Elizabeth Warren has made no secret of her vice presidential ambitions.
But in an election now playing out against the backdrop of a racial reckoning and a pandemic particularly devastating to communities of color, several minority activists and elected officials in the Massachusetts senator’s home state say she may no longer meet the moment.
“It needs to be a woman of color. It needs to be a candidate who can go ignite the electorate in a way Joe Biden can’t,” Boston-based Democratic strategist Wilnelia Rivera said. “For the Biden campaign and Democrats to tell the most loyal electorate of this country, which are Black voters, that they have to wait one more time is not electable.”
Warren is a top contender in the Democratic veepstakes alongside several prominent women of color — a list that reportedly includes U.S. Reps. Val Demings and Karen Bass, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris and former national security adviser Susan Rice. A polling favorite, Warren has also proved a fundraising juggernaut for Biden and has had a significant hand in shaping the presumptive nominee’s general election platform.
Yet three months after Warren gave Rachel Maddow an emphatic “yes” when asked if she would be Biden’s VP, the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement has reshaped an already crucial election for Democrats. And pressure is mounting on Biden — who had already committed to picking a female running mate — to choose a woman of color for the role that could prove more consequential than ever.
“Someone who has first hand experience as a person of color, I think that’s really, really critical,” said state Rep. Nika Elugardo, who backed U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. “Being sensitive is not a sufficient replacement for lived experience.”
But Lawrence Mayor Daniel Rivera, who supported Warren for president, said her ability to “hit the ground running” would be “the best thing that could happen to communities of color.”
“She’s been fighting for things that are important to our communities,” Rivera said. “She doesn’t have the lived experience of a black woman or a woman of color, but there’s a reason why all these groups of women of color supported her for president.”
Several Black organizers and activist groups are now pushing Warren for the No. 2 spot, citing her advocacy for communities of color amid the coronavirus crisis and her championing of police reform.
But political observers cite Warren’s struggles to connect with Black voters — the Democrats’ most loyal constituency — and her failure to carry a single state in her own Oval Office bid as potential problems.
“If the Democrats want to take back the White House, having a candidate who can speak to those issues and those voters as a vice presidential pick will be critical,” Boston City Council President Kim Janey said.
The political calculus of how to best turn out younger and minority voters in battleground states the Democrats lost to President Trump in 2016 could deal a significant blow to the chances of the white senator from New England, despite her Oklahoma roots. And some fear tapping Warren for a higher role could leave her Senate seat in Republican Gov. Charlie Baker’s hands, despite precedent for a legislative fix.
Flipping the Senate “is a real concern,” said Darnell Williams, former executive director of the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts. “I don’t think you can minimize any of those issues.”
Alternatives abound: Janey suggested former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams. Warren supporter Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins floated Harris, a former prosecutor, for her ability to understand criminal justice issues. Horace Small of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods touted Demings, Orlando’s first woman police chief-turned-congresswoman, for her ability to mobilize voters in the crucial swing state of Florida.
“I think by having her, or having a Black woman, period, is going to drive turnout in states and cities all over America,” Small said. “Elizabeth Warren was my candidate. She’s my girl. She’s a sweetheart. But not this time.”