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Do We Deserve a Woman VP Candidate? And What Should We Do If We Don’t Get One?

Should we demand that a woman be chosen as a running mate for either Biden or Bernie? Jeannie Ralston considers the possibilities, the history of female VP candidates, and the long game.

Cringe…cringe..cringe. That’s my reaction when I see photos of Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden together on news program graphics when the Democratic primary is being discussed. Really? White (face). White (hair). Penis (not that they show it—thank God—we just know it’s there).

Women made such remarkable progress in this election cycle. Six were running for the Democratic nomination at one point. A historic number. NextTribe profiled four of the leading contenders. Elizabeth Warren. Kamala Harris. Kirsten Gillibrand. Amy Klobuchar. But they’re all out now, and what are we left with? Where did it get us?

Since the race narrowed to two men still standing, there has been a lot of buzz about a woman being named as a running mate. Some see the vice presidential nomination as a big-ass consolation prize. Others see it as the necessary ingredient to defeating Trump. And many are more particular, calling for a woman of color. “Women of color have the numbers to generate a Democratic victory—if we show up at the polls. In swing states across the country, women of color dominate Democratic voter rolls,” wrote Aimee Allison in Newsweek.

“There must be a woman on this ticket,” Cecile Richards, founder of Supermajority, told the New York Times. We love Richards, but what’s the “or else” here? We’ll vote for Trump? We’ll stay home and risk Trump winning? Insert spit take here.

The History of Women Running Mates

The past two women chosen as running mates offer some insight into how effective female candidates have been at helping the ticket. (As much as I’d like to bring in Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Selina Myer from VEEP at this point—mainly for levity—I’ll stick to actual cases.)

We are all old enough to remember Geraldine Ferraro. She was a trail-blazer for sure, chosen in 1984 by Mondale to better his chances of stopping the Ronald Reagan juggernaut. It wasn’t her fault that Mondale didn’t win. But she didn’t help him as much as his people had hoped. She was a little-known congresswoman from a state, New York, that didn’t need any goosing to vote Democrat. Plus, her husband had cloudy finance issues that dimmed her star power.

And who can forget Sarah Palin, probably the most-desperate, least-vetted running mate choice in history? John McCain himself lived to regret choosing this intellectually incurious and faux-pas-prone governor of a state that could not have mattered less in electoral map politics. Yes, McCain was hoping to close the gender gap and pick up swing voters, but Palin repelled most thinking women, though she did wonders for the career of one thinking woman: Tina Fey. Her nomination truly felt worse than tokenism; it was an insult to our intelligence. (Almost as much as when George Bush 41 chose Dan Quayle because he thought his good looks would attract women voters. )

Why Now is Different

The biggest difference between today’s scenario and the two examples in history is that the field of potential female running mates is much stronger. The head spins considering all the women who are well-known, well-respected entities, women who have led states, or served in key positions in government. Women who have shown they have the stomach and the..yes, balls...for high-profile political combat.

In 2020, choosing a woman as a running mate doesn’t seem like a big risk at all, or a showy move, or desperation. The women who will be considered—Harris, Klobuchar, Warren, Stacey Abrams—have resumes as deep and long as any man who will be looked at. Plus, they’ve had to be tougher and savvier because they are women; sadly that is simply a requirement for our gender to really get ahead.

So, I don’t think we can demand that a woman be on the ticket. But I think she will be there no matter what. Biden and Sanders aren’t totally stupid. I believe it will come down to this: the downside of not having a woman running mate will outweigh any downside of having one. Of course most Democrats will fight like hell to defeat Trump no matter who the candidates on the ticket are, but women will have a fire in their bellies if one of their own will be a heartbeat away from the presidency. And, not to be disrespectful, but have you seen how old these guys are?

And if we’re playing the long game—which we always should—a woman vice president will have an edge on other candidates when it’s her time to run for the top spot. So, taking the most positive spin, let’s think about this election cycle as a dream deferred.


By Jeannie Ralston


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