Joe Biden announced California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate Tuesday in a historic nomination that puts the first woman of colour on a presidential ticket.
In Ms. Harris, 55, Mr. Biden has chosen a former California attorney-general and the mixed-race daughter of Indian and Jamaican immigrants. Her background could generate excitement among younger and non-white voters at a time when protests over racial justice have rocked the country, while her history as a career prosecutor may appeal to moderates concerned about national calls to defund police.
A one-time presidential rival who attacked Mr. Biden in Democratic primary debates, Ms. Harris has withstood the glare of a national political campaign and offers a gender and generational shift to set her apart from the 77-year-old former vice-president from Delaware.
“As a United States Senator from California, Kamala represents the biggest state in the union,” Mr. Biden said in an e-mail statement announcing his choice.
He cited Ms. Harris’s close friendship with his late son Beau and her seats on powerful Senate judiciary and intelligence committees, where she has grilled Trump administration officials, along with presidential nominees such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“We all watched her hold the Trump administration accountable for its corruption, stand up to a Justice Department that’s run amok, and be a powerful voice against their extreme nominations.”
Mr. Biden plans to officially introduce Ms. Harris as his running mate at a campaign fundraiser on Wednesday.
For Ms. Harris, the vice-presidential nod amounts to a swift political comeback. She was an early front-runner in the Democratic race for the party’s presidential nomination last year, before she was forced to suspend her campaign amid low poll numbers and a revolt by campaign staff.
Ms. Harris is set to be the fourth woman to appear on a presidential ticket – which immediately launches her to the upper echelons of the Democratic Party and positions her to run for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2024, when Mr. Biden will be 82.
Should Mr. Biden win the Nov. 3 presidential election, Ms. Harris may also prove to be someone who can smooth relations with traditional U.S. allies alienated by Donald Trump. She has a particular understanding of Canada, now locked in a renewed trade war with the Trump administration.
Ms. Harris moved to Montreal at the age of 12 where her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, conducted cancer research at McGill University. She graduated from Westmount High School in 1981.
In her 2019 autobiography, The Truths We Hold, Ms. Harris wrote about the shock of relocating with her mother and younger sister, Maya, from the San Francisco Bay Area to Canada in winter.
“The thought of moving away from sunny California in February, in the middle of the school year, to a French-speaking foreign city covered in 12 feet of snow was distressing to say the least,” she wrote.
Ms. Harris was long seen as the front-runner in the race for Mr. Biden’s running mate, although his search committee had also reportedly been considering former Obama national security adviser Susan Rice, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth and Florida Congresswoman Val Demings, among others.
Democratic strategists cited Ms. Harris’s strengths as a fundraiser who could help generate enthusiasm for Mr. Biden’s campaign at a time when rallies and in-person events are cancelled because of COVID-19 measures and many voters are stuck at home.
“Kamala Harris walks into a room and immediately she’s the centre of attention,” said long-time California political strategist Rose Kapolczynski. “I guess in pandemic days, she’s the centre of the Zoom call.”
Ms. Harris’s own presidential campaign struggled as she failed to define herself on the political spectrum amid a crowded field. But that may have benefited her in the competition to become Mr. Biden’s vice-president, said Robert Shrum, a long-time Democratic campaign adviser who directs the Center for the Political Future at the University of Southern California. “Her problem when she ran for president was that she never settled on a presidential message,” he said. “That’s not a problem here, because her message will be Biden’s message.”
Ms. Harris is also likely to help boost turnout among African-American voters in swing states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, who did not come out to support Hillary Clinton in 2016, Prof. Shrum said.
Former president Barack Obama praised the choice of Ms. Harris, who was among his early political allies in California during his 2008 presidential run, citing her political experience and her diverse background. “Joe Biden nailed this decision,” he wrote in a statement. “Her own life story is one that I and so many others can see ourselves in: a story that says that no matter where you come from, what you look like, how you worship, or who you love, there’s a place for you here.”
Yet, the choice of Ms. Harris is not without controversy. Media leaks from Mr. Biden’s search for a running mate often raised questions about Ms. Harris’s loyalty to the former vice-president and her own presidential ambitions.
During the first Democratic primary debates, she attacked Mr. Biden over his record on race relations. In a televised clip destined to be turned into a Trump campaign attack ad, she criticized Mr. Biden over his opposition to a 1970s program to racially integrate schools using busing as well as his willingness to work with segregationist politicians in the Senate.
Ms. Harris’s law-enforcement background has also sparked controversy.
As San Francisco’s District Attorney, she oversaw a program that threatened to charge parents of children who skipped school. She was responsible for defending the state’s support for capital punishment as attorney-general.
In the Senate however, Ms. Harris has worked to refashion herself as a police reformer. She co-sponsored a bill that would have banned choke-holds and racial profiling and joined with Black Lives Matter protesters in front of the White House.
Some younger and more liberal Democrats still view her shifting stand on criminal justice with suspicion. But with Mr. Trump making law-and-order a key campaign message, Ms. Harris’s legal background might be an asset among swing voters.
“The idea of being too tough on crime is still something that you’re not going to be penalized for in a national election,” said Jason McDaniel, a political scientist at San Francisco State University.
Choosing a running mate from California may be a double-edged sword for the Biden campaign, analysts said.
Ms. Harris’s successor in the Senate will be chosen by California Governor Gavin Newsom, all but assuring the seat remains in Democratic hands at a time when the party is hoping to retake control of the Senate in November.
But Mr. Trump is likely to play on California’s reputation for liberal politics to paint Ms. Harris as a socialist and an out-of-touch coastal elite.
Shortly after Mr. Biden announced his choice for running mate, the Trump campaign quickly released an ad on Twitter calling Ms. Harris a “phony” who “ran for president by rushing to the radical left.”
California’s reputation as the Trump resistance could alienate some moderate swing voters, but may actually be a benefit in appealing to Democrats who have increasingly embraced the state’s left-wing politics, Prof. McDaniel said.
“The party has moved in terms of its progressive and liberal policies to be more like the Democratic Party of San Francisco.”
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