How does Kamala Harris change the presidential race?

·Senior Editor
·7 min read

“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

Former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday ended months of speculation by selecting California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate.

Long considered the frontrunner for the nod, Harris was chosen from a group of finalists who reportedly included former national security adviser Susan Rice, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sen. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois and California Congresswoman Karen Bass.

The daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, Harris is the first Black woman to be named to a major party presidential ticket and the first Asian-American vice presidential nominee. If she and Biden win in November, she will become the first woman and person of color to hold the office of vice president.

Harris, 55, has quickly ascended the political ladder over the past 15 years. A former prosecutor, she served as district attorney of San Francisco before being elected as California attorney general in 2010. She became a senator six years later and launched a presidential bid in early 2019. Despite being considered a frontrunner in the early stages of the race, Harris dropped out before the Iowa caucuses.

Why there’s debate

Biden’s choice of Harris as his running mate has sparked strong opinions about how it will impact his chances of defeating Donald Trump in the general election.

Some political experts see Harris providing a significant boost to the presidential ticket. By selecting a Black woman, Biden has shown he’s eager to reach out to groups that have long been left out of the highest ranks of American politics and may have been disappointed to see a white man emerge as the Democratic nominee. Also, if he wins, Biden will be 78 years old at his inauguration. Harris’ apparent readiness for the presidency, as displayed by her time in the Senate and her presidential run, could provide comfort to voters who might be concerned that Biden may choose not to run for a second term.

Harris is considered to be a sharp debater, as evidenced by her performance in Senate hearings and primary debates — including landing a scathing critique on Biden’s voting record on the issue of bussing. The policy agenda she promoted during the primary was progressive enough to satisfy those calling for significant change, but not so far left that it might scare off more moderate voters, experts say.

Others see Harris as a poor choice for running mate who will hurt Biden’s odds of winning the presidency. Her tenure as a prosecutor has come under intense criticism from the members of the left wing of the Democratic party, who say she was far from the “progressive prosecutor” she has attempted to portray herself as. That scrutiny may only intensify amid the nationwide push for police reform and social justice that has enveloped the country in recent months.

There are also questions about her ability to turn favorable media coverage into support from voters. Harris was among the top candidates in polls for a period during the summer of 2019, but her support cratered rapidly over the next few months, forcing her to drop out. The idea that Harris will boost enthusiasm among the Black voters ignores her inability to garner their support during the primary, some political analysts say.

What’s next

Biden and Harris will formally accept the presidential and vice presidential nominations during the Democratic National Convention, which begins next week. The vice presidential debate between Harris and Mike Pence is scheduled for Oct. 7.

Perspectives

Advantages

Harris will energize Black women to support Biden’s candidacy

“The choice of Harris, like that of any vice presidential pick, is fundamentally about one thing: winning. Biden didn't choose her to thank Black women for bailing him out with their votes in the pivotal South Carolina Democratic primary this year, though Black women did that. More important, he will need their votes — and their activism — in swing states in the fall.” — Jonathan Allen, NBC News

She lands in the ideal spot on the political spectrum

“For one thing, Harris brings an unusual blend of social justice progressiveness and law-and-order conservatism. She has a long career of fighting to protect the downtrodden and looking for ways to reform the criminal justice system while still locking up plenty of the proverbial bad guys.” — Editorial, Los Angeles Times

Her presence on the ticket will reassure voters who are concerned about Biden’s age

“Harris is a charismatic and telegenic politician. And as a U.S. senator and recent presidential candidate, Harris also meets another important test for Biden. People familiar with research the campaign undertook to inform its decision told me voters viewed her as among the most qualified to be president on Day 1 — a key positive, given Biden's status as potentially the oldest politician to ever serve as president.” — David Axelrod, CNN

Harris can trade barbs with Trump, allowing Biden to stay above the fray

“If Biden wishes, he can delegate the daily barrage of rebukes against his opponent to her. Biden now can rise above the fray, leaving Harris — who seems to tie up President Trump in knots like no one else (he once called her ‘nasty’) — to taunt, fact-check and condemn their opponent effortlessly.” — Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

Republicans are in a poor place to capitalize on her biggest weakness

“Though Harris styled herself a "progressive prosecutor" who fought for criminal justice reform, her presidential bid was plagued by criticism from the party's left wing. Those criticisms may return. ... Still, Harris' record on race and criminal justice will be pitted against that of President Donald Trump.” — Roger Sollenberger, Salon

She is a strong debater who’s especially well-suited to spar with Mike Pence

“Because the pandemic has limited in-person campaigning, Harris’s most important job will be debating Vice President Mike Pence this fall. Harris gained national popularity after her intense questioning of various Trump nominees, including Brett Kavanaugh and Jeff Sessions, during their Senate confirmation hearings. Observers believe she will be an intense opponent for the more subdued Pence.” — Edward-Isaac Dovere, Atlantic

Drawbacks

The Harris pick will alienate the left wing of the Democratic party

“Harris alienates both the uber-left and libertarians thanks to her ham-handed, tinpot authoritarianism as a California prosecutor. It's hard to imagine Trump-skeptical independents now aching to pull the trigger for Biden with Kamala on the ticket.” — Tiana Lowe, Washington Examiner

Black voters won’t rally to her just because she’s Black

“It’s not a crazy idea that Harris might boost the ticket with Black voters. It has some empirical basis. But I think the stronger case, at least based on what we know right now, is that she won’t have much of an effect in terms of Black voters.” — Perry Bacon Jr., FiveThirtyEight

Voters have already shown they won’t flock to support her

“Ms. Harris ran for President this year but washed out quickly despite being a media favorite as the candidate from central casting.” — Editorial, Wall Street Journal

Biden and Harris are an awkward duo to lead the movement for racial justice

“The mostly young protesters filling the streets of nearly every American city to denounce police brutality and President Trump are represented by two figures who have offered sympathetic words and proposals but whose careers have been shaped by their relationship with law enforcement.” — Jonathan Martin and Astead W. Herndon, New York Times

The election is still a referendum on Trump, regardless of who’s on the Democratic ticket

“The choice of Kamala Harris was an inspiration, but the reality is that bold moves by the Democratic ticket won’t win this election. Bad moves by the Republican ticket will lose it.” — Political scientist Jo Freeman to Politico

Running mates don’t really matter

“Here’s a reality check: Running mates have very little direct effect on voters. When people go to the polls, they are primarily expressing a preference for the presidential candidate, not the second person on the ticket.” — Christopher Devine, The Conversation

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