Why Biden needs a black woman as his VP

Why Biden needs a black woman as his VP
© Greg Nash

Presidential candidate Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Tammy Duckworth is the epitome of the American Dream Mexico's president uses US visit to tout ties with Trump MORE has the opportunity to make history with his vice presidential pick.

Some political commentary suggests that Biden’s options are between a woman of color to appease the progressive wing of the party, and a white woman from the Midwest to attract rural and Midwestern voters. But this political analysis creates an unhelpful binary that ignores that a black woman may be able to do both.

There are a number of excellent black women who would be able to excite the base and motivate black voters from the Midwest to vote, including Stacey Abrams, Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisDemocrats awash with cash in battle for Senate Tammy Duckworth hits back at Tucker Carlson: 'Walk a mile in my legs' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump wants schools to reopen, challenged on 'harmless' COVID-19 remark MORE, Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsSusan Rice sees stock rise in Biden VP race Liberal veterans group urges Biden to name Duckworth VP Democrats seize on Florida pandemic response ahead of general election MORE and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyThe Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue Progressives zero in on another House chairman in primary Ocasio-Cortez pitches interns to work for her instead of McConnell MORE. These candidates would be able to turn out voters in the Midwest and excite disaffected black voters who feel ignored by the Democratic establishment.


Firstly, in order to see the path to victory in 2020, we need to learn from the missteps in 2016.

Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHillicon Valley: Facebook civil rights audit finds 'serious setbacks' | Facebook takes down Roger Stone-affiliated accounts, pages | State and local officials beg Congress for more elections funds OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Sanders-Biden climate task force calls for carbon-free power by 2035 | Park Police did not record radio transmissions during June 1 sweep of White House protesters | Court upholds protections for Yellowstone grizzly bears GOP Miami mayor does not commit to voting for Trump MORE selected a vice presidential candidate from the Midwest that many hoped would attract white, working-class voters to the polls. However, President TrumpDonald John TrumpKimberly Guilfoyle reports being asymptomatic and 'feeling really pretty good' after COVID-19 diagnosis Biden says he will rejoin WHO on his first day in office Lincoln Project offers list of GOP senators who 'protect' Trump in new ad MORE’s anti-immigrant populism and exploitation of racial resentment proved persuasive for this group. It would be a mistake for Democrats to again focus on courting a VP that they perceive as appealing to white, working-class voters while alienating black voters in their base.

In 2016, many black strategists complained that they were unable to get resources from the Clinton campaign. Black political strategists and politicians from Florida pleaded for additional resources and campaign materials, and they were ignored. Polls before the 2016 election showed that Clinton was unable to excite black voters in Detroit and other parts of Michigan. These polls were right, and black voters stayed home. 

Despite this, 2016 post-election commentary immediately focused on the white, working class, ignoring how the black working class and progressive voters played a crucial role in deciding the race. For instance, one study found that although 9 percent of those who voted for Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaNeil Young updates song 'Lookin' for a Leader' opposing Trump, endorsing Biden Bellwether counties show trouble for Trump Trump may be DACA participants' best hope, but will Democrats play ball? MORE in 2012 supported Donald Trump in 2016, 7 percent of Obama voters stayed home, and 3 percent of Obama voters voted for a third party. These voters were more likely to be nonwhite and young. Black voter turnout declined for the first time in 20 years, from 66.6 percent in 2012 to 59.6 percent in 2016. These data suggest that black voters should not be taken for granted in this election.

While Biden had strong support from black voters during the Democratic primary, there is no guarantee black voters will show up for him in November, especially in light of their racial, health disparities during this global pandemic and the anticipated attempts at voter suppression. In fact, there is some evidence black voters would be more likely to turn out to vote if Biden selected a black woman as his vice president candidate.


Picking a black woman for VP also makes sense for four additional reasons: Detroit, Milwaukee, Miami and Philadelphia. These cities are in crucial battleground states for the electoral collage, and voter turnout in each of these cities decreased during the last presidential election. Clinton lost Michigan by 10,000 votes, while more than 70,000 Obama voters did not vote at all during that election. Trump won Wisconsin by 27,000 votes while 230,000 Obama voters in Wisconsin did not vote. 

Abrams, Harris, Demings and Pressley all have the experience and ability to serve from Day 1. While they will undoubtedly have to contend with media’s pervasive misogyny, and misogynoir, the racialized sexism particular to black women often perpetuated by black male commentators, they are all competent and capable of dealing with these challenges.

Black women have consistently supported the Democratic party, and there is a growing sentiment that their support is taken for granted. The Democratic Party is remarkably un-diverse at its highest level. There are few black political consultants, and black people are underrepresented amongst the top staff in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. Despite these shortcomings, black women have shown up for the party by overwhelmingly voting for Democrats in previous elections. It’s time for party to show up for black women.

Isy India Thusi is an associate professor of law at California Western School of Law, where she teaches criminal procedure and critical race theory. She is also a legal fellow at The Opportunity Agenda, a social justice communication lab.