Democratic debates in times of coronavirus make for even less interesting television than during normal times, whatever that means in the Trump era. In Sunday night's debate, Bernie Sanders had a double task. For the believers, to make a last pitch that he is the better candidate (which, in terms of the presidency, he clearly is). For the realists, his task was to push the inevitable nominee, Joe Biden, more to the left. He probably achieved neither, as Biden stole the show, by announcing (cleverly) that he will pick a female vice-presidential candidate, a progressive weak point of Sanders (who has remained unclear on this point).
Of course, the announcement should come as little surprise, given how important women have been in the anti-Trump mobilization - the 2017 Women's March was likely the largest single-day demonstration in US history, while black and suburban women were crucial to the "blue wave" that brought the Democratic party the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterm elections. And there has been broad and loud disappointment that the most diverse candidate field in any US primary has ended up with just two old white men standing.
Social media was quick to speculate and two names came up most often: Kamala Harris and Stacey Abrams. Both women would cater to not just women but also African Americans, two crucial demographics for the Democrats in November, with African American women being proclaimed the saviors of the Democratic party in the midterm elections.
Although Harris has many merits, she also has at least two important weaknesses. First of all, she is from California, a rather unique and ultimately safe Democratic state, and her campaign does not necessarily indicate that her appeal reaches much broader. Second, she has a problematic past in terms of social justice, which also haunted her during her campaign, and could strengthen the "authoritarian" image of Biden, who has a long track record of being on the wrong side of social justice issues.
Stacey Abrams, on the other hand, has strengths that can help Biden in the campaign, being an African American woman from the south-east (which has several potential swing states), but could also give his presidency a crucial secondary agenda - the primary agenda being the return to relatively mainstream liberal Democratic politics.
Abrams came to fame for her campaign for Georgia governor in 2018, which she lost against the man who oversaw the elections, Brian Kemp. While she was often described as an "identity politics candidate" outside of the Peach State, this was more a reflection of the ignorance, and prejudice of the journalists than of the politics of the candidate. She actually ran on a rather moderate agenda, knowing that while Georgia was in play, it is still the south, and southerners like their Democrats moderate to conservative, if they like them at all.
But after being defeated in a race that saw more direct and indirect voter suppression than most developing democracies, Abrams did not simply roll over and concede, Al Gore-style, but instead defiantly stated: "Let's be clear. This is not a speech of concession because concession means to acknowledge an action is right, true or proper. As a woman of conscience and faith, I cannot concede that. But my assessment is the law currently allows no further viable remedy."
Since then, Abrams has founded an NGO committed to fight voter suppression, called Fair Fight, and built a national network and profile, among others through her widely praised Democratic response to Donald Trump's 2019 State of the Nation. Within her network is a certain Mike Bloomberg, who has given $5m to her organization.
Imagine what Abrams and Bloomberg could do for African American turnout in November, not so much by convincing them to vote, but by simply enabling them to vote, despite almost nationwide Republican attempts to suppress in particular minority votes. Together they have the expertise and resources to, first, organize a massive registration drive and, later, mobilization and transportation operation. If the Democrats want to defeat Trump in November, mobilization of the disenfranchised will be crucial.
And imagine a vice-president devoted to making the US a real democracy - not again, no, for the first time in its long history. Abrams could use her office to be the driving force behind a nationwide fight against voter suppression, providing crucial coordination and resources to embattled local and state activists. Even if a Biden-Abrams administration would not do much more than that, this would be a massive step forward to a more progressive future.