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The Push for a Black VP

Months ago, while the primaries were still going on, Joe Biden promised that he would pick a woman as his running mate.  Within the Democrat party, pressure has been mounting to make this pick a woman of color. 

Indeed, in the time since then, much of the speculation about his decision has swirled around women of color.  Several weeks ago, many gave the odds to the junior Democratic Senator from California and one of Biden’s primary rivals, Kamala Harris.  More recently, attention has been given to former Obama administration official Susan Rice. 

Other women of color that are considered contenders are Val Demmings of Florida, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois (a woman of Thai descent), and Keisha Lance Bottoms of Georgia. 

However, there are a couple of other prominent names that keep popping up that make observers raise an eyebrow.  These are the names of women who are not women of color.  These women are Elizabeth Warren, the progressive champion from Massachusetts, and Gretchen Whitmer, Governor of Michigan and one of President Trump’s most formidable antagonists when it comes to the Coronavirus. 

Despite the speculation about Rice and Harris, both Warren and Whitmer have kept their names on the lips of prognosticators through their actions in recent weeks. 

In recent weeks, Elizabeth Warren has been a money machine when it comes to raising funds for Mr. Biden’s campaign.  Since she dropped out of the primary race and endorsed Biden, she has raised more than $7.7 million for his campaign.  Bolstering her bid for second fiddle is the recent congressional hearings on big tech monopolies, an issue that she championed during her primary bid.  Being a heavy weight fundraiser, coupled with identification with a prominent issue, makes her name one to be taken seriously in this conversation.

As for Gretchen Whitmer, her name is still in contention largely because Biden said it was.  A campaign statement from a couple of weeks ago confirmed this and more recent campaign leaks suggest nothing has changed.  Adding fuel to her speculation, however, was a visit she paid to Delaware recently to meet with Joe Biden himself.  While details of the meeting are unknown, it can be reasonably assumed that a potential VP run was discussed since that is the focus of the Biden campaign at this time.  Additionally, Whitmer continues to roll out a slew of executive orders in Michigan regarding the Coronavirus.  These are going on long after the peak in the state has passed.  While its possible these orders were signed for altruistic reasons, there political implications are quite conspicuous as well.

While Biden picking one of these two over a woman of color has always been possible, the question at this point is whether or not it’s likely. 

To answer that question, we need to ask another: can either of these two fill a need for Biden that wouldn’t be filled by a woman of color?  To determine the answer to that we need to figure out what needs these two would fill.

Elizabeth Warren seems obvious; as stated previously she is a ferocious fund raiser.  With Biden having trailed Trump in that department for most of the campaign, this would be a big need that she could fill.  Furthermore, Warren has long been identified with the progressive wing of the Democrat Party.  Biden, considered a moderate, will need to find a way to bring the progressive party under his umbrella if he is to win.  Warren would do that. 

However, since both Warren and Bernie Sanders (the other progressive champion in the Senate) have both already endorsed Biden, it seems that the party is as unified as it’s going to be.  Furthermore, while Warren was the number one fundraiser, Kamala Harris was number two.  So, while she fills that need better than anyone else, she is not the only one that could fill it.

In the final analysis, Warren will not fill any need for Biden that cannot be filled by a woman of color.

Gretchen Whitmer, on the other hand, seems to fill the need that Biden has in winning the swing states.  States like Michigan (the state she governs), Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin all went to Trump in 2016 after having gone for Obama twice.  Biden would love to have those states back in his camp.  Whitmer, as an experienced campaigner from that region, would go a long way in helping in that area. 

Adding to this, there doesn’t seem to be a woman of color on Biden’s list that can match Whitmer in that regard.  The possible exception is Tammy Duckworth from Illinois.  But that state, while geographically close to this region, is socially distant and not considered to be in contention.  It seems that Whitmer would be far more effective in the rust belt states of Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. 

So, we conclude that yes, Whitmer does lend something to the ticket that a woman of color could not.

The problem the campaign arrives at next is the pressure currently being put on it to pick a woman of color.  On July 1 it was reported by USA Today that 72% of Democrats want to see a woman of color on the ticket.  To ignore that now by picking a white candidate, even one that’s more qualified and brings more to the ticket, could have devastating effects on his campaign.  On Monday, more than 100 black men released a letter warning that Biden would lose the race if he didn’t pick a black woman.  Signatories of this letter include Cedric the Entertainer, Van Jones, Bishop William J. Barber, and civil rights attorney Ben Crump.

In regard to Whitmer in particular, there are some concerns about her appeal to black voters.  These concerns deal largely with drinking water Flint (a majority black city) and issues with the Detroit Public Schools.  Angela Rye, former general counsel for the Congressional Black Caucus, said, “Here’s what I do know: Flint still doesn’t have clean water, and it was a campaign promise of hers.”  A recent poll by Rasmussen has Trump’s job approval among black voters at 36%, far above the norm for Republican presidents.  If this translates into votes, it could potentially be a devastating number for Democrats and it could be exacerbated by nominating a running mate who already has problems with that demographic in her home state.

With an announcement of his VP selection expected soon, speculation will turn from “who will he pick” to “did he make the right pick.”  The answer is going to be whether or not the candidate’s talents outweigh their baggage.  Ultimately, that’s an answer that can only be answered by time.

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