This story was co-published with The Washington Post.
Alicia Garza woke up angry Wednesday morning as she saw Elizabeth Warren, the candidate she has endorsed in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, with a narrowing path to the nomination and the White House.
“I was mad because of how hard it’s been for Elizabeth Warren and how dismissive people are of that,” said Garza, an activist and founder of the Black to the Future Action Fund, an organization focused on mobilizing Black voters. “The reality is, women voters are an incredibly important constituency in this upcoming election. It’s going to be really interesting trying to figure out, for women, who to vote for in November.”
Although she wants the senator from Massachusetts to stay in the race and stick to a strategy that could help her win at this summer’s Democratic National Convention, as reality sets in, Garza said she’s considering an alternative scenario: Warren as the vice-presidential running mate for the man who could become the nominee.
“I feel very strongly that if she does not make it to the convention, she should be the main pick for vice president,” Garza said. “It can’t just be any woman. It only helps to have a woman on the ticket if that woman is unapologetic in talking about how being a woman shapes our lives … if that woman can rally women across race, class and geography. We don’t want a woman who’s going to talk about how gender doesn’t matter.”
With the path to the 2020 Democratic nomination all but closed for the remaining women in the race, voters, organizers and activists are setting their sights on the No. 2 spot. They’re insisting that a woman — specifically a woman of color — be the running mate for whichever White man will probably be challenging President Trump in November, whether it’s former vice president Joe Biden or Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who are leading the delegate contest.
Both men gained considerable ground on Super Tuesday, as billionaire would-be spoiler Mike Bloomberg saw his strategy — which was based on the March 3 map — collapse. Neither Warren nor Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) won any contests in the 14 states on the ballot, and the path forward for them is unclear.
Not only has the country never had a female president, but it has never had a female vice president, either. In 1984, Rep. Geraldine Ferraro (D-N.Y.) became the first female vice-presidential candidate representing a major U.S. political party. It would be a generation before another woman, Republican and then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, would be on a major-party ticket, running with Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) in 2008.
This year, the demand for a female vice-presidential running mate is born out of frustration: The 2020 primary began with a record six women vying to become the Democratic nominee, part of the most diverse slate of candidates in the party’s history. Democratic strategist Meredith Kelly, former communications director for the presidential campaign of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), made the case for a running mate who shares the lived experience of the majority of the U.S. electorate.
“Being a leader means understanding your weaknesses and blind spots,” Kelly said. “More than half of the population will trust your candidacy and eventual administration if someone in the room has dealt personally with the pay gap or relied on Planned Parenthood for their health care.”
A male nominee “should make sure a woman with constitutional authority is in the room, too,” she added.
Biden has signaled that he is open to a woman as his running mate should he become the nominee. Last month, he listed Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), who was the lone Black woman in the 2020 field before dropping out in December, as a potential contender. He has also met with 2018 Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, who rose to national prominence in her attempt to become the country’s first Black female governor and who has publicly expressed interest in being vice president.
Sanders has not mentioned a potential running mate by name. But he has said he is open to someone younger or a person of color should he become the nominee.
Aimee Allison, founder of She the People, which mobilizes female voters of color, said that for any of the White men leading in the Democratic presidential primary, choosing a woman of color as a running mate could be key to the historic turnout Democrats will need to oust Trump, and an acknowledgment of the value of Black women to the party.
“We have established ourselves as the must-win, must-convince group of the electorate,” Allison said of herself and other Black female voters.
Ebony Hilton had hoped to vote for Harris on Super Tuesday, but after she dropped out, she decided to support Biden instead.
Now, the Charlottesville resident says she has high expectations for Biden: that he put Harris on the ticket as his vice-presidential pick if he gets the nomination.
“The top candidates at this point are all White males,” said Hilton, a 38-year-old anesthesiologist who is Black. “With the lack of diversity, who they pick for their vice president is going to be key. I’m hoping that Biden is leaning toward tapping Senator Harris on the shoulder.”
Democratic strategist Leah Daughtry, the chief executive of the 2016 and 2008 Democratic National Conventions, said that the party has “to make this margin cheatproof with anything that is going to help energize the base” and that “there are any number of qualified African American women who should be considered and who would be viable options.”
Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio) said she hears from voters nationwide who want a Black woman as vice president. She said such a pick is “the only chance the Democratic Party has to win the presidency and to win down ballot.”
“That is the only thing that is going to raise the excitement, that is going to increase the turnout,” said Fudge, who previously endorsed Harris and backed Biden ahead of Super Tuesday. “We will finally believe that this party believes it is about time to say to us: We see you, we hear you and we will reward you for what you’ve done for us all these many years.”