Black women will hold the key to former Vice President Joe Biden’s political survival over the next 10 months. And a division among two of the state’s most prominent African-American women after his debate performance showed how treacherous that path may be.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms endorsed the White House hopeful Friday, hours after he struggled to respond to a searing attack by U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris on his defense of working with segregationists in Congress and his opposition to mandatory busing of students.
The Biden campaign had vigorously courted Bottoms, though both Harris and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker – who each stumped for Bottoms’ mayoral campaign in 2017 – hoped she would repay their favors or at least stay neutral.
Bottoms declined a chance to comment Friday on Biden’s debate performance, which she watched from the front row. But before Thursday’s event she echoed other Biden supporters by telling The Associated Press she admired his experience.
Contrast that with the response from another high-profile black woman who will likely play a bigger role in Georgia’s 2020 race: State Sen. Nikema Williams, the chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia.
Williams said on social media that she broke down in tears watching Biden “continue to defend his flawed position” during the debate, when he invoked a state’s rights argument to defend his opposition to busing to integrate schools in the 1970s.
“As a black woman in the south, leading a State Democratic Party, I will make sure our party recognizes all the little Kamala’s and Nikema’s out there that deserve someone and a party to fight for them,” she added.
This divide may soon grow even sharper. Several state Democratic lawmakers expressed support for Harris on Friday, though stopped short of giving her an endorsement. Most Georgia Democrats have stayed on the sidelines so far.
Georgia’s most prominent Democrat, Stacey Abrams, has also not picked a side. Neither has Williams, who said in an interview that she’s neutral in the race. Still, she told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, she’s deeply concerned with Biden’s remarks.
“Everybody is going to be vetted,” Williams said. “That’s what the debate season is about. We’re having a robust conversation. Last night it was Joe Biden who had something dredged up from his past, and it was a missed opportunity for him to face it head-on.”
She continued: “It’s 2019 and that happened before I was even born. To say that he was still doubling-down on state’s rights – it’s problematic. Elections are about the future. But you have to address what happened in our past.”
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