Former vice president Joe Biden has vowed to pick a woman to be his running mate and do it by Aug. 1. After the events of the past week, where protests for racial justice have been a daily occurrence nationwide, there is increasing pressure on Biden to pick a woman of color.
There is also the practical political consideration: one reason Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 was lower turnout in communities of color. The first vice presidential nominee of color in American history could boost turnout and help Biden win swing states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. But here’s the thing: If Biden decides to choose this path, he actually has only a few realistic options.
In an attempt to see what Biden’s options really are, the Globe compiled a list of every Democratic woman of color serving either in the House, Senate, as governor, or as mayor in one of the country’s 100 biggest cities. This includes women who are Black, Latina, Arab-American, and Asian-American, and Pacific Islanders.
In all, there are 55 women who fit these categories and one often-mentioned possible candidate, former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, who doesn’t fit any. Some of those 55 are not yet 35 years old or natural-born citizens, the Constitutional requirements to serve as president. Biden aides can cross them off the list.
Many are the same age or older than Biden, which goes against his stated goal to pick someone younger to serve as a bridge to the next generation. They are also taken out of contention.
And most House members represent some heavily Democratic district, which usually suggests that the politician is untested as a person who could help Biden win swing states. The goal is, of course, to pick a running mate who can help him win nationally, so these women are off our list, too.
So let’s run through the exercise as Team Biden might be doing.
Let’s start with the Senate: Biden reportedly has more people on the shortlist from there than anywhere else. But for the purposes of this exercise, senators like Elizabeth Warren from Massachusetts, Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, and Maggie Hassan from New Hampshire (she confirmed she was being vetted last month) are all white, so are set aside for now.
There are four female senators of color. However, one of them, Catherine Cortez Masto, took herself out of the running last week. Another, Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, turns 73 on Election Day, so is probably too old to be Biden’s pick.
This leaves two options: Kamala Harris of California, the daughter of a Jamaican dad and Indian mother, and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who was born to a Thai mother and an American father.
We’ve moved Harris and Duckworth to the next round further down.
There is only one Democratic governor who is a woman of color: New Mexico’s Michelle Lujan Grisham. She served as her state’s secretary of health before being elected to three terms in the US House and becoming governor in 2018. In doing so, Lujan Grisham, 60, became the first Latina governor in the history of the United States.
Let’s also add her to the next round below.
There are 88 Democratic women serving in the US House. Twenty-two of them are Black. Most of them are too old for Biden’s “bridge” comment or from deeply Democratic districts, meaning their politics may be too far to the left. Boston’s Ayanna Pressley, is good example of someone who might make a strong vice presidential candidate in many ways but could be labeled as too progressive to play in a swing state like Wisconsin. After all, her Massachusetts Seventh Congressional District is the most liberal in an already liberal state.
Among Democratic women of color in the House, there are four especially worth mentioning. The first is Lisa Blunt Rochester, a two-term member of the House from Delaware. She is viewed as a rising star in a politics and is a national cochair of Biden’s presidential campaign. But, in a quirk, the presidential nominee and the vice presidential nominee cannot be from the same state. Biden is from Delaware, so she is eliminated.
Next is Xochtl Torres Small, a first-term representative from New Mexico. What’s most interesting about her as a nominee is that she flipped a Congressional district that went for Trump by 10 points, exactly the type of message that Biden wants to send. The problem is that she just turned 35 and might be seen as too inexperienced. More practically: Democrats see her as the best chance to retain the seat this fall and probably don’t want to lose her to a national ticket.
Third is another freshman, Lucy McBath, of Georgia. She grew up in Illinois where her father owned a Black newspaper and was president of the state’s NAACP. She attended an historically Black college in the swing state of Virginia and got into politics after her son was killed by a gun during a confrontation at a Florida gas station. She then joined the Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense America as its national spokeswoman. Then in 2018, she defeated a Republican incumbent in Newt Gingrich’s old Congressional district. It’s an amazing story, but Biden may believe that she isn’t ready to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.
Fourth is Val Demings, of Orlando. She is Black and 63. She is the former chief of the Orlando police. She is a two-term Congresswoman. She was an impeachment manager. She hits all the right notes, including being from the swingiest part of a swing state.
Of the four options, let’s advance Demings to the next round.
Let’s be clear: No mayor in the history of the nation has ever been nominated to vice president directly. Yes, there were some, including former Northampton mayor Calvin Coolidge, who became president, but they did a lot in between. Coolidge served in the Legislature and was governor first.
Still, 2020 was a year when mayors ran for president, including former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, so let’s not take any option off the table.
There are 10 mayors who are Democratic women of color in cities in the top 100 in population. They range from Mary Casillas Salas, of Chula Vista, Calif., to the mayors of San Francisco, Chicago, and Charlotte.
The one who has had the most attention is Atlanta mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. She was elected three years ago and made national news with her impassioned plea for people in Atlanta to stop the looting that followed some demonstrations there this month because “this is not a protest.”
While she was an early Biden supporter, it is hard to see how Biden makes the leap to pluck a mayor. When Biden said there were about a dozen possible nominees on his shortlist he has given zero indication any of them were mayors.
While fellow Georgian Stacey Abrams doesn’t fit in any of the categories above, she has campaigned more for the job of vice president than anyone in recent memory. She gives on-the-record quotes about why she should be picked and she has done a number of virtual speeches at state Democratic conventions hoping to boost her profile.
During the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Abrams lost some momentum for her nomination. Now, she is clearly more interesting. Let’s advance her to the next round.
So our criteria leave us with basically five serious options for Biden: Harris, Duckworth, Lujan Grisham, Demings, and Abrams.
In the end, Lujan Grisham is very impressive, but at the moment the pressure is for Biden to elevate a Black woman specifically. This also cuts out Duckworth, who is not Black and who doesn’t bring much to Electoral College math — Illinois is going for Biden no matter whom he picks as his number two.
So really the choices are Abrams, Demings, and Harris.
Picking Abrams could be good politics. Georgia is on the verge of being a swing state and having her on the ballot could really excite Democrats in her home state and force Republicans to defend what has traditionally been GOP turf. And even if Democrats don’t win Georgia in the presidential race, the turnout among Democrats could help their chances in not one, but the two US Senate seats being decided there this fall. But Biden has a Capitol Hill bias, and Abrams has never run anything larger than her state legislative office and her current nonprofit organization on voting rights.
The final two
If Biden wants to pick a woman of color to be his running mate, his choice comes down to Harris and Demings. Both choices may raise some red flags given that both have backgrounds that activists have criticized as being too pro-police. Harris was criticized during the presidential primary last year for, among other things, refusing to back a bill that would require her, as California attorney general, to investigate all deadly police shootings. Demings has been criticized for promoting excessive police tactics and for a lack of transparency when she was chief, even as violent crime went down during her tenure.
That said, Harris and Demings are probably Biden’s best choices if he is looking for a woman of color to be his running mate.
Then again, two months ago there was attention on which possible Biden running mate had the best background to handle the coronavirus. Two months from now, when Biden’s deadline comes up, the focus could be something else entirely.
James Pindell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.