Now that Bernie Sanders has dropped out of the 2020 presidential race, the heat is on Joe Biden to select his running mate soon, so that he can generate some much needed media attention and fundraising in the middle of this global pandemic.
In my opinion, as a black woman, Biden’s choice, without question, should be a black woman. Here is why: When Barack Obama secured the nomination for president of the United States of America in 2008, he chose the older, wiser, gray-haired, white male senior senator from Delaware, Joe Biden. Although Biden was not the exciting choice, he was the right choice for the young, black nominee. Obama was going to be the nation’s first black executive. He needed to reassure those nervous about history’s choice, that he would have someone “safe” and known to the public by his side.
Now, Biden needs to send the opposite signal: that it is time for America to trust a woman who represents the backbone of the Democratic Party with the vice presidency, one who is ready on day one, if need be, to serve as president.
The entire history of America starts with white men of power owning everything, including slaves, running the government, owning the wealth, and calling all the shots.
Then once that power was finally shared in the late 1860s after slavery, it was shared first with black men. Followed by white women, then finally, black women and women of color. It started with the 15th Amendment, approved by Congress on Feb. 26, 1869, and ratified Feb. 3, 1870, granting black men the right to vote. Not black women. And not white women.
The first blacks elected to Congress, during Reconstruction, were all men, of course. It was not until 1920 that white women got the right to vote, with the first white woman elected to the House of Representatives in 1916 and to the U.S. Senate in 1922. It was not until Shirley Chisholm’s election to the House in 1968 that a black woman served in Congress.
Chisholm’s historic win came one year after the first non-white Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall, joined the highest court in 1967. It wasn't until Sandra Day O’Connor reached the Supreme Court in 1981 that a woman served on the world’s most elite bench. Sonia Sotomayor became the first Latina justice in 2009. It is 2020 and no black woman has been nominated to the high court.
It was Bill Clinton who appointed the first women to serve as secretary of state and attorney general. It took George W. Bush, a Republican, to appoint the first black secretary of state, Colin Powell, followed by Condoleezza Rice, a black woman.
Joe Biden now has a chance to buck history’s tide. Two white women have been nominated for vice president, Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Sarah Palin in 2008. If I were advising Biden strictly along electoral guidelines, I would tell him the governor of Michigan, Gretchen Whitmer, or Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin would make great choices. They both would likely bring key electoral states that Trump carried in 2016 into his column on Election Day.
But Sen. Kamala Harris, who wouldn’t get him anything electorally, would deliver something Biden must have in 2020: the intense and energized black vote that eluded Hillary Clinton in 2016. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. (which is also my sorority and we have a powerful army of more than 300,000 members worldwide to help her raise money and be foot soldiers on the ground). Another strong choice electorally and along color lines is Florida Rep. Val Demings, who served as a House impeachment manager during the Trump impeachment. She too could produce that excitement, and help Biden compete for Florida, a state that Trump can’t afford to lose.
Some may ask why I don’t include Stacey Abrams here. One big reason: She has not been vetted nationally by a nosy, aggressive and often rough national press corps. Harris, Demings, and other possible candidates mentioned are federal office holders. They have been vetted. Biden has made clear he wants no hiccups or surprises. And a 43-year-old woman of color, who currently holds no public office and lost her only statewide race, would be a big leap for the country to accept as someone ready for the presidency on day one.
In 2016, Hillary Clinton was ahead in the national polls, and yet she did not turn out the Obama coalition in sufficient numbers in part because black turnout in key states like Michigan and Pennsylvania wasn’t strong enough.
Biden, who has pledged to nominate a woman as his running mate and a black woman as a justice, knows there is no path to the White House for a Democrat without strong black turnout.
He needs a black woman as his running mate. Why? Because black women are the core of the Democratic base, the party’s most loyal voters. And as Harris made clear in her final debate performance this year, the Democratic Party must stop taking black women voters for granted.
Whether it’s Harris or Demings, Biden needs a smart, strong, loyal, and tough sister by his side. It is the Obama 2008 ticket in reverse. Only this time Biden will be at the top, and he has a chance to change history’s trajectory by putting a tested and trusted black woman in his No. 2 slot—thus setting her up for the best shot a woman has ever had of becoming president in either 2024 if Biden does not run again or in 2028 after two terms.