Kamala Harris VP pick: How she could help - or hurt - Joe Biden

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Fice picture of Democratic US presidential hopeful Kamala Harris, who has now announced she is withdrawing from the 2020 presidential raceImage source, AFP

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.

Media caption,

Who is Kamala Harris, vice-president?

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.

Attack dog

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.

Media caption,

Harris and Biden clash over his race record

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.

Media caption,

President Trump calls Kamala Harris "meanest" US senator

Both as San Francisco district attorney and as California's attorney general, Harris has sided with police over suspects - even in cases where those suspects may have been wrongfully convicted. Although she's expressed personal opposition to the death penalty, she's supported its use while she's been in office.

Being a hard-nosed crime-fighter may be an attractive attribute among independent and conservative-leaning voters in the general election, but if that support comes at the cost of enthusiasm for the Biden-Harris ticket on the left, then it may not be a net positive.

Since the death of George Floyd, Harris has been outspoken in advocating law-enforcement reform, winning praise from some progressives. But it's safe to say they still harbour some doubts.


Above, Harris having run a presidential campaign was noted as a mark in her favour. There's a flip side to that, however. Her campaign, while it started with a bang and had its moments, also had some serious flaws - and some of those flaws related to the candidate herself.

Although Harris has a pretty moderate record as a senator and state attorney general, she tried to tack to the left during her presidential campaign. She came out in favour of free college education, the Green New Deal environmental programme and universal healthcare, for instance, but never sounded all that convincing about it.

Image source, Adam Schultz
Image caption,
Mr Biden tells Ms Harris she will be his running mate on Tuesday

She particularly got tripped up on the question of whether private insurance should be banned - which, while fine with progressives, gives many moderate heartburn.

"Let's eliminate all of that," she said rather glibly during one interview. "Let's move on."

In this day and age, the death knell for politicians is to seem too political - to be perceived as willing to shift values and beliefs based on what the voters want.

Sincerity, or at least the appearance of it, is a virtue voters prize - and part of the reason why Donald Trump became president. While his supporters didn't always agree with him, they felt like he speaks his mind.

Harris's move from moderate, then to the left and now back, perhaps, to the Biden middle could leave some voters wondering where her core values lie - or if she has any core values at all.