After months of speculation, presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden has chosen his running mate: Senator Kamala Harris.
Harris now makes history as the first women of color to ever make a major party’s presidential ticket. The daughter of immigrants from Indian and Jamaican, she is also the first Black woman to ever receive a major party’s nomination for the vice presidency, a sign of the Democratic Party’s evolving identity and voter base.
Who Is Kamala Harris?
Kamala Harris has served as the junior Senator from California since 2017. She was elected on the same night as Donald Trump, in November 2016, promising to fight the Trump agenda in Washington. But only two years into her tenure as a United States Senator, Harris launched a presidential campaign, seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination in a historically crowded and diverse field of candidates.
While Harris’ presidential campaign started off with a bang, at a launch in Oakland, California that attracted over 20,000 supporters, her brief run was ultimately disappointing. Though she momentarily saw her stock rise in the polls after the first Democratic debate, where she famously called-out Joe Biden for his record on racial issues, Harris struggled to articulate a clear message for her candidacy. Ultimately, the Harris campaign ran out of money before the Iowa caucuses, and she dropped out of the race.
But returning to the Senate arguably helped Harris’ image, as she embraced the opportunity to develop a deeper legislative record. The former prosecutor used her interrogation skills as a viral-worthy examiner in several Senate hearings. Among them, the approval hearing of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the Trump impeachment, and interactions with Attorneys General Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions.
A Leader for the Moment
In recent months, Harris has become one of the chamber’s most steadfast voices for racial justice. As one of the Senate’s three Black members, Harris has spearheaded efforts to enact federal police reform and to make lynching a federal offense. She has also spoken about the inequities faced by Black and immigrant communities amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Prior to her time in the Senate, Harris served as Attorney General for California. In that role, she oversaw the country’s second-largest justice department, second only to the US Department of Justice. Before that, Harris served as District Attorney for San Francisco, after working as a trial prosecutor. She grew up in Oakland with her mother, a doctor, and her father, an economics professor. Both were active participants in the Civil Rights Movement. She has one sister, Maya, who served chairwoman of Harris’ presidential campaign.
Why Did Biden Choose Her?
Joe Biden’s running mate selection process differed from those in the past, mostly because he vowed only to vet female candidates. Since Biden nabbed the party’s nomination this spring, political junkies have speculated who he would consider, and argued over who was his best choice. But even from the beginning, Harris’ skills as a debater, her impressive resume, and her unique life story placed her at the top of betting lists.
Traditionally, the ideal running mate would do two things: help the campaign win the state that they represent, and, above all, do no harm. But the role of the vice president has changed drastically in recent years, and so too has the role of the vice presidential nominee.
In Joe Biden’s experience as vice president to Barack Obama, he was one of the president’s most trusted confidantes, and a true partner in governing the country. From the beginning, Biden has said that he too wanted a vice president with whom he was “simpatico.” That is, someone who he could trust, and someone who would support him as a dependable first lieutenant.
But considering Biden’s age (he will be 78 on Inauguration Day), Biden himself has admitted that his VP must be ready to serve as president from day one. Such a qualification made Kamala Harris an obvious choice, considering the executive experience she brings as a former attorney general, and her own time as a presidential candidate. Of course, her identity also played a huge role in her selection.
Even before the death of George Floyd set off weeks of national protests for racial justice, key allies had urged Biden to consider a Black woman as his running mate. They have made up a crucial constituency for Democratic candidates for years. Specifically, in Biden’s case, they helped him win the South Carolina primary, which offered his lagging campaign the boost it needed to ultimately win the nominating contest. While conventional wisdom holds that a running mate should represent a hard-to-win state, today, it is equally crucial for a running mate to represent a key demographic. Harris, a Black woman and the daughter of immigrants, shows these crucial voting blocs that the Party recognizes their significance, and lets them know that their voices will be heard in a Biden administration.
Biden and Harris appeared together for the first time as a ticket on Wednesday in Wilmington, Delaware.