The politics of handicapping the 2020 Democratic Party VP pick

Practical Politics

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 8/6/2020, midnight

Without a doubt, politically these are very heady times for significant African-American female politicians who have managed to establish a national presence. The presumptive Democratic Party nominee, Joe Biden, is almost surely going to choose a female vice presidential running mate (according to what he announced several months ago, after the South Carolina primary), and at least four Black female political leaders are in the final group being considered.

This is not an homage to the old affirmative action slogan, “open to all applicants regardless of race, color, ethnicity or background.” The principal problem with that process is that, yes, it increased the applicant pool in most cases, but did not increase the chances of getting to the final few from whom the person assigned the job would come. That process got one in the room, but did not increase one’s chances of actually getting the job—in other words, it only increased the frustration level of those historically left out.

This Biden process seems to be about getting some Black candidates to the final selection arena, although it still may not produce a Black female vice presidential candidate. The optimal goal is to defeat Donald Trump. The vp pick has to help achieve that goal, not limit the chances of achieving it. The watchword is “do no harm” to the campaign, which means no surprises in the resume, and little to no toxicity to the Democratic Party’s constituency (cannot turn off Black voters and women especially).

In most presidential races, there are five major battles to win: the convention speech needs to “wow” one’s political followers, the three presidential debates, and the vice presidential choice. This year, because of covid-19, the convention acceptance speeches will probably be on Zoom, there may or may not be any presidential debates, so the vp selection has only grown in importance. In the 20th and 21st centuries, however, only Kennedy’s selection of Lyndon Johnson actually made a major difference in the presidential vote count, as without Texas’ votes Kennedy would have lost.

This time, again, it may be the vp selection that provides the critical margin of victory. That is how important it is.

Kamala Harris, Val Demings, Karen Bass, Susan Rice, Stacey Abrams----who can best help Biden gain the Democratic Party victory in November? With whom will Biden be most compatible? As vice president himself, he had an agreement to meet privately with President Barack Obama at least once per week when they were both in town. He and Mr. Obama got along well. Seemingly, he would look for someone with whom he could have a similar relationship.

Who would bring an extra skill to the White House to help reunite the country and repair the country’s frayed relations with Western allies? Who can help negotiate with the Republicans to get legislation passed? Who could the country see as being acceptable to step into Mr. Biden’s place if the need arose? These are questions the vp candidates must answer well.

Currently, Elizabeth Warren, though not Black herself, actually could get support from Black women field organizers for the party, is still in very good shape. Her major flaw is that she would represent the loss of a very valued U.S. senate seat in Massachusetts, without another strong democratic party contender readily available. She is a very able campaigner, she debates well, she is a valued strategist, etc.