In a move that is sure to stun some of his most ardent supporters, Joe Biden said on Monday that he would not commit to choosing a woman of color to be his vice-presidential running mate. The moment of candor ran contrary to the presumptive narrative that Biden was intent on selecting a Black woman to be his running mate.
Biden’s interview with Pittsburgh’s KDKA commanded attention when he said he would readily have Michelle Obama as his running mate “in a heartbeat.” But it was his comments later in the interview that may have raised the antennae of some of the Black voters who pushed Biden to victory in the early primaries. Biden said he would stay true to his vow to pick a woman candidate, but that’s it.
“I’ll commit to that be a woman because it is very important that my administration look like the public, look like the nation,” Biden told KDKA. “And there will be, committed that there will be a woman of color on the Supreme Court, that doesn’t mean there won’t be a vice president, as well.”
Those seemed to be his most explicit comments about his future running mate to date, but it was unclear how that strategy might affect his campaign that was already nearly $187 million behind Donald Trump in terms of fundraising. A poll last week found that Biden running with a Black candidate could boost his chances of winning the 2020 election.
Stacey Abrams and Kamala Harris have been the two Black women at the center of Biden’s running mate rumors for months now, but his comments on Monday put those chances into doubt. If Biden did choose a woman who is not Black to be his running mate, that could affect how Black women voters — the backbone of the Democratic Party — will react. In fact, that may be true for Black voters as a whole, who could take the selection of Amy Klobuchar (or any non-Black person) as a slap in the face since Black folks have been largely credited with propelling Biden’s candidacy after Sanders jumped out to an early lead following the Iowa Caucuses and the New Hampshire primary in two very white states.
The Grio put it a bit more plainly last week with its headline: “If Biden doesn’t pick Stacey Abrams, he can kiss Black folks goodbye.”
Biden has even gone so far as to boast on the debate stage, at rallies and, really, anywhere else, that he has the undying support of Black voters.
No, this isn’t a quid pro quo with Black voters expecting a Black woman running mate to be blindly selected in exchange for their support. On the contrary, the calls for a Black woman vice-presidential candidate are consistent with those from well before there were any 2020 Democratic candidates when the narrative was that the Party’s presidential ticket should include some semblance of diversity. While Klobuchar being a woman would technically fulfill that demand, the unspoken expectation has been that if the nominee was not a Black person, then the running mate should be.
The logic behind choosing a Black woman/person as a running mate stems from the 2016 election when Hillary Clinton failed to turn out Black voters. In particular, 4.4 million voters decided against voting at all, including one-third of them who were Black, according to the Washington Post. If the Democratic nominee chooses a Black running mate, that should in theory spur more of those voters who sat out the last election to participate this time around with most of them, in all likelihood, casting ballots against Trump.
Of course, that’s the end game for Democrats — to vote out Trump — so it’s doubtful that Black voters would rather see the incumbent win instead of electing a new president and his running mate, regardless of who or what color those people are. But in 2020, with the stakes so high and the world witnessing an American president who has no idea how to stop the coronavirus, would Biden really take that chance? Only time will tell.