Democrats & Liberals Archives

Why the Democratic Nominee Needs a Black Running Mate

( this post is actually based off an article I wrote earlier this month but I think you’ll find it quite provocative nonetheless.)

John Kerry is the new “Frontrunner.” Pundits and rank-and-file Democrats alike are now thinking about whom the junior senator from Massachusetts should choose as his running mate. Some say Edwards is ideal because of his Southern roots and clean image. Others favor Gephardt due to his perceived ability to deliver Missouri. While Clark’s military credentials make him a popular choice.

Each of these men would enhance the Democratic presidential ticket. But why is the field of potential veeps so narrow? More importantly, why is it so devoid of color? Why not a Black running mate?

Black people are the Democrats most loyal supporters come election time. Iowa and New Hampshire give candidates a welcome barrage of positive media exposure if they win, helping them to build momentum for further contests. But come November, it is the Black voter that has made the difference for the Democratic Party time and time again.

Black people are not going to vote for George W. Bush in large numbers but Democrats should not think that African-Americans would support their nominee enthusiastically. Each of the leading candidates is a relative unknown to the majority of Black voters. Their faces are rarely seen in the pages of Ebony, Essence, and Jet or on any show on BET. Moreover, none of these fine men possess that je ne se qua that made Clinton so endearing to African-Americans regardless of what part of the country the lived in, how much money they made, or their degree of political activity. As it stands the potential Democratic tickets bantered around face an uphill battle in sparking the interest of those who can have the greatest impact on their chances of victory.

That would all change the second the eventual Democratic nominee for President chose a Black person to help him defeat President Bush and set America on a new course. African-Americans reared in the Civil Rights era and those of the Hip Hop generation alike would see that ticket as an opportunity to vote for someone rather than merely vote against someone else, as many Black people feel when voting for a Democrat. African-Americans do not throw their support to the Republican Party in large numbers because they view the GOP as racist and generally not supportive of their interests. Blacks may view Democrats more favorably but they criticize the party for its continued failure to exalt anyone from their community into the upper echelons of America’s political landscape.

Critics may argue that any electoral gains from choosing a Black running mate will be off-set by a deflection of white voters. If Bush were not such a polarizing figure that elicited such visceral responses from supporters and detractors alike, I would concede the point. But the reality is that many of those unable to vote FOR a ticket with a Black vice-presidential candidate will be more inclined to vote AGAINST George W. Bush.

Others will say that choosing a Black person solely for the electoral benefit is pandering at best and tokenism at worst. But I ask, what is the running mate in a presidential election but a token? Throughout history men have been chosen to join a ticket because of what base they solidify that the presidential nominee cannot. More often than not, Democrats choose Southerners to shore up support from that part of the country that has become increasingly hostile to the Party.

When it comes down to it, Democrats need to focus on putting together a ticket that is consistent with the core values of the Party and its vision for the future. But more importantly it has to be positioned to win. Any of the leading Democratic candidates for President supported by one of the many Black elected leaders in this country helps the party to do just that and more.

Posted by at February 8, 2004 8:27 PM