By Erick Johnson
Will a sister make history as the first Black woman to run as vice president of the United States?
After months of speculation, interviews and political jockeying, Democratic presidential candidate Joseph Biden Jr. is set to pick his running mate before the virtual Democratic National Convention begins in Milwaukee August 17. Biden originally planned to announce his decision by August 1 but postponed it until after August 10.
Four Black women are among the candidates on Biden’s short list. Biden’s Democratic campaign has been heavily shaped and influenced by Black voters. However, Biden has been under pressure to pick a Black female as a running mate as he prepares to challenge Republican President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in the General Election November 6.
As of Monday, August 3, Biden led Trump 49.4 to 42.0 percent in an opinion poll by Real Clear Politics.
Geraldine Ferraro made history in 1984 when Democratic presidential candidate Walter Mondale tapped her as the nation’s first female candidate to run as vice president. Fast forward to 2020. Black women have risen to prominent political positions across the nation to challenge the status quo and assert themselves as qualified, intelligent leaders.
They include California Senator Kamala Harris, former National Security Advisor Susan Rice, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA). They are on a shortlist that includes, Senators Tammy Duckworth and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.
Duckworth has drawn support from Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and her longtime mentor Senator Dick Durbin. While Duckworth draws appeal as an Iraqi War veteran with a humble background, political analysts view her as long shot on Biden’s short list. There is some concern that Trump could attack Duckworth, who was born in Thailand. Duckworth has often been viewed as an elected official who remains out of touch with Black voters in Chicago and Illinois.
Historically, the vice president position has been viewed as a ceremonial role that has little impact in the White House. But with Biden being 77 years old, there is a possibility that he will not run for reelection in 2024. For this reason, Biden’s vice-presidential candidates are being vetted for their long-term impact in addition to their appeal to win votes for the Democratic ticket.
To Black leaders, the possibility of Biden picking a candidate over four Black women would be viewed as an insult to Black voters, who last February, saved Biden’s presidential campaign from an embarrassing defeat after he fell far behind in primary elections to less prominent candidates before his stunning comeback in South Carolina. Behind Biden’s success was Congressman James Clyburn, who endorsed Biden when he was losing ground to his Democratic rivals. Clyburn has since served as a close advisor to Biden while rising in political prominence on the national stage.
In the past months, Clyburn said he had been bombarded by supporters of several candidates.
“I’ve heard from the surrogates of about all the people in the race,” Clyburn, told the New York Times. The newspaper reported that Clyburn did not rule out making a late, private recommendation to Biden.
Last week, news reports emerged about a press conference in Wilmington, Delaware, where Biden was seen holding notes on his stationary that included glowing talking points on Harris.
Under Harris’ name, five talking points were listed on the stationery, including, “Do not hold grudges,” “Campaigned with me & Jill [Biden],” “Talented,” “Great help to campaign” and “Great respect for her.”
Lower down on the list, under the heading “VP,” Biden’s list reads “highly qualified,” and “diverse group.”
Harris’ chances were questioned after she expressed little remorse to former Senator Chris Dodd about her perceived ambush of Biden during the first Democratic debate. She told Dodd, “that’s politics.” Dodd is a member of Biden’s vice-presidential search committee.
However, prominent online publication Politico said that after interviews with more than four dozen elected officials, strategists, and advisors, Harris is still considered Biden’s top choice.
While viewed as the frontrunner, Harris has turned down media requests for interviews. Her opponents have been more vocal in the media on political issues.
One of them is Rice, who in less than a week, has risen as a legitimate contender on Biden’s short list. As the U.S. national security advisor, Rice worked closely with Biden when he served as vice president under President Barack Obama. The two established a strong bond that according to political analysts, has made Biden feel comfortable working with her as a potential vice president. Rice also has strong experience in foreign policy, but her role in the 2012 Benghazi attack is viewed as a potential liability.
Rice last week boosted her profile with an appearance on ABC’s “The View” and blasted Donald Trump’s response to reports that Russia paid bounties to the Taliban to kill Americans in combat.
“He is absolutely a failure as our commander in chief,” Rice said. “And all the while he’s protecting [Vladimir] Putin, justifying Russian behavior.”
This week, Rice told CBS News that as national security adviser and U.N. ambassador, she dealt with the Ebola epidemic, the Zika virus and the H1N1 pandemic. She said her background gives her the ability to deal with the current coronavirus pandemic.
Bass has been recommended as a possible consensus candidate who appeals to both Democrats and Republicans. Bass is also well-liked by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
However, there is concern that both Bass and Rice lack national appeal. In the past week, she has drawn criticism for her past support of former Cuban Dictator Fidel Castro, which could harm the ticket in Florida, the largest swing state, which Trump captured in 2016.
Former President Bill Clinton has reportedly expressed enthusiasm about Bottoms, who connects to Black millennials, but lacks political experience on the federal level. Clyburn said Biden needs a candidate who can connect to voters.
“Joe Biden is a guy full of compassion. He has much more compassion than he exhibits passion. So he needs a running mate with a lot of passion to connect to voters. Biden has the greatest heart that I’ve ever encountered in politics. He is not a ‘rah rah’ guy that will motivate people. But he is the kind of guy you want to help put the policy together,” he said.