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

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

Aug 8, 2020
Originally published on August 9, 2020 4:38 pm

Decades before Sarah Palin or Geraldine Ferraro were put on presidential tickets, India Edwards was in contention for the vice presidency. At their 1952 convention, Democrats put forth Edwards, then vice chair of the party, as a potential running mate for Adlai Stevenson.

Edwards didn't want the job.

"First of all, I had no aspiration to be vice president of the United States," she told NPR in 1984. She added with a chuckle, "I also didn't think the Democratic Party was ready for a woman vice president."

She didn't get much support anyway — one news report from the convention called her nomination (and that of another woman, Texas state district Judge Sarah Hughes) "complimentary."

Three decades later, Democrats would choose Ferraro as the first woman major-party vice presidential nominee. Edwards was opposed to that pick as well.

"​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," she said.

Thirty-six years later, Democrats are still fretting about women and electability — not to mention ambition.

"​I remember when Geraldine Ferraro was nominated, and it was exciting," said Karen Finney, spokesperson for Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. "But our country is in a different place, even though some of those same sexist and racist tropes remain."

It's true that a lot has changed.

For starters, Joe Biden announced months ahead of time that he'd pick a woman, and there's a deeper bench of women for him to pick from. In addition, several women of color are contenders for that spot.

But there's also a less-obvious contrast with Ferraro and Palin, the 2008 Republican nominee for vice president.

"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," said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

Picking women to jolt the campaign to life

In 1984, Democratic nominee Walter Mondale was down by double digits against President Reagan in some national polling in the weeks before he picked Ferraro as his running mate.

"Let's face it: Walter Mondale was a fantastic candidate, [but] probably not the most lively candidate," said Scott Widmeyer, who was Ferraro's press secretary. "So we were looking to bring excitement to the ticket. And when you look at Geraldine Ferraro, she brought that spark."

Ferraro used that spark at times to swipe back at sexism. In her vice presidential debate against George H.W. Bush, Ferraro chided Bush for talking down to her: "I almost resent, Vice President Bush, your patronizing attitude that you have to teach me about foreign policy."

John McCain likewise was substantially behind Barack Obama for much of summer 2008 before picking Palin.

Similarly, there was a sense then that Palin could liven up McCain's campaign. And she briefly did provide a jolt to the ticket, giving a widely well-received convention speech.

Then-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin accepts the Republican nomination for vice president in September 2008.
Susan Walsh / AP

But this time is different, Walsh said, not only because Biden is leading in polls, but because he defeated several well-qualified women to get the nomination.​

"There is, I think, a consensus out there that 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," she said.

A sign of the future of the Democratic Party

It's true that some saw Biden's announcement that he'd pick a woman as tokenism. But Walsh said that choosing a woman, and potentially a woman of color, would also be a gesture that Biden understands where the party is headed — and has been for quite some time.

"This feels like in some ways a nod to the future of the Democratic Party, an acknowledgement that Joe Biden may be kind of the last of a certain breed that is a presidential nominee," she said.

In recent years, the Democratic Party has more greatly acknowledged the role that women, and especially Black women, play in electing Democrats. Black women voters were instrumental in helping the party win a Senate seat in deep-red Alabama in 2017, then in helping the party retake the House of Representatives in 2018 (electing a record-setting number of women in the process).

Finney said that voters have absorbed this message and are excited about a woman of color as a running mate.

"​I think we see the idea of a new generation and an acknowledgment that the country is changing," she said. She also pointed to polling showing that young voters in particular are excited about the idea of a Black woman as a running mate.

It's true that vice presidential candidates tend to only affect presidential elections at the margins — voters are still casting a ballot for the top of the ticket. But Finney, nevertheless, said she hopes Biden's running mate could energize some voters.

"I think you can't underestimate the importance for women and how heartbroken so many women were in 2016 with Hillary's loss," she said.

That means it might be some consolation to those women if this year, a woman finally gets to the second highest office in the land.

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We're going to stay in Latin America. The pandemic has also affected how people watch TV there, as it has pretty much all around the world. But we're not just talking about a lot more eyeballs on streaming services. In Mexico, the pandemic has led to a resurgence of the telenovela, the corny TV melodramas that for decades ruled the country's airwaves. Recently, though, ratings were down - way down.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) No.

FADEL: Then came the pandemic, and the audience numbers soared again. Natalie Kitroeff wrote about this for The New York Times, and she joins us now from Mexico City. Welcome.


FADEL: So first, just - I have to ask, why were telenovelas on the? Decline. Aren't they a staple of Mexican television?

KITROEFF: Yeah. This is iconic programming. It became one of the nation's most important cultural exports. It was a really big thing. And, you know, it started to decline because it was kind of declared obsolete. I mean, these are these soaps that are based on drama and love affair and face-slapping and operatic baritones. And, you know, they were declared too simplistic to compete with much higher brow, higher budget programming from Netflix, HBO - I mean, the kind of thing that, you know, "The Sopranos" kind of programming. It was seen as a loser as a business model.

FADEL: So the irony is that in quarantine, a lot of people are turning away from on-air TV here and choosing to stream entertainment online. So what accounts for this surge in TV viewership, the telenovela in Mexico?

KITROEFF: Well, the telenovelas air on broadcast channels. So in a country that's being hammered by the economic crisis as well as the health crisis, this is really accessible for the average Mexican family. But, you know, there's something else at work here, which is that they are easy to watch. They are comfort food. This is not a show that, you know, will kind of raise your hackles. This is calming. It brings some tranquility into your day, which, you know, people here don't have a lot of these days.

FADEL: So the mac and cheese of TV.

KITROEFF: Yeah, Basically. I mean, it's nostalgic. It's the stuff that you watched with your mom on the couch, you know, when you were growing up and that people are still watching with their families, you know, crowded into houses not able to leave in self-quarantine.

FADEL: and has the pandemic also changed the demographic of who's watching the telenovelas?

KITROEFF: Interestingly, Yes. I mean, young people - the ratings are going way up with that crowd. And, you know, I talked to a lot of folks who are making fun of these shows on TikTok and Twitter and Instagram, and they say that they're not watching them but the numbers say differently. They have been tuning in. And a lot of young men have actually been tuning into these shows.

FADEL: And is this new content? Have the telenovelas studios been churning out new episodes or is this rerun territory?

KITROEFF: They have been able to continue to produce new episodes through the pandemic. But it's also the reruns. I mean, it's both. You know, you've seen the finale for "Te Doy La Vida," which is one of the most popular telenovelas, had an estimated audience by the network of 10 million people, which is the most watched telenovela episode since 2016. So you're seeing - I mean, it's off the charts. It's it's pretty remarkable.

FADEL: And how has the pandemic affected filming if they're putting out new content? Is there social distancing? What are the measures they're taking?

KITROEFF: Well, there was a brief pause mandated by the city government here. But then they restarted. And yes, you know, there's no more kissing. There's no more sex scenes. There's much less physical intimacy. I mean, there's no touching. All the conversations happen at a distance. Folks are doing their rehearsals in face masks and face shields. I mean, you can imagine that that kind of cramps the style a bit, but the viewers don't really notice the difference. I mean, when you aren't touching or seeing anyone in your daily life, just to see two humans interacting on the screen, that can be pretty cathartic.

FADEL: So what are some of the shows that have been most popular during this pandemic? You wrote about one that involves miracles that solve people's problems, which seems like a good theme for 2020.

KITROEFF: That's right. So there's the regular kind of love story ones. I said "Te Doy La Vida" and "Destilando Armor," "Rubi." These are kind of more classic novellas. But "La Rosa De Guadalupe" or "The Rose Of Guadalupe" is the one that I focused on. And it's not even a novella. It's really a melodrama. And it follows the same plot every single time. People get into trouble. They pray to the Virgin of Guadalupe, who is a major religious figure here, the most important perhaps. And a miracle happens. They feel - a kind of a saintly wind comes across their face, and their problems are solved. And it happens every single episode. There's no variation. And as you can imagine, in 2020, that kind of resolution, that kind of neat ending, happy ending is something that I think has given people just a moment of respite.

FADEL: Natalie Kitroeff is a New York Times correspondent based in Mexico City. Thanks for speaking with us today.

KITROEFF: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.