Game Theory: Stacey Abrams Teaming Up With Joe Biden?

It's a concept that shouldn't be dismissed so easily, even if it doesn't happen

A Publisher’s Riff

Image result for biden abrams

by Charles Ellison | #RealityCheck | @ellisonreport

Amid speculation that former Vice President Joe Biden would, upon entering the 2020 Democratic primary, make the unusual and unprecedented move of selecting 2018 Democratic gubernatorial Stacey Abrams as a running mate, New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait wrote why it was a “Brilliant Idea For Both Biden and Abrams.”

Naturally, a procession of skeptics is stepping forward to explain why this would be a stupid idea for Biden, or Abrams, or both.

It’s not. The unconventional Biden–Abrams ticket makes tons of sense for both figures.

But what wasn’t brilliant at all about Chait’s article is that he didn’t mention Biden’s main reason for even bothering to consider an Abram’s running mate pick in the first place: Black women. In an epic oversight of White journalistic bias, Chait didn’t even use the words “Black women” in the piece.

That’s interesting because even if Biden went through with the move or not, the whole purpose of stirring that pot was to get the attention of Black women voters. It was an acknowledgement that not only do Black women, as an electorate, ultimately dictate who is picked as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee, but they are also powerful enough - when they truly and completely back that nominee - to tip a general election against the Republican nominee. There’s a hint of trial ballooning in this maneuver, of Biden merely mixing up the cocktail reception conversation more so than seriously thinking of it. And its Biden looking for a creative fundraising path, an unconventional way of entering the race and differentiating himself from a crowded pack because he’ll really need to.

Meanwhile, Abrams has since then pushed back visibly hard against the idea that she’ll be signing on to Team Biden. On The View

“You don’t run for second place. If I’m going to enter a primary, then I’m going to enter a primary. If I don’t enter a primary, my job is to make certain that the best Democrat becomes the nominee and whoever wins the primary, that we make sure that person gets elected in 2020.”

“Running in a primary to be the vice president is very different than someone who has been selected by the party to be the nominee asking you to serve as a partner. I am open to all options.”

Additional comments from an advisor - “What makes it particularly exploitative is that Biden couldn’t be bothered to endorse Stacey in the gubernatorial primary” (but, well, he came through in the general when she needed it most, right?) - underscore Abrams possibly being irked about it. Which is also smart for a number of reasons: it is kinda early chief among them. But, she’s also very aware that she has political star power that transcends Biden: perhaps another gubernatorial bid in Georgia or a run at the Senate. And it’s also somewhat (nah - more like mighty) presumptuous of Biden as it feeds an inevitability narrative that got Hillary Clinton in trouble in both 2008 and 2016. Additionally, it runs the risk of looking very White male privilege of him: “I’m the old White Messiah who is the only one who can beat the current guy in the White House, so let’s settle this now, and I’m picking the Black woman because I know the Black women wouldn’t support an old White guy like me without someone like her on the ticket.”

The “old White guy” like him is controversial pre-Obama Biden with previously odious views on busing, Anita Hill and criminal justice. Abrams would be forced to play defense on that if she went along with the plan. Another thorny topic for Biden is that he’s already running into #MeToo issues, predictably. She’d be in an awkward position on that, too, with many who once saw her as authentically progressive in a red state like Georgia now suddenly “selling out.”

But, Could It Work?

The idea, in concept, shouldn’t be immediately dismissed because Biden, without yet entering the race, continues to grow as a strong front runner in the Democratic primary field, according to Morning Consult tracking

RealClearPolitics averaging also finds him a consistent, unannounced front runner

Yes, it’s early. But an early Biden-Abrams pact, at the least, adds a creative and unconventional dimension to a Biden candidacy. His entrance into the race is viewed as most likely to capture Gen-X and older voters while Millennials could be split among folks like O’Rourke and Sanders. But, again, the Abrams pick would theoretically solidify support, mostly, from Black women voters who may appreciate the pick of someone as authentic and electorally aggrieved as Abrams. Some younger voters may also appreciate the pick because 1) Abrams has good pull with Millennial voters, and did so in Georgia and 2) Biden is old and would need the prospect of someone much younger to take his place in the White House should that old age catch up with him while in office.

And, anyway, we say Abrams can win in Georgia? But, is Georgia reliably purple enough to do that?

Is Biden’s approach gimmicky? Yeah, it is. But, what campaign move isn’t gimmicky? One could make the argument that Obama picking Biden in 2008 was a little gimmicky because he needed that final White male validation to make White voters in Rust Belt states feel a little more comfortable with him. Running mate selections are based on the experience of the running mate, of course. And it’s easy to argue that Abrams doesn’t have much of it beyond her time as a state legislator and as a gubernatorial candidate in a red state. But, how is did a national electorate that allowed the election of Trump in 2016 suddenly become so concerned about experience? And take a look at some of the Democratic primary candidates who are considered front runners. Presidential elections now may, anyway, be more about passion, personality, and positions than experience.

And if Biden becomes the nominee along with Abrams as the running mate, the pure optics of a Black woman like Abrams (who lost to ballot theft in Georgia) will be enough to prompt most Black women voters to charge up that electoral hill. It will not only be the closest a woman will come to being in the White House, but it will be a Black woman at that. That simple. Theoretically, for Black women voters, it could be more like Abrams were the one running for president than Biden. And, plus, Abrams is that skilled at campaigning, messaging and debating to make for memorable moments on the 2020 campaign trail.

One of the failures of the 2016 election was that Democrats did not make the election enough about Black women.

What About Kamala Harris?

That is a question that keeps coming up: Since Kamala Harris is already in the 2020 pack, why pick someone as a running mate outside that pack? Well, for one thing, Harris is still in it, and she’s also in third place in many instances behind Biden and Sanders, and even ahead of Beto O’Rourke. Why would she be interested at this point?

And there is an assumption that Harris would not do so well as a pick among Black voters because her rollout, to date, has been quite awkward. There’s too much chatter about her flubbed Breakfast Club interview, too many memes about her pot smoking admission and her lack of hip-hop knowledge. Too many questions about her marriage to a White man and her bi-racial background from a Jamaican father and an East Indian mother making her non “#ADOS.” Harris may be presenting baggage issues.

But, that shouldn’t be dismissed immediately either because, at least according to recent YouGov surveys, Harris polls a bit better than Abrams. And, she actually polls better among Black voters, too.

Here’s Abrams …

But, here’s Harris measured against that, polling 4 percentage points stronger among Black voters surveyed (57 percent vs. Abrams’ 54 percent) …

Interestingly enough, Biden polls better among Black voters - at 69 percent - than either Harris or Abrams …