Black leaders want a black woman as Joe Biden's running mate. But who?
WASHINGTON (NYTIMES) – Four years ago, Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey made his vice-presidential pitch to Hillary Clinton at her Washington home, months before she faced Donald Trump in the November election.
Booker, the only African-American to make Clinton’s shortlist, argued that the presence of a black running mate would motivate black voters, helping Clinton re-create the coalition that backed former President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
But Clinton had won the Democratic nomination with substantial black support, and some of her advisers argued that many black voters would already be energised by Trump’s divisive candidacy and appeals to white conservatives, according to several people involved in the selection.
After weighing the strengths and weaknesses of Booker, among others, she chose Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, a white moderate widely seen as a safe, traditional pick.
“Kaine brought good and solid credentials,” said Minyon Moore, a key adviser to Clinton who participated in the selection process. “But the difference between a Cory and Tim Kaine could’ve closed the enthusiasm gap. Looking back on it, it’s fair for people to ask if we should’ve factored enthusiasm more into it.”
No two presidential cycles are completely analogous, but as former Vice-President Joe Biden begins his search for a running mate, Clinton’s loss and the weaker-than-expected black turnout in 2016 are on the minds of top Democrats. Biden has already committed to selecting a woman, and he and his allies have repeatedly mentioned two black women as possibilities – Senator Kamala Harris of California and Stacey Abrams, the party’s 2018 nominee for governor of Georgia – as well as several white women, particularly Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan.
Pressure has been growing on Biden to choose a black woman to inspire black turnout this fall and not take it for granted. The Rev. Al Sharpton, for instance, who speaks to Biden regularly, is to announce his support for Abrams as vice-president as soon as next week, according to those familiar with his plans.
Yet Biden is facing other factors and pressures as well. He has said he wants someone who is prepared to step into the vice-presidency immediately, a nod to the value he puts on government and leadership experience. He would be the oldest president ever, 78 on Inauguration Day, and is looking for a partner and, possibly, a potential successor. With the country deep into the coronavirus pandemic, voters will also assess whether his running mate appears capable of handling the worst national crisis since World War II.
Harris, who has statewide and national experience, is seen in the Biden camp as a more likely pick than Abrams, who was a state legislative leader for a decade before losing her bid for governor. Still, some Democrats believe that choosing a hands-on governor or veteran senator is a better fit for the crisis than Harris, who was attorney general of California and has been in the Senate for three years.
Biden’s selection has also become a vehicle for a broader debate among Democrats about the best strategy to win back the White House. While candidates like Harris or Abrams could energise core Democratic constituencies such as black voters or younger voters, as well as women, Whitmer and Klobuchar could be a geographic plus, considering they hail from the Upper Midwest region important to the Electoral College.
Among some black leaders and activists close to Biden, including Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina and former Democratic Party chair Donna Brazile, a commitment to selecting a woman is not enough. They have publicly and privately pushed Biden to select a black woman, arguing black voter enthusiasm may hinge on it.
Abrams herself has been outspoken on the issue, taking the unusual route of publicly making the case for why Biden should choose her. She also said, during an interview this week on ABC’s “The View,” that she would have “concerns” if Biden didn’t choose a woman of colour as his running mate.
“Women of colour, particularly black women are the strongest part of the Democratic Party, the most loyal,” she said. “We need a ticket that reflects the diversity of America.”
There is no precedent for the selection of a black running mate. There is also little evidence that vice-presidential selections sway general elections in any meaningful way, including Clinton’s selection of Kaine in 2016. Still, citing the dip in black turnout four years ago, and the importance of black urban centres such as Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Cleveland in the Electoral College, proponents like Sharpton argue that a black woman could help Biden.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has encouraged allies to float names of House members like Reps. Val Demings of Florida and Marcia Fudge of Ohio, according to people familiar with those conversations, in part to reward members of her caucus with a higher profile.
Several leaders in the Congressional Black Caucus, an organisation steeped in tradition, have preferred Harris, who is a member. Georgia politicians like Atlanta’s former mayor Kasim Reed and its current mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, who endorsed Biden early and is a top surrogate, are former political rivals of Abrams.
A recent comment from Clyburn publicly undercut Abrams in favor of Bottoms. Clyburn, who declined an interview request for this article, said Abrams lacked sufficient experience.
“There is a young lady right there in Georgia who I think would make a tremendous VP candidate, and that’s the mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms,” he said in March.
Biden has been cautious about saying too much about his preferences. He said this week he expected to form a selection panel for his running mate by May 1 and has repeatedly said his top priority is a governing partner he can trust, someone with whom he is “simpatico.”
During an interview with local television in Pittsburgh this week, Biden said he would choose Michelle Obama as his running mate “in a heartbeat”, but thought she did not want to return to the White House. He largely pivoted away from a question about a black woman serving as his running mate, noting that he had already committed to nominating a black woman for the Supreme Court.
“I’ll commit to that be a woman because it is very important that my administration look like the public, look like the nation,” Biden said. “There will be a woman of colour on the Supreme Court. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a vice-president, as well.”