Early last month, about a dozen leading black activists and Democratic political strategists joined a private call with Joseph R. Biden Jr. in which they made the case for selecting an African-American running mate.
Building on a public letter signed by African-American women across the country, the group outlined how a black vice-presidential pick could help the campaign expand and energize the African-American electorate, according to people on the call.
Mr. Biden spoke in broad strokes about the qualities he was looking for in a vice president, and he did not make any commitment. But participants came away believing that they had opened a substantive line of communication with the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, who had already promised to select a woman as his running mate.
One month later, amid a national reckoning over racism and police brutality, the subject of that private discussion has taken on more public urgency at every level of the Democratic Party. Longtime lawmakers and young liberal activists, state party officials and Biden loyalists have been increasingly vocal about their view that in a moment of extraordinary national upheaval over race, Mr. Biden must give deeper consideration to placing a black woman on the ticket.
“I think there will be some pressure,” said Chuck Hagel, who served as defense secretary in the administration of President Barack Obama and before that as a Republican senator from Nebraska, and who is supporting Mr. Biden. “If there’s a problem — injustice, inequality — wouldn’t it be smart to pick an African-American woman as your running mate? There’s a strong argument there. I think that the strength of that argument has just accelerated.”
Mr. Hagel, who served with Mr. Biden in the Senate and is friends with former Senator Christopher J. Dodd — a member of Mr. Biden’s vice-presidential search committee — said he was offering his assessment of the unfolding political dynamics and not making any personal recommendation. But it is a view shared by a growing number of Biden supporters of diverse ages, races and political backgrounds.
Some note that Mr. Biden’s seemingly moribund candidacy early in the Democratic primary campaign was reinvigorated by black voters.
“His campaign got revived because of the African-American community,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. “I just think it would be the right thing to do.”
Others speak of the need to energize young voters of color who were uninspired by the 2016 Democratic presidential ticket, warning that summer protests in the streets are not guaranteed to translate into votes in November. And increasingly, many are arguing that for a presidential candidate who values experience in a running mate, personal familiarity with navigating the most searing issues confronting the nation should be a relevant qualification.
“Just like in ’08 — when President Obama selected someone that would help him govern, someone that could hit the ground running on recovery efforts in ’09 — when Joe Biden is elected in November, his running mate, the next vice president, would hit the ground running to address the crisis we have in our nation,” said Clay Middleton, a member of the Democratic National Committee and a well-known South Carolina strategist. “Of the plight of African-Americans, and law enforcement, police reform, a plethora of issues.”
Among those on the private call last month with Mr. Biden were the Democratic strategists Donna Brazile, Leah D. Daughtry, Minyon Moore and Karen Finney; the lawyer and media personality Star Jones; Roslyn M. Brock, the chairman emeritus of the national board of directors for the N.A.A.C.P.; and a lengthy list of activists in civil rights, labor and other issues, according to a readout intended for women who had signed the original petition. Mr. Biden’s campaign manager, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, and two senior advisers, Anita Dunn and Symone D. Sanders, were also listed as participants, as was Representative Lisa Blunt Rochester, a Delaware Democrat and a member of Mr. Biden’s vice-presidential search committee. A Biden spokesman declined to comment.
“In the moment of our deepest racial division and crisis, really being able to have a ticket that is as reflective of the future and diversity of America as what we’re seeing happen in the streets right now — that, that is the opportunity,” said LaTosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund. “If there was a time in America we needed the leadership of a black woman, it is now.”
Ms. Brown, who was also listed as a participant in the call with Mr. Biden, declined to comment on the conversation, but said of the campaign, “I think there’s an openness to explore.”
Mr. Biden, 77, has been clear for months about some of his criteria for a running mate. He wants to choose someone with whom he is “simpatico” on major issues and strategy, even if they disagree on tactics. His vice president must be prepared on “Day 1,” he has said, to assume the presidency if need be. He wants to have open conversations and a strong level of trust with his running mate, he has said, just as he and Mr. Obama did.
He has also suggested he wants someone who will balance the ticket and who “has capacities in areas that I do not,” he said at a fund-raiser last month.
Mr. Biden’s closest allies — including Representative James E. Clyburn, the highest-ranking African-American in Congress, who would prefer that Mr. Biden choose a black woman — have been careful to stress that ultimately Mr. Biden must prioritize his personal connections to the contenders and be mindful of polling and vetting. And in an interview with CBS News’s Norah O’Donnell, Mr. Biden said that the events of the past two weeks “haven’t” affected his choice, “except it’s put a greater focus and urgency on the need to get someone who is totally simpatico with where I am,” on matters including “the systemic things that you want to change.”
As part of a broader list, Mr. Biden is thought to be considering a number of black women as running mates. Senator Kamala Harris of California; Representative Val Demings of Florida; Stacey Abrams, the 2018 Democratic nominee for Georgia governor; Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms of Atlanta; and former National Security Adviser Susan E. Rice are often discussed among Mr. Biden’s allies.
Ms. Harris, a favorite of many Biden donors, appeared at a virtual fund-raiser with Mr. Biden on Tuesday. And amid the national unrest following the death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of the police, Ms. Demings — a former Orlando chief of police — and Ms. Bottoms, who has spoken out passionately against racism while seeking order in her city, have caught fresh attention among some Biden supporters and donors.
Some allies suggest that the upheaval following Mr. Floyd’s killing has heightened the need for someone who can speak to passionate concerns around race, especially among a younger generation that Democrats need to turn out in the fall. The African-American contenders Mr. Biden is thought to be considering are substantially younger than he is.
Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware and a close Biden ally, said the former vice president had seen weeks ago that the national moment called for a running mate who would help a Biden administration embrace “a new generation of leadership.”
“The sharpness of this past week, after the killing of George Floyd, I think heightens it, but I think Joe saw that moment clearly before this,” Mr. Coons said in an interview this month.
Mr. Biden and his team have long heard from allies about their preferences for the vice-presidential slot. As members of his search committee have started evaluating candidates in recent weeks, they have also been in touch with prominent leaders in the Democratic Party to talk through options.
“I’ve tried to give Vice President Biden the best ideas that I have regarding vice president,” said former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada. “More than advice, what I’m doing is trying to respond to questions that they have.”
In an interview late last month, Mr. Reid said Mr. Dodd had called him that day to discuss a particular candidate.
“We went over that person that I have worked with, and everything I could think of about her, I gave him,” said Mr. Reid, who declined to name the candidate discussed that day.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said she had also been contacted by the search committee for her views. In an interview, she said that there are a number of contenders who connect with communities of color. Some early public polling, for instance, has shown that Ms. Warren, who is white, has strength among some voters of color, and throughout her presidential campaign she repeatedly pressed plans to combat racial and economic inequity.
Still, she said that she expected the prospect of an African-American vice-presidential pick has “become more of a consideration” even as other candidates remain in the running.
“It’s part of the symbolism,” she said. “Of showing that you’re listening.”