Kamala Harris Is on Strong Footing in Biden’s Vice Presidential Search
(Bloomberg) -- Kamala Harris is on even stronger footing in Joe Biden’s search for a running mate as he faces intensifying pressure to choose a black woman in the middle of a national debate over race.
Harris has long been near the top of Biden’s list but as other candidates slip in the eyes of allies and observers, the California senator is increasingly better positioned to be the former vice president’s pick for a job he says he knows more about than anything else, according to Democrats who have spoken to Biden or are familiar with his thinking.
Biden committed in March to naming a woman as his running mate. Some allies suggested right away she should be a woman of color, and since the national protests over the killing of George Floyd while in police custody, the pressure to choose a black woman has increased.
Floyd’s killing and the racial unrest that followed increased the speculation around two other African-American women -- Florida Representative Val Demings, a former Orlando police chief, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, whose city was hit by protests. But Democrats who have watched Biden’s VP process say neither woman seems to have eclipsed Harris in Biden’s single most-important characteristic for running mate, ability to step into the job of president on Day One.
The 2020 vice presidential nominee decision also has taken on added weight given that Biden, 77, will be the oldest president ever sworn in if he wins the election.
Biden told CBS News this week that the recent racial unrest hadn’t changed his thinking about the decision other than “greater focus and urgency on the need” to make a good choice.
A Democrat familiar with Biden’s deliberations said his thinking hadn’t changed in the aftermath of Floyd’s death because he had already been seriously considering Harris and other non-white women.
A different perspective
Biden’s commitment to a female vice president grew in part out of a desire to have a diversity of perspectives as he makes decisions in the Oval Office. Since Floyd’s killing, he’s acknowledged that he could never know what it’s like to be black in America.
Any of the other black women under consideration -- Demings, Bottoms, former national security adviser Susan Rice and former Georgia House minority leader Stacey Abrams -- could bring that perspective.
Harris campaigned against him during the 2020 Democratic primary. Biden has suggested publicly and privately that her experience on the presidential campaign trail and in the Senate is the kind of preparation he values for stepping in as president at a moment’s notice.
Biden’s vice president also would be positioned to claim the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination should Biden choose not to seek a second term at 82.
“If it isn’t all the more obvious in this moment why selecting a black woman isn’t historically the right thing to do, morally the right thing to do, something that our country needs, I don’t know what other sign you need. It seems very obvious and so important in this moment,” said Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist who advised Tim Kaine during his time as Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016.
Finney helped coordinate an April letter signed by more than 200 black women urging Biden to pick an African-American woman.
Two other senators who ran for president this year, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren, remain in contention, the person familiar with Biden’s deliberations said.
Warren is especially popular with the progressive grassroots and has led at least two groups’ recent straw polls on the vice presidential pick, including one released Monday by Indivisible that showed the Massachusetts senator as the first choice of 41% of those surveyed. Harris was a distant second at 21% but trailed Warren by only a few points in popularity when first, second and third choices were added together.
Abrams was the third most popular pick. But Abrams, who has made no secret of her desire to be selected, suggested on Wednesday that she’s not being vetted by Biden’s team.
Helping Harris’s case is that Biden seems to like her, despite a tiff last year after she surprised him with a debate-stage attack over his opposition in the 1970s to a federal mandate on busing to desegregate schools.
“We talk a lot,” Biden said during a Tuesday fundraiser with Harris, making repeated references to their conversations. One night later, Biden spent more time chatting with former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and singer James Taylor than with New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, another possible contender.
“People were really excited to hear from Senator Harris and to see how she and the VP interacted,” said Andrew Weinstein, a Biden fundraiser and lawyer in Parkland, Florida. “It was evident that they seem to have a really, really strong relationship.”
Family ties are also a boost for Harris. Jill Biden and Harris’s husband, Doug Emhoff, became friendly during the primary campaign and have kept in touch. Harris and the Bidens first met when she and Beau Biden, the vice president’s late son, each served as attorney general of their respective states.
“I’ve seen her heart,” Biden said Tuesday, recalling a moment, photographed by a Harris aide, in late 2018 when she saw him on the street and jumped out of a car to tell him, “I love you and I love Beau.”
She has faced criticism over her work a prosecutor, first as San Francisco district attorney and then as California attorney general. The campaign would likely face criticism about her handling of claims from men of color who had been wrongfully convicted, as well as an anti-truancy program that threatened parents whose children skipped school.
Just the second black female U.S. senator, Harris is pushing for new legislation on policing as well as an anti-lynching bill and has been regularly speaking about her experience as a black woman. Those efforts could help her shrug off the “cop” label some on the left have given her, but her background as a prosecutor gives Biden even more ammunition in fighting off President Donald Trump’s efforts to cast him as wanting to “defund” police departments.
“She may have to continue to talk about it and address it,” Finney said. “I don’t think it’s insurmountable. I just think it requires authenticity and sincerity.”
Harris excites donors. A Tuesday event with Biden and Harris brought in $3.5 million from 1,400 attendees, making it the second-highest fundraising haul of the campaign. An event last month headlined by Clinton raised $2 million and a second fundraiser with Clinton and Jill Biden raised $750,000. Harris is headlining a Women Lawyers for Biden event next week.
Michael Kempner, a Biden bundler and CEO of Mww Group, said he thinks Harris is at the top of the list when considering all the criteria that Biden has outlined for a potential running mate. “She checks all the boxes particularly that she would be ready on day one and could be commander-in-chief,” he said. “But I also think there’s a group of very talented women who would all be very extraordinary vice presidents.”
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