Black voters in South Carolina are credited with resuscitating Biden’s flagging campaign, when they gave him a decisive victory after crushing losses in Iowa and New Hampshire. Black voters continued to fuel his candidacy on Super Tuesday and in subsequent contests in the South and Midwest during March, and most other candidates who had sought the nomination dropped out and backed the former vice president. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was the last candidate to suspend his campaign in early April. He also has pledged to support Biden.
Some liberal activists have said that a woman of color would help bolster Biden, who did not do as well with young voters and Latino voters. Others, such as House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), have specifically said Biden should choose a black woman.
The letter, signed by women whose backgrounds range from politics to business to entertainment, calls on Biden to “seize this moment in our country’s history, and its bold future, by selecting a Black woman to serve as your vice-presidential running mate.” The letter also was sent directly to senior Biden campaign staff members.
Without indicating a preference, the letter lists several black women whose names who are most often mentioned as potential running mates: Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia gubernatorial candidate; Reps. Karen Bass (Calif.), Val Demings (Fla.) and Marcia L. Fudge (Ohio); Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.); Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms; and Susan E. Rice, a former national security adviser and ambassador to the United Nations.
All of the women, the letter states, “have the experience, qualifications and principled core values of a true leader that would make for the right partner to help catapult the Democrats to victory in November.”
Only two women have ever been tapped as running mates for a presidential nominee: Democrat Geraldine Ferraro, a former New York congresswoman who became the first female vice presidential nominee in 1984 running with Walter Mondale; and Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor, who was Republican John McCain’s running mate in 2008.
In addition to Harris, two other former 2020 presidential contenders, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), also have been mentioned as possible running mates for Biden.
Black political leaders and activists, in both public and private conversations, have argued that Biden would do well to choose a woman of color to energize African American and Latino voters in the fall. Those groups, along with young voters and liberal whites, formed the coalition that fueled Barack Obama’s historic campaigns in 2008 and 2012.
Hillary Clinton failed to keep the momentum going in 2016, with turnout down among those groups in key battleground states. Black women voters proved to be Clinton’s most loyal supporters, with 94 percent of them voting for her.
Karen Finney, a longtime Democratic activist who helped organize the effort, noted that the letter is not a threat to withhold support from Biden.
“We’ve heard for years that Black women are the backbone of the Democratic Party; now is the time put deeds to words,” Finney said. “We felt it was important to unify and lift up our voices with a clear message in support of a Democratic VP nominee who is female and black.”
In addition to veteran politicos, the signers include Susan Taylor, former longtime editor of Essence Magazine; Katrina Adams, former chairman and president of the U.S. Tennis Association; Johnetta Cole, former president of Spelman College; and actresses Latayna Richardson Jackson, Pauletta Washington and Vanessa Williams.
LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, focuses on educating and mobilizing black voters in rural and small towns often overlooked by party leaders and big campaigns.
She said that a black woman vice president would help excite voters of color and liberals across geographical boundaries.
“There are constituencies around issues that go beyond which states folks live in. That is going to be critical and will make a difference in who participates and who doesn’t,” she said. “Black folks in Alabama vote like the black folks in New York.... It’s important to recognize that what we’ve got to do is activate that constituency base that is specifically motivated around issues and values.”