More than a month before former Vice President Joe Biden’s stated deadline for naming his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris is seen as the consensus front-runner to become Democrats’ vice presidential nominee.
Speculation about running mates can be wrong, of course. Ultimately, the choice is Biden’s and Biden’s alone — just as it was Barack Obama’s call to tap Biden in 2008.
But Harris is often the first name mentioned by Democrats inside and on the edge of the Biden campaign’s orbit. She topped a recent multi-state survey asking respondents for their preferred Biden running mate. And, for what it’s worth, she’s the runaway favorite on online betting sites.
That’s all despite the fact that Harris’ own presidential campaign was a disappointment, having never even made it to the Iowa caucuses.
“There is a cry, there’s a clarion call, for us to do something different, for this country to literally face structural racism. … We feel like a Black woman could actually bring that to the ticket,” LaTosha Brown, the co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund and a political strategist, recently told NPR.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar joined the push last week, when she took herself out of contention for the job and urged Biden to pick a woman of color as a running mate.
“If you want to heal this nation right now — my party, yes, but our nation — this is sure a hell of a way to do it. And that’s just what I think after being through this in my state,” Klobuchar, another former presidential candidate, told MSNBC on Thursday.
Among the Black women viewed as most likely to be considered, Harris is the only one who has won statewide office, and the only one who has run a national presidential campaign.
“I’d be honored, if asked, and I’m honored to be a part of the conversation,” Harris told late-night host Stephen Colbert on CBS last week. “Honestly, let me just tell you something: I will do everything in my power, wherever I am, to help Joe Biden win.”
“Joe Biden would be a great running mate”
Even before the coronavirus crisis and the outcry over systemic racism and police violence upped the pressure on Biden to pick a Black running mate, Harris was seen as a natural, maybe inevitable, running mate if Biden won the Democratic nomination.
Harris, a 55-year-old Black woman, would complement the demographic weaknesses of a 77-year-old white man trying to lead a party increasingly focused on, and energized by, younger voters and voters of color. And Biden and Harris have seemed comfortable with each other: In 2018 and 2019, the two posed for pictures together on social media after chance encounters on the street and on Amtrak trains. Harris has a close relationship with many people in the Obama administration orbit and had worked alongside Biden’s late son, Beau, when both served as state attorneys general.
Campaign chatter about Harris as a veep-in-waiting percolated to the point that more than a year ago, she felt the need to deflate it with a sarcastic comment to reporters.
“If people want to speculate about running mates, I encourage that,” she said at a May 2019 press conference, months after the launch of her own campaign. “Because I think that Joe Biden would be a great running mate. As vice president, he’s proven that he knows how to do the job. And there are certainly a lot of other candidates that would make, for me, a very viable and interesting vice president.”
“That little girl was me”
The chatter suddenly came to a halt the first debate of the Democratic primary.
Just before it, Biden had caught heat from progressives for talking nostalgically about his working relationship with two noted segregationist senators.
“It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country,” Harris told Biden during the debate. “And it was not only that,” she continued, “but you also worked with them to oppose busing. There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools. And she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”
The attack on Biden, who was then the front-runner, had clearly been planned and practiced. Shortly after the debate ended, Harris’ campaign began selling T-shirts marking the moment, featuring a picture of Harris as a little girl.
“It was a debate!” Harris said just last week, laughing, when Colbert noted on his show that Biden’s “teeth were like Chiclets all over the stage” after the attack, and asked her how she and Biden can now get along. “It was a debate! The whole reason — literally, it was a debate. It was called a debate.”
She added: “In all seriousness, I’ve known Joe a long time and I care about him deeply.”
Many Democrats do not view the confrontation as something that would block Harris from getting the vice presidential nod.
“[Biden has] been in politics long enough that nothing is irreparable,” said one Harris ally who asked for anonymity to speak about the issue. “He gets primaries and debates and yelling one day and getting along the next. It’s a Senate training.”
Perhaps more harmful to Harris’ chances as a running mate, though, is the fact that the debate exchange marked the high point of her campaign. Harris briefly surged in the polls after the first debate, and Biden sunk. But soon after, Harris did something that would occur time and time again during her run: She appeared to retreat from the bold position she had previously taken. On busing, she struggled to make it clear how her views were substantially different than Biden’s.