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    Contenders & Contentions: Biden’s Veep Nominee

    By Andrea Shorter–

    Is it possible to focus on anything else in political theater besides the debacle that plays out daily regarding the Trump administration’s failing response to the coronavirus crisis? Of course, it is possible, if only fleetingly. Democratic Party presidential nominee-apparent Joe Biden and his looming pick for a 2020 running mate come to mind, if only fleetingly.

    Biden has already made presidential candidacy history by publicly committing to naming a female as his running mate. That is actually historic. Former VP Walter Mondale (D-1984) and the late Senator John McCain (R-2008) both previously made historic strides when they ran for president and, respectively, chose the late Rep. Geraldine Ferraro and still living former governor of Alaska Sarah Palin as their running mates. While neither of these candidacies prevailed to win, the teams were notable for the novel pairing with a woman on the ticket.

    Since suffragette Victoria Woodhull made history as the first woman to run for president (1872), before women even had the right vote, there have been literally dozens of women who have run for president. Our most recent 20th century to millennial era memories—of the late Rep. Shirley Chisholm; former first lady, senator, and secretary of state Hillary Clinton; to the most recent record-breaking Democratic Party slate of women who ran simultaneously for the 2020 nomination—can quickly overshadow the very rocky, long, and winding road to finally elect a woman as U.S. head of state.

    Clinton’s epic 2016 run marked the first time a woman actually clinched a major party nomination. Still, even after this most recent episode of the most diverse group of Democrats ever largely dominated by women (three senators, two former state attorney generals, one Harvard Law professor, one congressional member, one military veteran, one best-selling author, and more), we revert to awaiting the next best thing to actually being elected president: the second seat as vice presidential running mate.

    Consideration for vice president is nothing to sneeze or yawn at, and especially not now. With a nominee-apparent and former two term vice president edging into his twilight years, choosing a capable, durable, and near spine-of-steel running mate will be crucial to carrying alongside him or past him to put the world back together again after the God willing ouster of the spectacular disaster that currently occupies and infects the White House.

    Traditionally, running mate picks have rested upon political calculations to help shore up wobbly voter blocs. By and large, VP picks have not included the most dynamic, spotlight-grabbing candidates either, save for Ferraro and Palin—or Dan Quayle, who had a propensity for gifting us with occasional cringe-worthy gaffes. Per Quayle, potato is still spelled potato, by the way. Will he ever live that down? Never.

    Similar traditional calculations are surely in play as the newly appointed committee vets contenders for the prized veep candidacy. However, in addition to Biden’s historic declaration to invite a woman as his constitutionally bound wing-person, the opportunity to select a woman of color is also of particularly supreme interest and the strongest possibility in our nation’s history. Cutting to the chase, either voter rights stalwart and icon Stacey Abrams of Georgia or Senator and former fellow presidential candidate Kamala Harris are the top choices for that historic event.

    There’s ample polling and media jockeying rallying for Harris or Abrams. It seems a micro-campaign cottage industry of sorts has sprung up to that end on behalf of these named contenders. At a later time, hopefully before a choice is made (after all, we have until August when a formal Democratic nomination will be made to analyze the odds of all likely contenders), we’ll get into the pros and slight cons of either of these and other selections. Meanwhile, I must say that, so far, I am cautiously impressed by the lack of overt pushback to the idea of selecting a woman of color—correction, Black woman—as a running mate.

    Yes, African American women are touted as the backbone of the Democratic Party, and perhaps it is past time to elect or at least bring one of us along on the road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Perhaps the totally understandable distractions presented by all of us trying to survive an avoidable pandemic have dampened what would otherwise lead to more open attacks. Nevertheless, pushback against a woman of color aspiring to a seat of power is going to happen. That train is always on time.

    This time, however, with the stakes so astronomically high in this battle to take back the White House, I remain Cautiously with a capital “C” optimistic that should a woman of color accept this coveted invitation, it will be a celebrated, yet perhaps necessarily fleeting, event in the larger scheme of this now literal life or death battle to regain the presidency during this time of the coronavirus.

    Andrea Shorter is a Commissioner and the former President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights and marriage equality. A Co-Founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

    Published on May 20, 2020