The road to the White House for Democrats only exists with the support and excitement of black voters—black female voters to be specific. Just ask Bernie Sanders. He thought he could carve a path to the nomination without overwhelming support among the Democratic base—black voters. He was wrong.
Sure, other Democratic voters matter. Lots of ink has been spilled about the importance of “suburban” Democratic voters, read white voters, even though blacks have been moving to the suburbs at great rates as they’ve been pushed out of cities for years now. However, any viable Democratic strategy rests on the active participation and interest of diverse groups of black voters.
Biden made a promise to select a female running mate, a declarative statement some feel may have painted the former veep into a corner. There are several qualified women on the Democratic bench, but only Abrams can deliver the significant number of black voters across the United States to galvanize the base and articulate a clear vision.
Several women are qualified to assist Biden in the governance phase of a possible Biden presidency, but only Abrams assists fully with the two-stage process of a successful Democratic presidency– campaigning and then governance.
I don’t think Democrats want or need another Tim Kaine moment. That is, selecting a running mate who would be fine for governing but brings relatively little to the ticket during the campaign stage. Kaine would have served the nation dutifully, and he possessed the intellect to assist Hillary Clinton in White House strategic matters. However, the lack of excitement about Kaine and his inability to connect with the Democratic base was yet another Achilles heel for the Clinton campaign.
The 2020 election season is already unprecedented, and now more than ever, Biden needs to select a running mate who has the gift of reaching diverse demographics of voters and connecting with them on a myriad of levels. He needs a storyteller, a leader, a robust fundraiser, and a running mate who can contextualize the past and present and present a clear outline for the future.
Anyone who has heard Abrams speak for more than five minutes is sold on her policy acumen and her ability to present realistic solutions to decades-long problems pertaining to the institution of poverty, criminal justice, and economic exclusion. As more Americans find themselves slipping out of their tenuous middle-class identity, Biden needs a partner who can lay out arguments in a way that is accessible, realistic, compassionate, and policy-driven.
The Democrats have not shown their eagerness for innovation in this presidential cycle. The overwhelming Democratic primary support for Biden is a clear indication that a majority of Democratic voters who bothered to participate are not willing to dramatically change course. However, Biden cannot afford to isolate and alienate the more progressive wing of Democratic voters or voters who are concerned that this septuagenarian may need some critical assistance galvanizing Democratic voters and delivering a hybrid of Democratic policy needs and desires. It is imperative Biden choose someone with leadership experience who can explain to voters the values and ideals of the Democratic Party.
Let’s actually discuss Abrams’ qualifications, since many believe the only viable candidates for the presidency or vice presidency should be sitting governors or senators. There has been a desire for Biden to choose a running mate with “executive experience.” To that I would ask that we dissect the type of executive experience we are looking for.
As I wrote about Abrams previously for The Daily Beast, she was a Truman Scholar and received her law degree at Yale. She was elected to the Georgia state house in 2006 and began serving as House Democratic leader in 2011. She’s been a trailblazer and visionary rolled into one.
When she saw that 800,000 people of color in Georgia were not registered to vote, she launched the New Georgia Project, registering more than 200,000 Georgians in just two years. When she noticed there was a dearth of businesses run by women and people of color, she and a friend launched the NOW Account, a program to help small businesses grow and spur innovation in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, creating and maintaining over 2,000 jobs from over 350 small businesses in Georgia.
In a post-COVID America, Biden will need a right hand who can assist him in thinking of the economics of the working class and formerly middle class. He will also need someone who has experience with innovation rooted in empathy. As the current administration has made abundantly clear, cruelty and personal financial gain is the foundation of the vast majority of their policy decisions. He also needs a veep who can unite the party, someone who can galvanize the more progressive wing of the party concerned with issues like criminal justice and the environment.
During the 2018 campaign, Abrams and her team built an extensive grassroots campaign strategy that extended across the 159 counties in Georgia and included the highest rates of youth and Latino participation the state had ever seen. Since the election, Abrams and her team launched Fair Fight, an organization dedicated to litigation, legislation, and advocacy in order to support voter-protection programs at state parties around the country.
The oft-repeated question surrounding Abrams’ qualifications often relates to concerns pertaining to Biden’s age and Abrams’ ability to step up and step in if the moment arises. To answer those questions, I would say that if you doubt Abrams’ qualifications I might ask what exactly you are looking for in a candidate. Abrams has a successful record in business, nonprofits, leadership, governance, and policy innovation. And we must not forget grassroots organizing and mutli-ethnic and multi-generational coalition building.
In a post-COVID world, the traditional résumé of a candidate is outdated. Critics also question how Abrams will poll nationally. If her ability to fundraise across the country and connect with young voters and voters of color in her various voter-mobilization organizational efforts are any indication, Biden should do all he can to secure Abrams as his No. 2.
And let’s be honest, if the 2018 Georgia governors’ race was not hijacked by Brian Kemp, there would be no question as to whether Abrams should be the Democratic nominee for vice president, or even president.
American democracy cannot afford another 2016 election, when, for example, black voters in Michigan were so uninspired they either stayed home or decided to vote down ballot and ignore the top of the ticket. The democracy cannot afford a party that is not equipped to address the rampant voter suppression and disenfranchisement efforts affecting marginalized communities in states across the nation. For the past two years, Abrams and Fair Fight have been dedicated to mitigating the rampant voter-suppression efforts in states across the country.
There are several sitting elected officials who are talented and have bright futures ahead of them. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Sens. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California, New Jersey Lt. Gov. Sheila Oliver, and Rep. Val Demings of Florida all come to mind. However, none of these women can galvanize the type of base Biden needs for success. None possess the multiple skill sets to simultaneously galvanize the progressive wing of the party, the South, and the black base.
Sure, some may wonder if Abrams can deliver since she did not win her home state of Georgia when she ran for governor in 2018 against a sitting secretary of state who controlled the electoral ballots and the entire voting process. Even with almost 2 million votes and the highest Democratic turnout in modern history, Abrams was not able to win the game against Brian Kemp, who served as her opponent, the referee, the judge, and the man in charge of the equipment. There is no need to relitigate that shameful display of democracy stolen. If you truly believe Kemp is the rightful recipient of the Georgia governor’s seat, I have several bridges to sell you. Venmo me.
Now is not the time for a safety pick. If we know black voters will be the deciding factor in several swing states, it is imperative Biden have a running mate who can inspire and motivate Democratic voters to turn out on Nov. 3 and assist in governance every day after that.
Christina Greer, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Fordham University, political editor at The Grio, the author of Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream, and the co-host of the podcast FAQ-NYC.