The naming of the senator from California as Joe Biden’s running mate marks the first time that a Black woman is on a presidential ticket and is in a position to become vice president of the United States.
It is not, of course, as historic of a gesture as the Democratic Party’s nomination of Barack Hussein Obama to take on Republican Sen. John McCain in 2008. Nor is it, a fortiori, as historic as the election of the first African American to the White House, 145 years after the abolition of slavery. But the choice by Joe Biden — candidate to succeed Donald Trump — of California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate for the Nov. 3 election is also, in itself, historic.
After four years of a presidency marked by a regression in women’s and minorities’ rights, a Black woman will be the Democrats’ vice presidential nominee. America has already seen a Black woman seek the White House (Shirley Chisholm of New York was a candidate in the primaries in 1972). A woman has also been the Democratic vice presidential nominee: Geraldine Ferraro, Walter Mondale’s pick in 1984. And, of course, the country has also already experienced one of the major political parties nominating a woman, Hillary Clinton. None of these women was elected.
If Biden, who is clearly pulling out in front of Trump in the polls, wins on Nov. 3, Harris, 55, daughter of a Jamaican economics professor and an Indian oncologist, will become the first female vice president of the United States. Since Biden is 77, she will have a foot in the door for the 2024 election.
An early dropout in the presidential race, uninhibited when it comes to her ambitions — the question trips up many women candidates — Harris showed her combativeness during the primaries, all the while sporting a smile, as if to soften, in the eyes of the progressive left, her accusatory demeanor of a former prosecutor who was tough on crime. Biden must certainly have concluded that this trait would actually serve her well when up against the candidate of “law and order” that Trump believes himself to be. He did not hold it against her that she had attacked him during the primaries for positions that he held 30 years ago that are now considered racist.
The senator, who is 17 years younger than Hillary Clinton and 15 years younger than Elizabeth Warren, also brings with her the possibility of mobilizing young voters, who are unenthusiastic about the candidacy of a 70-something who has spent over 30 years in the Senate. As far as the electoral map is concerned, Harris also raises hopes of finally carrying Georgia or North Carolina, two states where the African American vote can make all the difference.
Following Clinton’s loss to a candidate known for his crudeness and sexist comments, Democratic women were stunned. In the 2018 midterms, they fought back: a record number of women were elected to Congress. In the primaries, there were six women, including Harris, who sought the Democratic nomination, a sign of the party’s vitality in the era of Trump.
According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, 2020 could be a new “year of the woman,” with a record number of minority candidates (267). Black feminists never fail to remind us that 53% of white women voted for Trump, while 94% of Black women voted for Clinton in 2016. At a moment where the pandemic has placed them front and center, they feel like their moment has come. Biden could do worse than recognize their loyalty.
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