In 2020, A Female Running Mate Won't Be A 'Hail Mary' There are a lot of contrasts between Joe Biden's impending pick and past elections when women were vice presidential candidates. One that's easy to overlook: Biden is ahead in the polls.
NPR logo

In 2020, A Female Running Mate Won't Be A 'Hail Mary'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/900277884/900703886" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
In 2020, A Female Running Mate Won't Be A 'Hail Mary'

In 2020, A Female Running Mate Won't Be A 'Hail Mary'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/900277884/900703886" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Former Vice President Joe Biden will announce his running mate any day now, and we know he'll choose a woman. Though none has been elected, a female running mate is no longer a novelty nor the political risk it once was, as NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben reports.

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, BYLINE: In 1952, decades before Sarah Palin or Geraldine Ferraro, Democrats placed India Edwards in contention as a running mate for Adlai Stevenson. But she didn't want the job, as she explained to NPR in 1984.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

INDIA EDWARDS: First of all, I had no aspiration to be vice president of the United States. I also didn't think the Democratic Party was ready for a woman vice president in 1984.

KURTZLEBEN: Democrats would choose Ferraro as the first woman major-party vice-presidential nominee. Edwards opposed it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

EDWARDS: I think we have plenty of women who are qualified, but I just don't think this is a year to gamble. We want to get Reagan out of the White House. That is the height of my ambition.

KURTZLEBEN: Thirty-six years later, Democrats are still fretting about women and electability, not to mention ambition. Karen Finney was a spokesperson for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign.

KAREN FINNEY: I remember when Geraldine Ferraro was nominated, and it was exciting. But our country's in a different place even though some of those same sexist and racist tropes remain.

KURTZLEBEN: A lot has changed. For starters, it won't be a surprise when Biden picks a woman, and there's a deeper bench of women for him to pick from, including more women of color. But according to Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, there's also a less obvious contrast with Ferraro and Sarah Palin.

DEBBIE WALSH: I think in both of those cases, putting a woman on felt a bit like a Hail Mary, which I don't get the sense that it has that same feel this time around.

KURTZLEBEN: In 1984, for example, Walter Mondale was down by double digits against President Reagan in some national polls before he picked Ferraro. Scott Widmeyer served as her press secretary.

SCOTT WIDMEYER: Let's face it - Walter Mondale wasn't a fantastic candidate - probably not the most lively candidate. So we were looking to, you know, bring excitement to the ticket. And when you look at Geraldine Ferraro, she brought that spark.

KURTZLEBEN: In her vice-presidential debate against George H.W. Bush, Ferraro swiped at him for talking down to her.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GERALDINE FERRARO: Let me just say first of all that I almost resent, Vice President Bush, your patronizing attitude...

(APPLAUSE)

FERRARO: ...That you have to teach me about foreign policy.

KURTZLEBEN: John McCain likewise was substantially behind Barack Obama for much of summer 2008 before picking Sarah Palin. Here she was in her convention speech thanking her parents.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SARAH PALIN: And among the many things I owe them is a simple lesson that I've learned - that this is America, and every woman can walk through every door of opportunity. And my parents are here tonight.

(APPLAUSE)

KURTZLEBEN: Similarly, there was a sense then that Palin could liven up McCain's campaign. But this time is different, Walsh says, not only because Biden is leading in polls but because he defeated several well-qualified women to get the nomination.

WALSH: The path that led the Democratic party to this nomination was this concept of electability that really hurt women and candidates of color in the primary process. And I think this is in many ways a nod to saying, look, this is the future.

KURTZLEBEN: In recent years, the Democratic Party has more greatly acknowledged the role that women, and especially Black women, play in electing Democrats. Finney says that voters have absorbed this message.

FINNEY: I think we see the idea of a new generation and an acknowledgment that the country is changing.

KURTZLEBEN: And for Democratic women still stinging from Hillary Clinton's loss in 2016, Finney added, it might be some consolation if this year a woman finally gets to the second-highest office in the land.

Danielle Kurtzleben, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF LILY ALLEN'S "LITTLEST THINGS")

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.