By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The instant that presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden pledged that he would pick a woman as his running mate, it started.
The “it” was the clamor for Biden to pick not just a woman, but a black woman on the ticket. By then, the names quickly tossed out had narrowed down to two, California Sen. Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams, who was the Democratic nominee for governor in Georgia in 2018.
There was and is lots of talk and clamor for a Biden-Michelle Obama ticket and Biden fueled that talk when he said he would welcome her on the ticket in a “heartbeat.” But that’s not going to happen mostly because Obama has repeatedly said no to running for any office.
But Harris and Abrams are very much in the hunt. Each one of them has a big, boisterous and aggressive cheerleading fan club. And both make it clear that if Biden picks them, they will jump at the chance to be on his ticket.
There are good reasons black leaders such as the Rev. Al Sharpton have been loud and vociferous about getting a black woman on the ticket. The reasons mix racial sentiment with hard-nosed political reality.
The reality was shown twice in the last few years. The first was when black women voters in Alabama crusaded to the polls. Their 98 percent vote support helped shove Democrat Doug Jones into the Senate.
That was no mean feat.
Even with the scandal-plagued, sexually repugnant accused abuser, Roy Jones as his Republican foe, without the extra push from black women voters, in virtually impregnable Republican stronghold Alabama, Jones, baggage and all would likely have won.
In the South Carolina Democratic primary in February, the massive support Biden got from black voters propelled him to the top of the Democratic presidential heap.
The big numbers, energy and enthusiasm of black women voters for the Democratic candidates has been on impressive display countless times in the past two decades. They have voted in a much greater percentage than other voting blocs. In the November 2018, national mid-term elections more than half of eligible black women voters went to the polls. That was six percentage points higher than the national turnout.
Biden will need every one of those percentage points in the five or six swing states that will decide the White House. Trump won three of them by a minuscule fraction over Hillary Clinton in 2016.
It often has been noted that if the numbers of black voters in the big urban areas in those states had not stayed home on Election Day, Clinton, not Trump, would be in the White House. They would have offset the votes that Trump got from white, less educated, rural and blue-collar voters that put him over.
He banks on those same voters to do it again.
The key to make sure that doesn’t happen is an energized, storm-the-polls black vote. That gave Obama his wins in 2008 and 2012. Much depends on Black women voters supplying that same energy jolt.
The three most recent presidential elections decisively prove that the presidential reelection bid is a pure numbers game. In a close election, a swing of a relative few votes one way or the other can be huge.
There is also is much raw emotion in play behind the call for a black female vice president. The Obama wins were charged with that same emotion among black voters.
It was part race, part pride and a sense of history in the making and being a part of Obama’s epic win. A black woman vice president will do the same with one even more tantalizing, high stakes add on.
Biden made clear that he wants a running mate who is experienced and politically savvy in governance and legislative initiatives. In other words, as he put it, if he is incapacitated for any reason, she can hit the ground running.
There was more than an inference in this stipulation that age and health could well be a factor down the line with him in the White House. That is no small consideration given Biden’s age.
So, there’s more on the line for a black female vice president candidate than simply being another “first.” She’ll be ruthlessly picked apart, scrutinized and reviled by the Republicans. Just think of the national shudder at Sarah Palin, one heartbeat away from the presidency with an aged, health challenged John McCain as would-be president, to see where that laser focus on Biden’s pick will go.
Biden has racial baggage and with the drumbeat charge of sexual assault making the rounds, there’s some potential baggage there, too. A black woman vice president’s job is not to undo that. It’s to give him and the ticket a boost. There’s much to like about a black woman vice president on that score.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “Biden Versus Trump: Who Will Win” (Amazon). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.