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US presidential race: Is Joe Biden’s ideal running mate a woman?

Former vice president Joe Biden, a candidate for the Democratic nominee for president, pictured in a file photo taken on March 12.
Former vice president Joe Biden, a candidate for the Democratic nominee for president, pictured in a file photo taken on March 12. © Saul Loeb, AFP

Former vice president Joe Biden is the last man standing in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. He has pledged to choose a woman for his running mate, and speculation has intensified over whom it will be just as an accusation that Biden sexually assaulted a female member of his staff in the 1990s has emerged in mainstream US media. 

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It has been almost three and a half years since Hillary Clinton lost the presidential race to Donald Trump. The day after the inauguration on January 20, 2017, millions of women and men participated in Women’s Marches worldwide to protest the president’s degrading comments about women during his campaign and his anti-abortion stance. Clinton had been the first woman to be a major party candidate for the US presidency.

At one point in the crowded Democratic field for this year’s nomination, Biden shared the debate stage with four female candidates, all US senators: New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, California’s Kamala Harris, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the last of the four to exit the race and endorse her former rival and the presumptive nominee. 

With so many prominent women in the race, and concerns that Trump’s appointments to the Supreme Court could threaten abortion rights, it was not surprising when Biden, in a mid-March debate, said he would choose a woman to be his vice president should Democrats nominate him to face Trump in November.

If Biden follows through, it would be just the third time a major presidential ticket has featured a woman as VP nominee after Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Republican Sarah Palin in 2008. Now that he has the field to himself, voters and pundits are looking to him to deliver on his promise and speculating on whom he will choose and why. Some, however, are also thinking about the accusation of a former staffer, Tara Reade, made on a podcast in late March. 

‘Equity’ and inclusivity

Steve Grossman, a nonprofit executive and a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee during Bill Clinton’s presidency, told FRANCE 24 that Biden’s intention to choose a woman demonstrates “a commitment to more equity in American life” and will help the candidate appeal to suburban women voters in battleground states such as Michigan and Pennsylvania. Grossman thinks that although Clinton may not have galvanised enough of those voters in 2016, the outcome this time could be different. 

A Gallup poll released on April 16 finds that 60 percent of women living in the US disapprove of Trump, six points more than the percentage of women that voted for Clinton in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center.

If Biden chooses a woman of colour to be his vice president, Grossman said, it would signal that the Democratic Party is the inclusive party in an increasingly diverse country.

“I think Biden has to think long and hard about if he will choose a woman of colour,” Grossman said, citing the “new lease on life” that African-American voters gave Biden in South Carolina, the first state he won during the primaries. 

Biden’s choice will come in the wake of Reade’s account that the then US senator from Delaware groped and digitally penetrated her in the early 1990s, an account which The New York Times and The Washington Post have examined and been unable to verify. Grossman doesn’t think the accusation will affect voters’ choices in November, “unless something emerges that is so profoundly damaging and proven that it will cause people to have doubts”.

‘The right woman’

Claire Cummings, a 28-year-old Democratic campaign organiser and self-described progressive from Vermont, told FRANCE 24 that “there’s no way I’m staying home” on Election Day, despite a lack of enthusiasm for Biden.

“I have no other option if I want to see us achieving anything in the next four years,” Cummings said. But she is troubled by what she perceives as Democrats’ cautious response to Reade’s accusation.

“It’s a struggle to try and stomach that,” she said.

If Biden chooses a running mate who shares progressive values, such as universal health care via Medicare for all, she would “be a little bit more excited” about the ticket; for it to simply include a woman does not move her. “I want to make sure it’s the right woman,” she said.

FRANCE 24 looks at some of the potential female candidates for vice president and how they could affect the race’s outcome in November.

Former Georgia state representative Stacey Abrams

Stacey Abrams in Los Angeles, California on January 29, 2019.
Stacey Abrams in Los Angeles, California on January 29, 2019. AFP

After losing the 2018 race for governor of Georgia, Abrams founded Fair Fight, an organisation that advocates for fair elections and supports voter turnout and education throughout the US. Before running for governor, she served in the Georgia House of Representatives and led its Democratic minority. In an interview published last week in Elle magazine, Abrams said, “I would be an excellent running mate,” citing her appeal to voters in “typically ignored communities” and her public and private sector leadership experience. US Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina, whose endorsement of Biden helped him win an overwhelming primary victory in that state, mentioned Abrams on his wish list for VP nominee.

US Senator Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren in Detroit, Michigan on March 3, 2020.
Elizabeth Warren in Detroit, Michigan on March 3, 2020. © Rebecca Cook / Reuters

Senator Warren of Massachusetts was the last major rival of Joe Biden’s to endorse him, but that endorsement was full-throated: In a video on Twitter, she cited Biden’s decades-long Senate career and tenure as Barack Obama’s vice president, and praised Biden’s willingness to listen and change his mind if presented with sound policy ideas. Warren, a former law professor at Harvard University, led the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under Obama and recently released a plan along with US Representative Ro Khanna for an “Essential Workers Bill of Rights” that includes paid sick and family leave and “premium compensation” for workers who are responding to the Covid-19 crisis in the US. 

US Senator Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris in Manchester, New Hampshire on September 7, 2019.
Kamala Harris in Manchester, New Hampshire on September 7, 2019. © Gretchen Ertl, Reuters

Harris served as California’s attorney general before she was elected to the Senate in 2016. In one of the early Democratic debates last June, she criticised Biden for opposing, in the 1970s, federally mandated busing of minority children into white neighbourhoods to make public education more equitable, memorably describing her own experience as a child in California who herself boarded a bus to an integrated school. Harris has Afro-Caribbean and South Asian heritage, and has said that she learned about civil rights activism from her mother, who studied at the University of California at Berkeley. 

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer

Gretchen Whitmer in August, 2018.
Gretchen Whitmer in August, 2018. GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File

Hillary Clinton lost Michigan to Donald Trump by fewer than 11,000 votes in 2016, but Biden easily won the state’s Democratic primary in March. According to US politics website The Hill, Biden allies have taken note of Whitmer’s response to the president’s most recent State of the Union address, in which she criticised Trump’s lack of support for infrastructure repairs and health care, as well as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s inaction on legislation that would increase the minimum wage. As governor, Whitmer recently extended Michigan’s stay-at-home order through April 30, a move that was met by street protests in its capital on April 15, with protesters displaying signs saying, “Let us work”. Two days later, Trump tweeted “LIBERATE MICHIGAN”. 

US Senator Amy Klobuchar

Amy Klobuchar in Charlotte, North Carolina on February 29, 2020.
Amy Klobuchar in Charlotte, North Carolina on February 29, 2020. © Lucas Jackson, Reuters

Klobuchar hung tough in a primary race no one expected her to win, lasting until the eve of Super Tuesday when she endorsed Biden in person at a Dallas rally. The Minnesota senator has served since 2007 and in Democratic debates she repeatedly pointed to her record of helping to pass bipartisan legislation – and was once attacked by Warren for trying to please Republican McConnell. As a pragmatic Midwesterner, Klobuchar could help Biden pick up votes in Michigan, Wisconsin and Iowa, states that Trump won in 2016 but that Obama won in both 2008 and 2012. 

US Senator Catherine Cortez Masto

Catherine Cortez Masto in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 6, 2018.
Catherine Cortez Masto in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 6, 2018. © Ethan Miller, AFP

The first-term senator from Nevada is the first Latina to serve in Congress’s higher chamber. Like Harris, Masto was her state’s attorney general before being elected to the Senate. During her tenure as AG, she helped file a lawsuit against US banking giant Bank of America for fraud pertaining to home mortgages, a suit the bank settled in 2012. US Senator Bernie Sanders dominated the Nevada Democratic primary, and according to an entrance poll cited by NBC, 50 percent of Latino voters said they preferred the Vermont senator. If Masto is on the ticket, she could help Biden win more Latino support in Nevada and California, where Sanders also won on primary day.

US Senator Tammy Baldwin

Tammy Baldwin in Washington, D.C. on April 11, 2019.
Tammy Baldwin in Washington, D.C. on April 11, 2019. © Alex Wroblewski, AFP

Baldwin represents Wisconsin, a Midwestern battleground state where Democrats have won every presidential election since 1988 with one exception: 2016. In the state’s April 7 primary, voters – many lined up in masks – elected a Democrat to the state Supreme Court over a Republican incumbent whom Trump had repeatedly endorsed. Baldwin, who is openly gay, won re-election to the Senate with 55 percent of the vote in 2018 and previously served in the US House of Representatives. Hillary Clinton did not visit Wisconsin during the 2016 general election campaign, and while an academic study questions if her absence influenced the outcome, Wisconsin voters would presumably see Biden and Baldwin in person this fall if they comprise the Democratic ticket. 

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