'I want to see myself:' Black women mount public and private campaign for Biden to pick a Black woman running mate
Posted June 20, 2020 7:57 a.m. EDT
CNN — Influential Black women are mounting a robust effort to persuade presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden that selecting a black woman as his running would give him the best advantage to win the White House in November.
These women -- consisting of a wide swath of prominent political figures and friends of the former vice president -- have made their case behind closed doors and also notably and intentionally in public.
A campaign of this kind is likely unprecedented but represents what the women see as a unique moment in American political history in which the power of the Black voter -- especially black women --has reached a zenith. And it is time, they say, for the party to respond.
"I don't think you've seen this level of outpouring of sentiment and support," said Karen Finney, who was the strategic communications adviser and senior spokesperson for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign and is a CNN political commentator.
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The argument being made is two-fold: To pick someone who has the lived experience navigating the issues that threaten to tear the country apart, including systemic racism and police brutality, as well as lift up the voices of the most loyal Democratic voters -- black women -- to energize the base.
Part of that push includes the influential quartet of seasoned black women political operatives and the authors of "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics," Donna Brazile, Minyon Moore, Leah Daughtry and Yolanda Caraway.
"When they start speaking, everybody shuts the hell up," said a source close to the campaign.
The public pressure only increased this week when Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar took herself out of the running for the job Thursday and called on Biden to choose a woman of color.
"This is a historic moment, and America must seize on this moment. And I truly believe as, I actually told the vice president last night when I called him, that I think this is a moment to put a woman of color on that ticket," Klobuchar told MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell.
Biden committed to choosing a woman as his vice-presidential pick back in March and has since created a selection committee to vet candidates. His committee, he says, is looking at more than a dozen possible picks that includes numerous women of color.
Women like California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Georgia gubernatorial Democratic candidate Stacey Abrams, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Florida Rep. Val Demings are considered to be on his short list with some reportedly undergoing official vetting.
Public and private pressure
Multiple groups of black women have signed on to letters and op-eds arguing that Biden should pick a black woman vice president.
One of those letters that now has over 500 signatures was put together by Melanie Campbell, chair of Sisters Lead Sisters Vote, and resulted in a call with Biden and top campaign staffers that Campbell described as "respectful." The New York Times was the first to report the call.
"We're unapologetic and respectfully saying it's time," Campbell said in an interview. "Our turn of phrase is 'follow black women if you want to win.' "
Finney, also a participant of the call, said Biden was "very open to having that conversation."
Moore, the first black woman political affairs director under former President Bill Clinton, wouldn't confirm details of the call, but she described generally how the argument is being made.
"We laid out our premise privately on why we believe that having a black woman on the ticket is very viable," adding that they asked the campaign to look at the polling and whether the black women check various qualifying boxes.
"Can they excite a community that has had unprecedented destruction around them? Can they be a good partner to Vice President Biden, can they be 'simpatico,' can they be loyal?" she asked out loud, using a phrase Biden himself has used to describe a perfect running mate. "Check, check, check, check, check."
Some of Biden's closest political advisers outside of the campaign have spoken with him privately about the issue but have saved the pressure campaign for grassroots activists.
"We believe it is important that activists take the lead," said one Biden friend.
Biden's closest political confidants inside and outside of the campaign are also keenly aware that this choice is one of the most personal decisions that he will make -- and one that ultimately is his alone.
A senior Biden adviser said that the desires of activist haven't fallen on deaf ears, but the process of vetting candidates, political considerations and personal considerations takes precedent.
"The public pressure campaign has done more to influence the press than the campaign," this adviser said, putting it bluntly.
That sentiment is echoed by those who know Biden well and say that the former vice president's experience of building a developing a close relationship with former President Obama has made both finding a running mate with the relevant experience and having a personal rapport with that person among the two most important considerations.
"In this moment it may feel like a black woman is the right move, but I believe we have to take the long view," said one person who is close to Biden.
Biden himself has not committed to picking a black woman, telling CNN's Dana Bash last month: "There are women of color under consideration and there are women from every part of the country under consideration because there are a lot of really qualified women that are ready to be president. But I'm not making that commitment, I'm going to make that judgment after in fact this group goes through interviewing all these people.
The potential picks themselves have walked a tight-line on outwardly advocating for a black woman to be chosen as Biden's running mate. Both Abrams and Harris have said it would be "important" to have a woman of color on the ticket, but in subsequent interviews have largely said they trust Biden to choose the best running mate for himself. Demings, who said she would accept the nomination if asked, said in an interview with MSNBC in April, "I just hope and pray that Vice President Biden will select an African American woman to serve beside him."
'I want to see myself'
But their boosters are not concerned about the blowback that could come from making their case so publicly.
"I've been in politics long enough to know that that's what politics is: public pressure," Campbell.
LaTosha Brown, the co-founder of Black Voters Matter, was also on that same call with Campbell, said Biden told the women he hears their concerns and is taking them seriously -- but didn't commit.
At age 28, Brown ran in her first election ever to unseat her district's state board of education representative, a Black male pastor in Selma, Alabama. Encouraged to run by her mentor state Sen. Henry "Hank" Sanders, Brown went to a local church to campaign during Sunday service, as is customary in the South, and the church wouldn't allow it, saying she couldn't come into the diocese because she was a woman.
"Unless black women make space for black women, space doesn't get made for us," Brown said, reflecting on that lesson. "It was a turning point for me, and I've been dedicated to making space ever since."
And that moment has brought Brown here, to join the Black women demanding representation at the top of the ticket.
"Just imagine, what field would white men be the most dependable and have the highest turnout percentage wise for more than 50 years and there not be a white man in one of the positions of leadership. People would think there is something wrong with the model," Brown said.
Moore, who has held multiple ceiling-breaking roles, from leadership positions in the Rev. Jesse Jackson's and Michael Dukakis' campaigns to becoming the first Black political director at the Democratic National Committee, parroted the sentiment.
"I have worked to elect White men, Black men, brown men and White women. But for me right now, I feel like investing in a woman who just happens to be Black and immensely qualified is where I want to be at this time in my life," she said. "I want to see myself."
Caraway, who has served as an elected member-at-large of the DNC since 1988 and has filled many senior level positions within the DNC over the years, says putting a black woman on the ticket would validate her feeling that black women have gone unnoticed by the Democratic Party.
"Black women have been the backbone of the Democratic party forever. We never get credit" Caraway told CNN. "The party seems to think we are dispensable."
To put a black woman on the ticket for Caraway would "make us feel like maybe we can have a level playing field." To not put a black woman on the ticket, in Caraway's eyes, "would be a disservice."
She hasn't expressed these concerns with the campaign directly but with racial injustice and systemic racism at the forefront of the nation's conscience, Caraway argued that she does not see how the Biden campaign can pick anyone other than a black woman.
"How could it not have an impact?" Caraway asked when reflecting on the racial tensions infused in the political moment.
"We're the secret sauce for the Democrats to win," Campbell said of black women. "It's coming from intergenerational voices across the board: women in business, women in Hollywood, women in urban America, rural America."
Glynda Carr, co-founder of Higher Heights for America, a PAC that's dedicated to electing black women and endorsed Harris in her failed Presidential bid before she dropped out, said black women voters are looking for a return on their voting investment both in policies and representation.
"If it's not a Black woman, there will be a period of disappointment. And then the question will then become how are people organizing and how are black women showing up in his administration," she said.
Higher Heights has not said whether they prefer either Abrams or Harris or another black woman from the list but Carr summarized the enthusiasm that a Black woman could bring to the ticket saying there's a difference between just getting their vote versus Black women's ability to organize across class and racial lines.
"Are women going to run out and grab the physical newspaper [to frame] like we did for Barack Obama?"