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Stacey Abrams on VP potential: It's Joe Biden's choice
01:47 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: Nayyera Haq is a host on SiriusXM Progress and CEO of an international communications firm. She served in the Obama administration as a senior adviser in the State Department and a senior director in the White House. The opinions expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion articles at CNN.

CNN  — 

Stacey Abrams refuses to recede into the background. Abrams, who became a household name after running for governor of Georgia in 2018, is now openly gunning to become Joe Biden’s VP pick. She recently released a new book, “Our Time is Now,” which details her fight against voter suppression – an issue that is all too pressing given the chaos that was on display in Georgia’s primary election last week.

Nayyera Haq

Her behavior is far from the demure standard of past vice presidential short-listers, who typically responded to questions about their ambitions for office with variations of “it would be an honor, but I’m focused on my current priorities.” Abrams is being – gasp! – bold in her pursuit of power. This may have landed her in the crosshairs of President Donald Trump last month, who shared a tweet fat-shaming her on Twitter. Despite the negative attention sent her way, Abrams’ decision to advocate for herself is an inspiration to the many women who feel stuck and unable to realize their ambitions.

The public conceit is that the presidential candidate picks a running mate through a rigorous, impersonal and merit-based selection. This is how we often think of the process that lands people at Ivy League colleagues, or on executive boards, when in fact, much more goes on behind the scenes.

White men are awarded places in these exclusive spaces, often through legacy connections or a personal affinity, while women face a structural disadvantage. Even when women of all races have a fairy godmother in the wings willing to move mountains for them, they still get penalized for speaking openly about their ambitions.

In politics, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had high approval ratings when they were serving in those positions. But their open pursuit of higher office opened the floodgates of negativity.

There is something in our public psyche in which the very act of a woman asking for more – more money, more authority, more power – often makes her the object of distaste and derision from men and women alike. According to a Harvard study, “When female politicians were described as power-seeking, participants experienced feelings of moral outrage (i.e., contempt, anger, and/or disgust) towards them.”

This filters down to the office, too; a Lean In and McKinsey study on women in the workplace shows that for every 100 entry-level men who are promoted to managerial positions, 72 women are promoted to the same positions. For black women specifically, that number is only 58.

“Women are often hired and promoted based on past accomplishments, while men may be hired and promoted based on future potential,” the study states.

Enter Stacey Abrams. She is black, female and not petite. Abrams has said that she doesn’t care about how people feel about her size. While on the show “Black Women Own the Conversation” in 2019, Abrams, talking about her 2018 Georgia gubernatorial run, said, “I like who I am … and because I knew I was the best person for the job, I wasn’t going to wait until Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig turned me into the after picture. … I want to be healthy, but I’m not trying to fit anyone else’s image.”

Her charisma is undeniable and comes in a package we have been trained for years to dismiss. Abrams entered as the underdog candidate in the veepstakes against other contenders like Harris or Warren who have higher profiles, having recently thrown their hats in the presidential ring themselves. Still, she boldly stated, “I would be an excellent running mate” for Biden.

She’s right about having a lot to offer – she has a master’s in public affairs from the University of Texas at Austin and a law degree from Yale. She brings years of political experience, having served as the Democratic minority leader in the Georgia House.

She even has the private sector founder experience that so many crave in politicians; she has led several organizations, including a financial services firm, a beverage company and voting rights organizations. In her bid for the governor’s office, Abrams won the 18-to-29-year-old vote in Georgia by nearly 30 points, had the support of 62% of Georgia’s Latino voters, and boosted African American turnout by 40%. Abrams has made the case she could do the same for Biden nationally, in an election where Democratic turnout is going to be crucial for winning the White House.

The result thus far of her VP campaign: a series of high-profile interviews that would be the envy of any candidate for public office. A bestselling book that has her connecting with audiences around the country. And a slew of snide, backhanded remarks from Democratic insiders claiming she is being too “aggressive” in her pursuit.

Despite her clear intellectual prowess and public speaking skills, she has been compared to Sarah Palin, John McCain’s running mate in 2008 who was the early sign of the GOP turning into the Know-Nothings. Abrams, insultingly enough, has been called “the least-qualified person ever” should she make it onto the ticket. She has been heavily scrutinized for lack of foreign policy credentials; yet her multiple prestigious foreign policy fellowships are still more than candidates Barack Obama or Mitt Romney displayed for their commander-in-chief bids, and definitively more credible than Palin’s assertions that proximity to Russia was adequate exposure to foreign policy.

For some, Abrams is not accomplished enough. For others, her ambition is simply too much. The Abrams conundrum that we are watching play out publicly is one that women of color, especially black women, face every single day. You are unlikely to be godfathered into a position because of who you are, but when you speak up and say you want more, you are once again put in your place for having the audacity of ambition.

For all the women who have found themselves in a similar position, Abrams’ bid for VP shows that it can pay to be transgressive. Men don’t wait to p