Former Vice President Joe Biden is backtracking on the idea that his eventual running mate will be a woman of color.
Biden, who is facing criticism after appearing to claim that African Americans considering voting for President Donald Trump “ain’t black,” told CNN’s Dana Bash on Tuesday during an interview that he was not ready to promise to put a woman of color on the ticket despite rumors in recent weeks that he was heading in that direction.
“Look, I’m not going to get into that now because we haven’t gotten there yet,” the former vice president said when asked if his running mate would be a woman of color. “There are women of color under consideration and there are women from every part of the country under consideration.”
“There’s a lot of really qualified women that are ready to be president, but I’m not making that commitment,” Biden added.
The former vice president’s declaration comes as speculation about who will be his running mate has increased in recent weeks. Biden, himself, has only stoked such talk, promising earlier this year that he would make history by choosing a woman as his running mate. The former vice president subsequently followed up by asserting that whomever he ultimately chose would have to be “ready to be president on a moment’s notice.”
While Biden has engaged in such discussion publicly, his allies have been actively pushing for a woman of color behind the scenes. The effort largely stems from the outsize influence black voters have on the Democrat primary and the general election. That influence was seen at the outset of the presidential primaries this year when Biden’s campaign flopped in the first two nominating contests of Iowa and New Hampshire. Although most political analysts were quick to write off his White House ambitions after such defeats, Biden rebounded by scoring a landslide win in South Carolina. The victory was secured thanks to his longstanding support among black voters, who made up nearly two-thirds of the state’s primary electorate.
Biden’s landslide in South Carolina led to the coalescing of establishment Democrats behind his candidacy, setting up a head-to-head matchup with the up-until-then frontrunner, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), on Super Tuesday. There again, however, black Democrats made the difference for the former vice president. Of the 14 contests on the ballot that day, seven were in Southern states, where black voters made up an overwhelming majority of the Democrat electorate. In each of those states, Biden bested Sanders by double-digit margins.
“You can’t win the Democratic presidential nomination without winning the South, and you can’t win the South without the black vote, and you can’t win the black vote without winning the black women’s vote,” Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, told NBC in the wake of Super Tuesday.
Many Democrats not only agree with Campbell, but also argue the power of black voters extends out of the primary and into the general election as well. Most point to drop-off in black turnout between 2012 and 2016 as the primary reason for why former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lost.
During that race, Clinton received 88 percent of the black vote, according to exit polls. Although impressive, the numbers were significantly lower than the 93 percent former President Barack Obama garnered on his way to reelection in 2012.
The drop-off in turnout was most noticeable in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—states that went narrowly for Trump in 2016 after having backed Democrats at the presidential level for nearly three decades. For example, data from the Michigan secretary of state’s office indicates Clinton received 75,000 fewer votes in Wayne County—where Detroit is located—than Obama in 2012. Even though Clinton still won the country by a substantial margin, the decrease ensured she lost the state to Trump, who made strong inroads with white working-class voters, by nearly 11,000 votes.
A number of high-profile Democrat strategists believe that if black turnout was the same in 2016 as it was in 2012, Clinton would have won the presidency, despite Trump’s populist appeal to blue-collar whites. As such, many are pushing Biden to do everything possible to hit the 2012 margins, starting with a tapping a woman of color as his running mate.
“If he wants us to not just vote but bring our family and communities along in record numbers, he’s got to put a woman of color on the ticket,” Aimee Allison, the founder of She the People—a progressive group trying to engage more than one million women of color to vote ahead of the general election, told USA Today last week.
Biden, for his part, has seemed to express agreement. Since becoming the presumptive Democrat nominee, the former vice president has floated the idea that either Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) or former Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams could be his running mate.
Allies, meanwhile, have further signaled that Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), a moderate Democrat active within the Congressional Black Caucus, and Keisha Lance Bottoms, the mayor of Atlanta, Georgia, are on Biden’s vice presidential shortlist as well.
In recent days, however, the calculus seems to have changed. Even before Biden’s interview with CNN, the former vice president’s campaign was touting his onetime rival, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), for the number two spot on the Democrat ticket. Earlier this week, the campaign confirmed that it had requested the Minnesota Democrat undergo the vetting process.
Klobuchar’s rise in the vice presidential sweepstakes has solicited criticism from activists of color. More than a few cite her contentious record on criminal justice issues while serving as county prosecutor in arguing that she would fail to appeal to black voters who voted in 2012 but opted to stayed home in 2016. Many also doubt that Klobuchar could help Biden bring back into the fold white working-class voters who supported Trump in 2016.
“Her campaign appeal was about bringing in working-class, white people from the Midwest, and perhaps that’s true, but that’s a particular strategy that doesn’t align with what it’s going to take to win,” LaTosha Brown, a cofounder of Black Voters Matter, told Politico recently, noting that it was pivotal for Democrats to “excite the base.”
Furthermore, the issue of Biden’s running mate takes on greater importance as he struggles to respond after having appeared to suggest that any black voter considering backing Trump over him was not black. The former vice president made the racially charged remark during an interview with The Breakfast Club, a New York City-based radio program, last week.
“If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black,” Biden told the show’s host, Charlamagne tha God, not in response to a question, but after the radio host’s remark: “It’s a long way until November. We’ve got more questions.”