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Politics:‘A dream ticket’: Black lawmakers pitch Biden-Harris to beat Trump

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‘A dream ticket’: Black lawmakers pitch Biden-Harris to beat Trump© Kevin Wolf/AP Photo Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris may be the perfect match to take on President Donald Trump in 2020, according to the Congressional Black Caucus.

The Congressional Black Caucus may have found an answer to its Joe Biden dilemma: Vice President Kamala Harris.

Some black lawmakers are agonizing over whether to back Biden or two members of the close-knit caucus — Sens. Harris and Cory Booker — who are also vying for the White House, according to interviews with a dozen CBC members.

But with the former vice president jumping out to a huge, if early, lead in the polls, several CBC members are warming to the idea of a Biden-Harris ticket to take on President Donald Trump.

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“That would be a dream ticket for me, a dream ticket!” said Rep. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.). “If she is not the nominee, that would be a dream ticket for this country.”

Harris is everything the 76-year-old Biden is not. The freshman senator from California is younger, a woman and a person of color. As Biden gets dinged for his bipartisan bromides, Harris is winning applause from progressives for her merciless cross-examination of Trump officials.

Democrats are also desperate to boost black turnout in 2020, blaming the drop-off from Barack Obama’s wins as one reason for Hillary Clinton’s defeat.

“Either combination there, I’d love,” said Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.). “I think he’s going to look to balance his ticket so that the ticket itself is more appealing. ... I think it would make sense and it wouldn’t surprise me if he picked a woman of color.”

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No one in the caucus is declaring Biden the winner of a presidential race that has nearly two dozen candidates and is still nine months away from the first primary contest. And Democrats cautioned that they’re not counting out Harris or Booker and would be thrilled if either won the Democratic nomination. Both senators have actively courted members of the CBC.

Yet there is no question that Biden — thanks in part to his close relationship with Obama — is popular with African-American voters, according to several polls since he entered the race. That support inside the black community translates into backing from black lawmakers as well.

“But for the fact that we have two of our own who are both quite capable of being president, I’d say probably a lot of the members would’ve already announced for Biden,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.).

Were Biden to prevail in the fight for the nomination, Harris would be many members’ preferred vice presidential pick.

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“If [Biden] becomes the nominee, that certainly would be my choice,” said Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), a senior member of the caucus. “Right now, I’m still believing that Harris can be the top of the ticket.”

“It would absolutely be a very strong ticket, no question about that,” Fudge added. “1 and 2, 2 and 1. Either way, it would be great.”

Biden has a deep well of support within the influential group of 55 black lawmakers, having served alongside many of them in his 36 years as a senator and eight years as vice president under the first African American president. Biden has already racked up some key endorsements within the caucus, including former CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.).

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the highest-ranking African American in Congress, often speaks fondly of Biden, a longtime friend, though Clyburn has said he won’t endorse anyone before his home state’s primary.

“I said a few weeks ago that if [Biden] were to get in, everybody else would be running for second place. I said that over a month ago. And he got in, and the polls said everyone else is running for second place,” Clyburn said in an interview.

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It should also be of no surprise that Biden is polling well among black Democratic primary voters, he noted.

“The data are clear that he has strong support among African Americans,” Clyburn said. “It’s just that simple. He’s had that for a long, long time, and he’s kept it steady so far.”

The Congressional Black Caucus isn’t expected to endorse in the Democratic race, although its political arm, CBC PAC, will likely wade into the crowded contest at some point. In the meantime, Biden, Harris, Booker and other candidates are all wooing members of the CBC, who have outsize influence with African-American voters.

Biden is a creature of Capitol Hill, with relationships that go back decades with some of the most senior members of the caucus. He happily refers to his former boss, the first black president, as “my buddy Barack” on the campaign trail.

“I don’t think people should underestimate the significance of this older white guy playing the role of second, a supportive second, to a younger man who is African American,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). “And people felt this was real and authentic, [Biden] wasn't faking it. There was a real friendship there.”

Biden also has a natural ease in the black community in a way that other white Democratic candidates don’t, according to some caucus members.

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“Biden is very comfortable in African American circles. Sometimes a white politician in an all-black setting, you can feel the seed of nervousness,” Cleaver said. “With Biden, he’s just right at home. You can see it and feel it.”

Biden has made direct efforts to appeal to voters of color — using his opening video to blast Trump for saying there were “very fine people on both sides” of the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville and talking frequently since then about issues important to African American voters.

As vice president, Biden was frequently in touch with CBC leaders and would host an annual dinner with the entire caucus at his house to honor Black History Month. Biden has also taken steps to cultivate relationships with younger black lawmakers who came to Congress since Trump has been in the White House, reaching out to them via phone calls and requesting in-person meetings.

“He called me before he made his announcement to fill me in. And I was honored that he would call me to let me know,” said Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), who has yet to endorse a candidate.

Biden is already running as if he were the Democratic nominee, with a tunnel vision focus on Trump. He and Harris also set off a flurry of social media speculation about a joint ticket in December after posing together for a quick photo.

Trump, too, is keeping close tabs on Biden’s candidacy — mentioning or tweeting about “Sleepy Joe” or “SleepyCreepy Joe” on a near daily basis since Biden officially announced his candidacy last month.

Still, some CBC members said Biden has to be careful not to underestimate other Democrats, including Harris, in his march to the nomination.

Biden faced criticism after earlier reports he was eyeing former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams as an early running mate. Abrams says she’s still considering seeking the top slot herself.

Announcing who he’d like as his vice presidential pick would be “premature and likely would backfire,” according to one CBC member who requested anonymity to speak candidly.

“The vice president’s team seems to be very sensitive to the notion that they have to go out and earn this,” the lawmaker added.

Harris is currently behind in the polls, consistently running in fourth or fifth place among Democratic hopefuls. The former prosecutor has found it difficult to retain the momentum of her promising campaign launch in January. Democrats, however, say a breakout moment for any of the candidates is still possible once the debates start next month.

“Whomever the nominee is, I think there has to be a woman on the ticket,” said Rep. Al Green (D-Texas). “And I think it is time for an African American woman to get that kind of consideration, whoever it happens to be.”

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