potential vice presidents might be dispatched as easily on important missions around the world. Ms. Rice could confidently play that role, Mr. Benenson suggested, “while President Biden would do a lot of the repair, certainly in the early days of the administration, on the national stage.”
But hanging over everything is the question of Ms. Rice’s abilities as a campaigner. She would be the first person chosen for vice president without prior elected experience since 1972, when the Democratic ticket included R. Sargent Shriver, the former Peace Corps director and John F. Kennedy’s brother-in-law — like Ms. Rice, a diplomat closely linked to a president sorely missed by his party.
Ms. Rice is up against multiple candidates who have run for president themselves, including Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, and others, like Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, who have endured grueling statewide campaigns.
Allies of Ms. Rice have argued privately to Biden advisers that the learning curve for a first-time candidate might be smoother than normal given the strictures of a pandemic-era campaign. If a town-hall meeting or rally might be a relatively new setting for Ms. Rice, a television studio or webinar surely would not. They point, too, to the electoral inexperience on the opposing ticket: Ms. Rice, after all, has won exactly as many elections as Mr. Trump did before defeating Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Ertharin Cousin, the former executive director of the United Nations World Food Program who is friends with Ms. Rice, said Ms. Rice had confided not long after Mr. Obama left office that she was intrigued by electoral politics, though she did not specify Maine as a venue. More recently, Ms. Cousin said, Ms. Rice had confirmed her interest in the vice presidency.
“She said to me: Joe Biden knows me and he knows my capabilities and if he thinks I’m right for him, then I’d be honored to serve with him, full stop,” Ms. Cousin said.
Ms. Cousin, who traveled with Ms. Rice in South Carolina during the 2008 presidential primary there, said that even then voters recognized her from her media appearances and connected with her as “a smart Black woman.” The country has few Black diplomats, Ms. Cousin noted, and voters rarely see them up close.