Women are sending a loud message to Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders this year: If either of you makes it to the White House, you must take a woman along as vice president.
That seems to be the universal and uncompromising mandate by women of all races. But some Democrats also are adding this caveat — the vice president must be an African American woman.
Some of the names floating around of possible white women for the job are impressive. Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Sen. Amy Klobuchar. Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
Each is highly qualified and could aptly serve the crucial role of boosting the female vote in November. Most of them also would significantly lower the median age at the top of a ticket, headed by 77-year-old Biden or 78-year-old Sanders.
A black woman not only would provide that balance, but also signal that the Democratic Party is no longer willing to take African American voters for granted. It would be a long overdue gesture of goodwill to its most loyal constituents - black female voters who have been pulling the party out of political ruts for decades.
Sen. Kamala Harris, former Georgia state Rep. Stacey Abrams, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice and Florida Rep. Val Demings, who gained prominence as an impeachment manager at Donald Trump’s Senate trial, are the most obvious candidates. Biden and Sanders must give some or all of them serious consideration.
Let’s start with Biden. There is no other way to put this: Joe Biden owes his political life to black people.
The former vice president would be out of the race by now if not for the grace of African Americans.
Beginning in South Carolina, black voters gave his withering campaign an emergency heart transplant that not only saved its life but infused a burst of energy that seems to be making Biden unstoppable.
Fueled by black women, about 60% of African Americans turned out for Biden in the Feb. 29 South Carolina primary. The momentum of the black vote carried on into Super Tuesday, exit polling showed, where he got about 70% of the black vote in Alabama and Virginia, and about 60% in North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, though blacks comprise about 14% of that state’s electorate.
That’s because black people believe in Joe Biden. Some of that trust is for the reason Sanders seems to have written off the black vote: Biden is hanging on strong to Barack Obama’s coattails.
But most of all it is because African Americans are convinced that Biden is the strongest candidate to defeat Donald Trump in November. And that’s their top priority.
Now, let’s take a look at Sanders. It has become increasingly clear as the race tightens that the Vermont senator isn’t putting too much effort into courting black voters, even if he did gain the endorsement of the Rev. Jesse Jackson on Sunday.
The Sunday before Super Tuesday, Sanders decided to skip one the most important black political events in the South the march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge commemorating the 55th anniversary of the Bloody Sunday voting rights march.
The annual event, organized by Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights activist who was brutally beaten during the 1965 march, has drawn Democratic presidential contenders to Selma, Alabama, for decades.
Sanders was the only Democratic presidential candidate to blow it off, choosing instead to hold a rally in California headlined by the rap group Public Enemy. Even some who had previously dropped out of the race showed up in Alabama. Dozens of members of Congress also make the trip to Selma.
Sanders may have miscalculated the impact of a youthful rally. Young voters didn’t turn out for him at the rate he expected, but in the South, older black voters led the charge for Biden.
In states with large African American populations, Sanders has fared poorly in the primaries, garnering about 10%-17% of the black vote. That can only mean that black voters don’t particularly care for Bernie Sanders.
If blacks chose not to turn out for Sanders in large numbers in November, he would lose the election to Trump. He could significantly up his chances with an African American woman by his side.
Among other things, Jackson said Sanders would give "the highest consideration" to adding an African American woman to the Democratic ticket this fall.
This would allow Sanders to further capitalize on his platform of social justice and equality. It would send a message to African Americans that his "democratic socialist" form of government would be inclusive and fair.
By choosing a black woman, both candidates would do the one thing the Democratic Party has not. They would make a resounding statement that African American voters, black women in particular, are the backbone of the party and Democrats would be doomed without them.
In 2008, about 65% of black voters turned out, propelling Obama to an unprecedented victory. Four years later, African Americans broke the record with a 66.6% turnout, granting Obama a second term.
In 2016, for the first time in 20 years, black voter turnout dropped slightly to 59.6%, and it contributed to Hillary Clinton’s loss.
If that’s not enough, consider what happened in Alabama in 2017. Black women threw 98% of their vote behind the underdog, Democrat Doug Jones, and blocked Republican Roy Moore, an accused pedophile, from a seat in the U.S. Senate.
This year, black voters are calling in their loan to Democrats. An African American woman as vice president wouldn’t erase the entire debt, but it would be a huge down payment.
Dahleen Glanton is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.