Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The instant that presumptive Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden pledged that he would pick a woman as his VP running mate, it started. The “it” was the clamor for Biden to pick not just a woman, but a Black woman on the ticket. By then the names quickly tossed out had narrowed down to two, Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams. There was and is lots of talk and clamor for a Biden-Michelle Obama ticket and Biden fueled that talk when he said he would welcome her on the ticket in a “heartbeat.” But that’s not going to happen mostly because Michelle has repeatedly said no deal on running for any office.
But Harris and Abrams are very much in the hunt. Each one of them has a big, boisterous, and aggressive cheerleading fan club. And both make it clear that if Biden picks them, they will jump at the chance to be on his ticket. There are good reasons, they, and a lot of Blacks, including many Black leaders, such as the Reverend Al Sharpton, and a chorus of Black congresspersons, have been loud and vociferous about getting a Black woman on the ticket. The reasons mix racial sentiment with hard-nosed political reality. The reality was shown twice in the last few years. The first was when Black women voters in Alabama crusaded to the polls. Their 98 percent vote support helped shove Democrat Doug Jones into the Senate.
This was no mean feat. Even with the scandal plagued, sexually repugnant accused abuser, Roy Jones as his Republican foe, without the extra umph from Black women voters, in virtually impregnable GOP stronghold Alabama, Jones, baggage and all would likely have won. In the South Carolina Democratic primary in February, the massive support Biden got from Black voters propelled him to the top of the Democratic presidential heap. Black women were not only a majority of the Black Democratic votes in the state, they were among the most enthusiastic and energized for the Democrats.
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. They 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.
The key to make sure that doesn’t happen is an energized, storm the poll barricades Black vote. This ensured Obama bagged those same states in 2008 and 2012. Much depends on Black women voters supplying that energy jolt. The 2020 election like the three most recent presidential elections decisively proved that the presidential reelection bid 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.
There is also much raw emotion in play behind the call for a Black female VP. The Obama wins were charged with that same emotion among Black voters. It was part race, part pride, and all sense of history in the making and being a part of Obama’s epic win. A Black woman VP will do the same with one even more tantalizing, high stakes add on.
Biden made clear that he wants a running mate who is experienced, and politically savvy in governance and legislative initiatives. In other words, as he put it, if he is incapacitated for any reason, she can hit the ground running. There was more than an inference in this stipulation that age and health could well be a factor down the line with him in the White House. This is no small consideration given Biden’s age.
So, there’s more on the line for a Black female VP candidate than simply being another “first.” She’ll be ruthlessly picked apart, scrutinized, and reviled by the GOP, far more than any other VP candidate in living memory. Just think of the national shudder at Sarah Palin, one heartbeat away from the presidency with an aged, health challenged John McCain as would be President, to see where that laser focus on Biden’s pick will go.
Biden has racial baggage and with the drumbeat charge of sexual assault making the rounds, there’s some potential baggage there too. A Black woman VP’s job is not to undo that. It’s to give him and the ticket a boost. There’s much to like about a Black woman VP on that score.
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