Earl Ofari Hutchinson
There is one meeting, among many, I’ve had over the years with Congresswoman Karen Bass that always stands out. Some years back, I was having a heck of a time trying to get my paperwork to get IRS approval for my non-profit organization, the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable. There was always just one something wrong that kept getting the application bounced.
I called Karen. She had much experience running a major community-based non-profit in South Los Angeles. and knew the ins and outs of non-profit mechanics and funding. Karen did not hesitate. She came to my office late one afternoon with a folder of materials on non-profit organizations and walked me through the steps for approval. The IRS quickly approved my submission.
This was small, personal, no drama, and certainly nothing of media interest. But it told much about Bass’s willingness to reach out to share her expertise to see that a grassroots community-based non-profit got off the ground. Before, during, and after her rise in politics I worked with Bass on countless issues, projects, and causes over the decades, and as my long-time congressional district representative. She has always been equally adept working the frontline of activism and quietly the inner corridors of political power. Her aim has always been to fight hard for economic and civil rights, economic and social justice.
This is one of her assets that almost certainly rocket launched her high up on the Vice-Presidential radar scope of presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Her resume is increasingly well-known, California State legislature, Assembly Speaker, Congress, and Congressional Black Caucus Chair, and power positions within the Democratic Party.
The vice-president, though, is an entirely different ball game. And Bass is one of several high-profile Black women that Biden has publicly said he’s considering.
The VP contenders all have big, boisterous, and aggressive cheerleading fan clubs. They have been loud and vociferous about getting a Black woman on the ticket. The reasons mix racial partisanship with hard-nosed political reality. The big numbers, energy, and enthusiasm of Black women voters for the Democratic candidates has been on impressive display countless times in the past two decades. Black women have voted in a much greater percentage than other voting bloc. In the November 2018, national mid-term elections more than half of eligible Black women voters went to the polls. This was six percentage points higher than the national turnout.
Biden will need every one of those percentage points in the five or six swing states that will decide the White House. Trump won three of them by a minuscule fraction of the vote over Hillary Clinton. It has been oft noted that if numbers of Black voters in the big urban areas in those states had not stayed home on Election Day, Clinton not Trump would be in the White House. They would have offset the votes that Trump got from white, less educated, rural, and blue-collar voters that put him over. He banks on those same voters to do it again.
This time two things must happen to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Biden will need an active, aroused, big numbers turnout from progressives. Many panned and harangued Clinton and voted third party. This time they clamored for Bernie Sanders. Not getting him, they clamor for Elizabeth Warren as Biden’s VP. But much as there is to like about Warren, she is polarizing, is a septuagenarian too, draws much wariness from independents and centrists. These are red flags that could cancel out the potential uptick Biden might get with Warren from progressive voters.
Bass doesn’t have that downside. She’s a solid progressive, and her lower national profile takes much of that liability away. She’ll be baited for her trips to Cuba and her supposed softness on the Castros. But many of the red baiters aren’t going to vote for Biden anyway
Biden will also need an energized, storm the poll barricades from Black voters. This helped power Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012. Kamala Harris may not be the answer here. She’s experienced, won three California elected offices, is high profile, and has solid liberal credentials. But she has baggage from her stint as California Attorney General in which she was perceived too soft in countering police abuse. In the George Floyd era, this turns off a lot of Black voters. Bass doesn’t have that political load on her shoulders. Potentially, she can supply the energy jolt Biden needs from Black voters.
The 2016 presidential election decisively proved that the presidential race is a pure numbers game. But a numbers game in a close-run election in which a swing of a relative few votes one way or the other can be huge.
Biden made clear that he wants a running mate who is experienced, and politically savvy in governance and legislative initiatives. In other words, if he is incapacitated for any reason, she can hit the ground running. This is no small consideration given Biden’s age. Bass on that score is the complete political package. This makes a strong case for Karen.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of Biden Versus Trump: Who Will Win (Amazon) He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network