George Floyd’s death ramps up the pressure on Biden for a black VP

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Joe Biden has his work cut out for him if he becomes president. 

While Donald Trump was asleep at the switch, the deadly COVID-19 killed more than 100,000 Americans and 40 million more people have lost their jobs.

Even if the pandemic recedes by inauguration day in January, there is danger of a second wave of contagion next winter during flu season. Biden would also need to deal with the lingering pandemic economic fallout of lost jobs, bankrupt businesses, increased government spending and declining tax revenues.

Just when you thought, things could not get any worse, they did. The tragic death of George Floyd and the president’s response opened festering racial wounds in American society and ramped up the pressure on Joe Biden to select an African American running mate.

The presumptive Democratic nominee was already under tremendous pressure to select an African American running mate before the racial divide in the United States cracked wide open in Minneapolis last week. The fault line of death and destruction spread quickly across the nation.

After weak showings in the early contests in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, Biden won a resounding victory in South Carolina with a strong assist from black voters. In South Carolina, most of the primary voters were African American (56 percent) and they voted in large numbers for Biden over Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (61 percent to 17 percent). 

After his big victory in South Carolina, Biden capitalized on his support from black Democratic primary voters with a strong showing on Super Tuesday. The media exit polls indicated that African Americans that day gave Biden a 40 percent margin of victory over the senator from Vermont. 

It is safe to assume African Americans will support the presumptive Democratic nominee in November. But it is uncertain whether they will turn out in large enough numbers to help Biden win. After Barack Obama’s victories in 2008 and 2012, there was a sharp decrease in black turnout in 2016 with two white candidates, Hillary Clinton and Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.) on the Democratic national ticket. 

A black running mate for Biden might generate the turnout that he needs to win. In 2012, African American turnout surpassed participation among white voters with a margin of nearly 67 percent to 65. In 2016, white turnout held steady at 64 percent while black participation dropped 7 percentage points to about 60 percent.

Fortunately, there are several quality and qualified African American women who could run with Biden. 

California Sen. Kamala Harris looms large on the lists of potential running mates. Law enforcement has reared its head as an issue in the fall campaign and Harris has big time legal credentials. She rose from being the district attorney for San Francisco to California attorney general and now serves on the Judiciary Committee in the U.S. Senate.

While Harris has an impressive legal background, Rep. Val Demings of Florida has frontline law enforcement experience from her service as chief of police for Orlando, Florida. She became a player on the national scene as one of the House impeachment managers in the Senate trial of Donald Trump.

As a mayor of a major American city, Keisha Lance Bottoms has been on the firing line in the battle against racism and the pandemic. She has maintained a balance between the need for racial justice and law and order during the protests in Atlanta in the wake of Floyd’s death. Bottoms made a name for herself during the pandemic by resisting GOP Gov. Brian Kemp’s efforts to risk public health and safety by resuming business as usual during the pandemic crisis in Georgia.

Biden has a tough call to make because there are other potential running mates that would be assets in the campaign. 

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico is a Latina who represents a group with its own grievances against the policies of the Trump administration. She served for six years in the U.S. House of Representatives and as a governor who has been on the frontlines of the battle against the pandemic. She is a good balance for a Washington insider like Biden.

Biden could use some help with Hispanic voters during the fall in his battle against the president. While he did very well with African American voters in Democratic primary contests, his performance with Latino voters was shaky. Biden lost the Latino and Hispanic vote to Sanders by 8 percent on Super Tuesday

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s background in bankruptcy law would be a big asset in Biden’s campaign to rebuild an economy shattered by the COVID-19 plague. Her support for progressive policies would also be a guarantee for supporters of Bernie Sanders that there would be a strong voice for populist economic policies in the councils of a Biden administration.

The presumptive Democratic nominee cannot afford the progressive defections that hindered Hillary Clinton in her unsuccessful campaign to beat Donald Trump in 2016. The exit polls indicated that one out of every 10 Sanders supporters voted for Trump in November. Other Sanders supporters did not even bother to vote. 

But Biden owes a big debt to African American voters. He is an old-fashioned transactional politician who understands the importance of repaying political debts and rewarding friends and allies.

Donald Trump’s response to any crisis is to pour gasoline on the fire. Biden is more of a comforting presence than a revolutionary. His personality makes him a bridge over troubled waters in terrible times. He could help to calm the waters with a black running mate.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Dateline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.

Tags 2020 Democratic nominee 2020 elections Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Biden VP campaign 2020 Democratic nominee Democrats Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Michelle Lujan Grisham Presidential Race Tim Kaine Val Demings vice presidential pick VP Pick White House

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