Who are the women driving Joe Biden’s success?

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL November 9, 2020

US President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris deliver remarks in Wilmington, Delaware, on Saturday. AFP

Whatever happens next as Joe Biden prepares to govern America come January 20, his defeat of an incumbent president has one unique and extraordinary element: it was enabled by women.

Four women, in fact. In no particular order, they are as follows: Mr Biden’s running mate Kamala Devi Harris; Georgia Democratic Party voting rights activist Stacey Abrams; Arizona senator John McCain’s widow Cindy; and LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund.

As the US and the wider world awaits the complete and certified result and a clear tabulation and breakdown of polling data, the broader trends among those who voted for Mr Biden are becoming apparent. According to political science professor Charles Stewart, founding director of MIT’s Election Data and Science Lab, women voted 56–43 for Mr Biden. Taylor Crumpton, who writes on music, pop culture and politics, added granular detail. “Black women saved Joe Biden,” she said. “Without our support, the President-elect would be preparing a powerful speech about how despite his defeat, the nation needs to stand together as a united people.” Ms Crumpton went on to refer to the Biden ticket’s wins as “powered largely by the turnout in places like Detroit, Atlanta, Milwaukee and Philadelphia”.

It’s a good point. Indeed, there was greater support for Mr Biden in certain demographic categories and in unexpected geographical areas, not least the reliably Republican state of Georgia. But it didn’t happen just by chance and it is four women who can justifiably be said to have been pivotal in helping Mr Biden secure the presidency.

First, to Ms Harris’s candidacy. It had that rare quality, both symbolic and real significance. In picking her, Mr Biden made sure America would get its first woman vice-president in 244 years, or as the cliche goes, a heartbeat away from the presidency. As the daughter of immigrants, Ms Harris will become the first black and South Asian woman to ascend to the second-highest office in the land.

There is much to suggest that the presence of Ms Harris on the Democratic ticket did have a transformational effect, at least in terms of motivating a diverse coalition of suburban women voters of colour who saw themselves in her story.

Not only did Ms Harris appear with many high-profile black radio and digital media hosts throughout the socially distanced election campaign, popular singer-songwriter Alicia Keys released a widely watched video of her joining the vice-presidential candidate on the campaign trail in Arizona. Singer John Legend also spoke out for Ms Harris.

With her signature Chuck Taylor sneakers, propensity to dance as she stood at a lectern and the habit of bending down to speak to young girls at eye level as she campaigned, Ms Harris became a political presence in her own right. Ms Harris’s facial expressions — from congressional hearings during her four years as a California senator — were made into memes and printed on T-shirts. Sonia Sanchez, a highly regarded poet once prominent in the Black Arts Movement and who knew and was influenced by slain civil rights activist Malcolm X, has said that Ms Harris’s candidacy made her feel “a breath, the possibility of progress and of teaching us the real idea of democracy”.

That’s true but the nuts and bolts of the real idea of democracy was arguably fit together by a lower-profile figure. Until now, Ms Abrams has been known mainly to political junkies, policy wonks and politically engaged black celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Legend. But the 46-year-old Yale law school graduate, former minority delegation leader of the Georgia state legislature and 2018 gubernatorial candidate is being hailed as one of the chief architects of Mr Biden’s victory. She is seen as the reason that Georgia, which has not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in three decades, may now go for Mr Biden. As of Sunday morning, the Democrat was leading Donald Trump in Georgia by more than 7,000 votes with 98 per cent of the intake counted.

How Ms Abrams managed this feat is set to become popular lore and possibly a case study for political science researchers. From 2013, Ms Abrams has been committed to her New Georgia Project, which worked consistently to find new voters, register and inform them about the power of their voice and finally, turn them out to cast their ballots. From 2018, within a fortnight of her wafer-thin loss in the election for Georgia governor, allegedly because her Republican opponent played dirty, Ms Abrams became one of the country’s preeminent voting rights activists. She created a non-profit called Fair Fight, which ramped up efforts to combat voter suppression — mainly of African-Americans — and increase participation. As a result, it’s estimated that more than 800,000 new people registered to vote in Georgia since 2018. Roughly 45 per cent of the new voters are under the age of 30 and 49 per cent are people of colour, with a surge in Latino, Asian American, and Pacific Islander turnout.

So too Ms Brown’s Black Voters Matter Fund. The organisation was born out of Ms Brown’s disappointment over her own 1998 local election loss in Alabama. When she realised it was an example of voter suppression, she decided to tackle the issue. Ms Brown, who now lives in Atlanta, Georgia, has been working in the state, as well as in Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee, Louisiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Alabama and Mississippi to ensure that black communities are registered to vote and aware of the need to exercise it.

Ms McCain is the fourth woman who played a part in Mr Biden’s victory. Arizona, which her late husband represented in the Senate as a Republican for more than three decades, may be flipping to the Democratic column. The state has a long political history of voting Republican but Mr Biden remained in the lead there as of Sunday morning. It may not have happened without Ms McCain’s gentle but insistent championing of Mr Biden as the candidate her husband would view as “what’s best for our country…a president for all people, not just Democrats”.

I hardly know Cindy McCain other than having put her on a Committee at her husband’s request. Joe Biden was John McCain’s lapdog. So many BAD decisions on Endless Wars & the V.A., which I brought from a horror show to HIGH APPROVAL. Never a fan of John. Cindy can have Sleepy Joe!

– Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 23, 2020

The grieving widow’s move came in the aftermath of bitter clashes between her husband and Mr Trump, who mocked the senator, a war hero, for being taken captive and tortured during the Vietnam War. Arizona’s possible turn to the Democrat column has prompted some jocularity with a former McCain aide joking that a Biden win in the state could almost be the work of the senator’s “ghost”.

Seriously though, this may be one of the first US elections that the presidency was emphatically determined by women’s imagination, initiative and indefatigable energy.

Rashmee Roshan Lall is a columnist for The National

Originally published at https://www.thenationalnews.com