Joe Biden has said he’ll pick a woman as his running mate, but there’s a large group with a much more specific demand.
The front page of the Feb. 21, 2020, issue of The Community Voice featured a perplexed looking Joe Biden, with the taunting headline, “What Happened, Joe?” That was following Biden’s sad performance in the Iowa primary, followed by an even worse performance in Vermont.
That headline was “B.S.” No, not the “B.S.” you’re thinking, but “Before the South” when the Black vote kicked in. On Feb. 21, the pollsters had almost counted Biden out, but the Black vote in South Carolina rescued his sinking ship. They delivered him nearly two-thirds of their vote and gave him the momentum to carry 10 out of the 14 Super Tuesday states, where, once again, the African-American vote carried him to victory.
Without such a united Black voting block, Biden would likely still be trying to figure out how to deliver a final knockout blow to Sanders, but instead, he’s already sailing into the Democatic National convention as the presumptive nominee.
For their support, Black leaders are readily waiting for the favor to be returned. Combine the community’s support with Barack Obama – America’s first Black president – appointing Biden as his running mate, and there’s yet another favor to be returned. There’s no better way for the favor to be returned than by Biden nominative a Black female running mate.
Black Women Second Class
While Biden has promised to nominate a woman, many people question whether he’ll honestly consider a Black female. Too often, the choice for a woman doesn’t mean a Black woman, recalls Rep. Maxine Waters.
Waters remembers 1984 when former Vice President Walter Mondale, declared he would be proud to support a female running mate. However for Mondale, that didn’t mean a Black woman. Only White women – Geraldine Ferraro, then-San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, and Rep. Pat Schroeder – made Mondale’s VP short list.
Waters, then a California state representative, and a group of other Black female Democrats were furious at the snub, but their concerns drew little, if any, attention. Thirty-six years later, Black females are a powerful force in the Democratic Party, and it will be much more difficult for Biden to ignore their concerns.
A group of nearly 500 prominent Black female Democratic leaders and activists have signed a letter to Biden calling on him to choose a Black woman as his vice-presidential nominee.
“We’ve heard for years that Black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party; now is the time to put deeds to words,” prominent Democratic Party activist Karen Finney told The Washington Post. “We felt it was important to unify and lift up our voices with a clear message in support of a Democratic vice presidential nominee who is female and black.”
Black Female Contenders
The letter didn’t back any one candidate, but put forward a list of qualified women, including former Georgia legislative leader and 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams; 2020 presidential contender California Sen. Kamala Harris; Representatives Karen Bass of California, Val Demings of Florida, and Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio; Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms; and Susan E. Rice, former national security adviser under President Barack Obama as well as onetime ambassador to the United Nations.
There’s another big movement to draft Michelle Obama as Biden’s running mate. Biden has said he would choose Michelle Obama as his running mate “in a heartbeat,” but Obama has consistently said she’d never run for political office.
Abrams and Harris are said to be on Biden’s short list, along with Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. However, some Black women are concerned Harris and Abrams aren’t being seriously being considered as contenders, particularly by the media and other Democratic political leaders.
“It felt as though there was a tacit acceptance that Klobuchar, Warren, and maybe Whitmer were the leaders, and Stacey and Kamala were just ‘also mentions.’” says Democratic leader Bishop Leah Daughtry.
Strengths and Weaknesses
At age 77, Biden’s selection of a running mate matters more than most. In this case, if he dies or becomes incapacitated, his running mate could possibly be the next president, and the first female president of the United States.
Warren’s weakness is her age. At 70, she’s younger than Biden, but not by much.
Klobuchar is the safe moderate choice, but because she’s so safe, adding her to the team will do little to strengthen the ticket.
Whitmer, 48 brings youth to the ticket, but with just 1.5 years as governor, she brings very little experience to the table.
Abrams, 46, also brings youth, but also lacks experience. Her highest-held position is minority leader of the George State House.
Harris, 55, is at least a generation younger than Biden and in addition to her experience as a U.S. senator, she’s also served as attorney general of California.
Where Harris and Abrams shine, though, is in increased voter enthusiasm, particularly Black voter enthusiasm.
“I haven’t heard one person say, ‘We won’t vote for Biden if he doesn’t pick a black woman,’” Daughtry says.
The leverage their effort brings is enthusiasm. “It’s the difference between ‘I’ll vote for you, and maybe write a check,’” says Minyon Moore, a longtime party leader and Hillary Clinton insider, “and ‘I’m going to get my mother, father, sister and brother and everybody in my family to vote.’”
Black turnout slipped seven points between 2008, when Obama was first elected, and 2016.
“We think this is a way to mobilize Black women to create genuine enthusiasm — to close the [Black] enthusiasm gap we saw between 2008 and 2016,” Glynda Carr of Higher Heights for Women, which promotes the political engagement of Black women, told the Nation.
Joe Biden’s selection of a running mate matters more than any other VP pick we can remember — because of Biden’s age, because of the coronavirus, and because it could eventually produce the nation’s first female president.
Quotes from The Nation and The Washington Post