Sometimes the obvious pick is obvious for a reason.
Kamala Harris was the front-runner to be Joe Biden’s running mate pretty much since the moment the presumptive Democratic nominee announced in March that he would pick a woman to be on his ticket.
She was a safe pick and a practical one. She’s also now in the position to be the heir apparent for the Democratic Party – whether it’s in four years because Biden loses in November or doesn’t run for re-election or eight years if Biden serves two full terms.
That could be why it seemed that there were so many attempts to knock Harris down a peg, or advance alternative candidates over the past month.
This was, in effect, the first fight of the next presidential nomination contest, and Harris – whose ambitions are clear – now has a step on the competition.
But determining future Democratic nominees is a battle for another day. The pressing concern for the party at the moment is how Harris might help Biden win the White House. Here are some strengths she brings to the ticket and, perhaps, some concerns Democrats may have.
To put it bluntly, today’s Democratic Party doesn’t look like Joe Biden. It’s young and it’s ethnically diverse. It was increasingly obvious that the presumptive nominee needed to find someone younger and, well, less white to have a ticket that reflects the people who will vote for it.
Harris, whose father was Jamaican and mother came from India, fills this particular need. She becomes both the first black woman and the first Asian to run on a major party presidential ticket. And although at 55 years old she’s not exactly young, when compared to 77-year-old Joe Biden, she’s downright spry.
On Tuesday afternoon, before she was announced as Biden’s pick, Harris tweeted about the need for diversity in the leadership of the party.
“Black women and women of color have long been underrepresented in elected office and in November we have an opportunity to change that,” she wrote.
It turns out Harris could be directly responsible for some of that change.
One of the traditional roles of a vice-presidential running mate is to get down and dirty with the opposition. While the person at the top of the ticket takes the rhetorical high road, the number-two cracks out the brass knuckles for the opposition.
In 2008, Sarah Palin, John McCain’s running mate, more than lived up to her nickname, Sarah the Barracuda, for instance.
If this is a duty that falls on Harris, history suggests she will be up to the task. Biden certainly recalls that it was Harris who went after him with gusto during the first Democratic primary debate in July 2019, criticising his opposition to bussing to end segregation in public schools.
Harris has also proven to be a very determined and aggressive interrogator during her time in the US Senate. Donald Trump clearly remembers this, as he remarked on Tuesday evening that he thought Harris was “extraordinarily nasty” to his second Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh.
Trump may not like it, but nasty may be exactly what Biden is looking for this autumn.
One thing politicians who have run for national office have said time and time again is that it’s impossible to understand the intense pressure such campaigns create until one has actually been in one.
Although Harris’s 2020 presidential bid was unsuccessful, and she dropped out before most of her competitors, she still knows what it’s like to be under such scrutiny. When she launched her campaign before tens of thousands of supporters in January 2019, she was treated like a top-tier presidential contender. For a time in July, after her strong first debate performance, she rose towards the top of some primary polls.
Harris has been through the fire, at least for a time, and knows what it feels like. If there were serious, dinosaur-sized skeletons in her closet, they would have come out by now. Given that she’s already sought the presidency, its not impossible for many Americans to imagine her as president someday.
The California senator may not have been the most dynamic candidate on the campaign trail in 2019, and she was certainly not nearly the most successful one, but at this point she’s a known quantity. And for Biden, who is currently up in the polls, the fewer surprises the rest of the campaign the better.
‘Harris is a cop’
More than almost any of the other contenders for the vice-presidential spot, Harris comes from a law-enforcement background. Given the recent demonstrations over police brutality and allegations of institutional racism in law enforcement, Harris’s resume may give some progressives within the Democratic Party pause.
It certainly did during Harris’s presidential campaign, when “Harris is a cop” was a derisive accusation thrown at the California senator on more than one occasion.