Presidential and vice-presidential candidates

Woman

Woman of color

Geraldine Ferraro

Hillary Clinton

Democrats

Sarah Palin

Republicans

1940

2016

2020

Biden-Harris

Trump-Pence

Presidential and vice-presidential candidates

Woman

Woman of color

Geraldine Ferraro

Hillary Clinton

Democrats

Republicans

1940

2016

Sarah Palin

2020

Trump-Pence

Biden-Harris

Presidential and vice-presidential candidates

Woman

Woman of color

Geraldine Ferraro

Hillary Clinton

Democrats

Republicans

1940

2016

Sarah Palin

2020

Trump-Pence

Biden-Harris

Presidential and vice-presidential candidates

Woman

Woman of color

Geraldine Ferraro

Hillary Clinton

Democrats

Republicans

1940

2016

Sarah Palin

2020

Trump-Pence

Biden-Harris

Presidential and vice-presidential candidates

Woman

Woman of color

Geraldine Ferraro

Hillary Clinton

Democrats

Republicans

1940

2016

Sarah Palin

2020

Biden-Harris

Trump-Pence

A woman of color will be on a major-party presidential ticket for the first time: Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden announced Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) as his vice-presidential pick Tuesday.

The selection is historic, but it also draws attention to the persistent underrepresentation of women in the highest positions of American government, especially women of color who must overcome both racism and sexism to succeed.

Harris, a former attorney general of the nation’s most populous state, became in 2016 the second Black woman ever elected to the Senate and made her own presidential bid last year. She is 55 years old, while Biden is 77.


Former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala D. Harris shake hands before a Democratic presidential debate in Detroit on July 31, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

In March, Biden committed himself to selecting a female running mate. His primary campaign was buoyed by Black support, and he faced additional pressure to select a woman of color after racial unrest swept the nation. Harris is the daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants, making her both the first Black woman and first Asian American on a major-party ticket.

“Black women are not only the most loyal voters for the Democratic party — we are key to igniting Black voters across all demographics to show up in record numbers,” a group of prominent Black women wrote in an open letter in April, urging Biden to select a Black woman.

Harris’s selection drew praise from others who had been floated as potential VP choices. “To see a Black woman nominated for the first time reaffirms my faith that in America, there is a place for every person to succeed no matter who they are or where they come from,” said Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.).

A Biden-Harris victory in November would elevate the senator to the highest elective office ever held by a woman in American government, but it could also leave the Senate devoid of Black women. The governor of California would fill the resulting vacancy until the 2022 election.

One hundred years after women gained the right to vote, they remain underrepresented in the halls of power. Women of color make up about one-fifth of the U.S. population but a far smaller share of major elective offices.

Other women

Women of color

Men

U.S. Senate

2020

1990

4%

22

Sen. Carol Moseley

Braun (D-Ill.) was the

female senator

of color.

Sen. Kamala

Harris (D-Calif.)

is the only

sitting Black

female senator.

74

U.S. House

2020

1990

10%

13

Many women

were elected to

Congress in 1992.

Female

representation

expanded again

in 2018.

77

Governor

2020

1990

2%

16

A Black woman

has never been

elected governor.

82

Women of color

Other women

Men

U.S. Senate

1990

2020

4%

22

Sen. Carol Moseley

Braun (D-Ill.) became the

first Black female

senator in 1993.

Sen. Kamala

Harris (D-Calif.)

is the only sitting

Black female

senator.

74

U.S. House

2020

1990

10%

13

Many women

were elected to

Congress in 1992.

Female representation

expanded again

in 2018.

77

Governor

2020

1990

2%

16

A Black woman has

never been

elected governor.

82

Women of color

Other women

Men

U.S. Senate

2020

1990

4%

22

Sen. Carol Moseley

Braun (D-Ill.) became the

first Black female

senator in 1993.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)

is the only sitting

Black female senator.

74

U.S. House

2020

1990

10%

13

Many women

were elected to

Congress in 1992.

Female representation

expanded again in 2018.

77

Governor

2020

1990

2%

16

A Black woman has never

been elected governor.

82

Women of color

Other women

Men

U.S. Senate

2020

1990

4%

22

Sen. Carol Moseley

Braun (D-Ill.) became the

first Black female

senator in 1993.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.)

is the only sitting

Black female senator.

74

U.S. House

2020

1990

10%

13

Many women

were elected to

Congress in 1992.

Female representation

expanded again in 2018.

77

Governor

2020

1990

2%

16

A Black woman has never

been elected governor.

82

In the past, vice-presidential picks — including Biden himself — have typically been senators or governors, although there have been plenty of exceptions. Trump won the presidency without any political experience, and Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) had not held a statewide office when he joined Mitt Romney’s unsuccessful bid in 2012.

While Biden picked a senator in the end, he was also considering several women with less-traditional résumés, including former Obama national security adviser Susan E. Rice and Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.).

“Even if women of color aren’t in those traditional feeder offices, they’re still highly qualified to serve as vice president and, potentially, president,” said Kelly Dittmar, director of research at the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University, which provided the data on women in politics shown here. Dittmar says Biden’s pledge forced his campaign and voters to rethink what kind of experience they value in a vice president.

Pledging to choose a woman, as Biden did, narrowed the list of those with statewide experience considerably. Eighteen states have never sent a woman to the Senate, and 20 states have never had a female governor. Only 26 of 100 senators are women — which is still a record high. There are nine female governors, but only one, Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), is a woman of color.

U.S. Senate

Two women

One woman

Previously represented by a woman

Never represented by a woman

ME

WI

VT

NH

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

GA

MS

OK

LA

AL

HI

AK

TX

FL

Governor

Woman

Previously held by a woman

Never held by a woman

ME

WI

VT

NH

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

GA

MS

OK

LA

AL

HI

AK

TX

FL

U.S. House

Percentage of women in state’s delegation

7%

25%

50%

100%

0%, but previously had female reps

Never represented by a woman

ME

WI

VT

NH

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

GA

MS

OK

LA

AL

HI

AK

TX

FL

U.S. Senate

Two women

One woman

Previously represented by a woman

Never represented by a woman

ME

VT

WI

NH

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

KY

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

WV

VA

MD

DE

SC

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

GA

MS

OK

LA

AL

HI

AK

TX

FL

Governor

Woman

Previously held by a woman

Never held by a woman

ME

WI

VT

NH

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

GA

MS

OK

LA

AL

HI

AK

TX

FL

U.S. House

Percentage of women in state’s delegation

7%

25%

50%

100%

0%, but previously had female reps

Never represented by a woman

ME

WI

VT

NH

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

GA

MS

OK

LA

AL

HI

AK

TX

FL

U.S. Senate

Governor

Woman

Two women

One woman

Previously held by a woman

Previously represented by a woman

Never held by a woman

Never represented by a woman

ME

ME

WI

VT

NH

VT

WI

NH

ID

ND

MN

IL

NY

WA

MT

MI

MA

ID

MT

WA

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

NV

IN

PA

OR

WY

SD

IA

OH

NJ

CT

WY

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

RI

OR

NV

SD

IA

CA

CO

MO

WV

VA

MD

UT

NE

KY

DE

UT

CO

KY

VA

DE

CA

NE

MO

WV

MD

AR

TN

AZ

NM

KS

NC

SC

NM

SC

AZ

KS

AR

TN

NC

GA

MS

GA

OK

LA

AL

OK

MS

LA

AL

FL

HI

AK

TX

HI

AK

TX

FL

U.S. House

Percentage of women in state’s delegation

7%

25%

50%

100%

0%, but previously had female reps

Never represented by a woman

ME

VT

WI

NH

ND

WA

ID

MT

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

GA

MS

OK

LA

AL

AK

HI

TX

FL

U.S. Senate

Governor

Woman

Two women

One woman

Previously held by a woman

Previously represented by a woman

Never held by a woman

Never represented by a woman

ME

ME

WI

VT

NH

WI

VT

NH

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

GA

MS

GA

OK

LA

AL

MS

OK

LA

AL

HI

AK

TX

FL

HI

AK

TX

FL

U.S. House

Percentage of women in state’s delegation

7%

25%

50%

100%

0%, but previously had female reps

Never represented by a woman

ME

WI

VT

NH

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

GA

MS

OK

LA

AL

HI

AK

TX

FL

Governor

U.S. Senate

U.S. House

Percentage of women in state’s delegation

Woman

Two women

Previously held by a woman

One woman

7%

25%

50%

100%

Never held by a woman

Previously represented by a woman

0%, but previously had female reps

Never represented by a woman

Never represented by a woman

ME

ME

ME

WI

VT

NH

WI

VT

NH

WI

VT

NH

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

WA

ID

MT

ND

MN

IL

MI

NY

MA

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

OR

NV

WY

SD

IA

IN

OH

PA

NJ

CT

RI

RI

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

CA

UT

CO

NE

MO

KY

WV

VA

MD

DE

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

AZ

NM

KS

AR

TN

NC

SC

GA

MS

OK

LA

AL

GA

GA

MS

MS

OK

LA

AL

OK

LA

AL

HI

AK

TX

FL

HI

AK

TX

FL

HI

AK

TX

FL

“There are perceptions that women of color would not be able to win in a majority-White electorate,” said Dittmar.

These incorrect assumptions make it difficult for women of color to be recruited for higher offices and to gain support.

A record number of Black

women are running

for Congress in 2020

130

98

100 candidates

87

72

All black female

candidates

50

32

Democrats

15

Republicans

0

’20

’18

2004

There are reasons to believe that these perceptions are changing. Women of color won in majority-White districts in 2018, a year that saw record numbers of women elected to Congress. More Black women are running for Congress in the 2020 cycle than ever before, according to CAWP data.

“The fact of the matter is we’ve never had Black women in a lot of these positions, so how can you go to say experience in it is the prerequisite?” former senator Carol Moseley Braun (D-Ill.), the only other Black woman to be elected to the Senate, told The Washington Post last month. “Otherwise, what you get is that old circular firing squad, and you wind up never getting anybody.”

Brittany Renee Mayes contributed to this report.