In choosing Sen. Kamala Harris, Joe Biden picked the running mate who best meets the main requirements for a successful vice presidential nominee, fits the explicit conditions he established and can help the ticket win.
As the University of Virginia’sLarry Sabato put it, Harris “represents a vetted, qualified and safe VP choice.”
It’s also a historical one; the first person of color and only the third woman on a major party ticket. Unlike the first two, Geraldine Ferraro and Sarah Palin, Harris is favored to win.
Her selection meets the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee’s goal of a running mate who, despite some differences on issues during the primaries, shares his overall political philosophy and is simpatico personally.
One key factor: the friendship between Harris and Biden’s late son, Beau, when both were state attorneys general. “There is no one’s opinion I valued more than Beau’s,” Biden said in an email to supporters.
Initial reaction to the 55-year-old senator, who had been elected statewide three times in the nation’s biggest state, showed she easily passes muster as someone whom all but the most partisan rivals deemed qualified to be president. That was an important consideration for the 77-year-old Biden, who would become the nation’s oldest president.
Her past personal and political record has been well vetted, both in California and in the greater scrutiny of a presidential campaign. While she has Democratic critics, they represent a small portion of the party.
And as Biden himself can attest, she demonstrated during the primary debates — and hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee — the prosecutorial skills that will enable her to press the Democratic case in the campaign, especially against Vice President Mike Pence in their Oct. 7 vice presidential debate. That’s generally the campaign’s single high-profile event for the No. 2 candidates.
The choice also says something about Biden, who selected her to be his partner despite the way that she challenged his civil rights bona fides in a Democratic debate last summer.
After a recent Politico report that some Biden advisers opposed Harris, in part because of that debate, the former vice president wrote himself a note about her before a recent news conference stressing the need to say he would “not hold grudges.” Obviously, that’s true, since he picked the California senator for a job where trust between the two principals is essential.
As soon as Biden disclosed his selection Tuesday, her main rivals and other top Democratic leaders rushed to hail the Harris choice, emblematic of the unusual party unity that opposition to President Donald Trump has produced.
In recent weeks, the Biden campaign created substantial mystery around the selection process, but her ultimate choice was not really a surprise. Even before Harris launched her own presidential candidacy in early 2019, she was regarded as a prime prospect for a spot on the Democratic ticket.
That was enhanced by the strong pressure among Democrats to put a woman or a person of color on their ticket. In a CNN Town Hall last February, Biden talked of the possibility of picking someone for vice president who was either a woman or a person of color or both. The daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, Harris fulfills both goals.
Over recent weeks, supporters of other potential running mates floated their attributes. In the end, however, all fell short for one or another reason.
Former national security adviser Susan Rice, rated in some speculation as Harris’ top rival, has never held elective office, and her involvement in several Obama administration controversies would have made her an especial campaign target.
California Rep. Karen Bass suffered from reports about her youthful attraction to Cuba and speeches hailing Scientologist and U.S. Communist Party leaders.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, former Georgia legislator Stacey Abrams and Florida Rep. Val Demings all lacked the breadth of Harris’ state and national experience.
And Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren faced a number of problems including her age, 71, and pressure for a candidate of color. Her election would have given the Republican governor of Massachusetts the chance to name a GOP replacement to her Senate seat, and her liberal reputation and record would have pulled the ticket ideologically to the left.
However, Harris also has one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate. Trump lost no time calling her the “meanest, most horrible, most disrespectful” Senate opponent of Brett Kavanaugh’sSupreme Court nomination and expressing surprise she was picked after doing poorly in the Democratic nominating race.
But some California liberals have never been happy with Harris’ efforts to chart a centrist course on criminal justice issues during her career as a prosecutor in San Francisco and as California’s attorney general.
Still, she is the closest thing to a consensus choice in a Democratic Party that has largely put aside most of its internal differences in the interest of driving Trump from the presidency.
And though vice presidential choices don’t generally affect election outcomes, Democrats hope enthusiasm about Harris will drive a large turnout of minorities and younger voters in the same way Barack Obama did in 2008.
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Readers may write to him via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.