With a little over six months until Election Day, speculation over who former Vice President Joe Biden will choose as his running mate continues to run rampant both inside and outside the top tiers of the Democratic Party.
At the beginning of this month, Biden announced a committee dedicated to helping him make a vice presidential pick, and he has recently used his campaign’s podcast, “Here’s The Deal,” to interview potential candidates.
While no decision has been made yet – and will likely not be made for some months – reporting from inside the Biden team seems to indicate that Kamala Harris is the leading contender for the job. Interviews of dozens of Biden allies, advisors and donors by Politico suggest that the junior U.S. Senator from California is streets ahead of other candidates, with some seeing Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts as the only other likely choice.
There is much to recommend Harris as a vice presidential candidate. As the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, Harris’ name on the ticket would allow the Biden campaign to stand in clear contrast to the nativist white nationalism that Donald Trump and Mike Pence represent.
Harris is (unlike Biden) a talented and dynamic campaigner; her primary campaign’s opening rally attracted more attendees than even Barack Obama’s 2007 announcement, and she has already been working to promote Biden and downballot Democrats across the country.
Perhaps most enticingly of all for Democrats who want to see their nominees take the Trump Administration to task, she is a highly talented debater.
Joe Biden found that out to his cost in the first round of primary debates when she slammed him for his record of opposing desegregation policies (although all is now forgiven, according to friends of the Biden family).
In the general election she would get to spar with the current Vice President, Mike Pence. Talking to Politico, South Carolina Democrat and Harris ally Bakari Sellers openly relished the prospect of a Harris vs. Pence televised debate.
If the Democrats win in November, Harris could be a very competent Vice President. She has experience in executive roles – as San Fransisco’s District Attorney and California’s Attorney General – and in the Senate.
She is also a popular figure across a broad swath of rank-and-file Democrats, and would be a powerful advocate for President Biden’s agenda.
Harris has been working to expand that appeal. She alienated some progressives during her presidential run by adopting half-haearted policy positions (her healthcare proposal was particularly lacking in its logic), but has recently used her position in the Senate to work with progressive champions including Bernie Sanders and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts (a member of “the Squad”) to craft a series of bills to help those impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.
Harris’ real advantage over her competitors comes from her close relationship with the Democratic party’s elite echelon of power-brokers and donors.
Joe Biden’s campaign (and indeed, his whole career) has always been tightly aligned with establishment politics. Memorably, during the primary, while his top rivals promised to rein in the excesses of large corporations, Biden openly declared that “no one’s standard of living will change” under his presidency.
Harris (unlike Biden’s other potential running mate, Warren) is a darling of many of these interests. One Biden campaign big-money fundraiser described her as “a standout in terms of… keeping donors warm.” Other top donors have described Harris as “a team player” as far as the party establishment is concerned.
Harris has the best odds of being picked by Biden, but ultimately the decision to join the ticket will be hers – not Joe Biden’s or any donor’s.
And she may not decide to take the job.
Kamala Harris is a woman who likes to control her own destiny and is famously hard to pressure into any role she does not want.
The best example of this is from 2014, when President Obama offered her the role of Attorney General. The role would have been a major boost for her career, and yet Harris chose to turn it down. She remained Attorney General of California, and went on to win a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2016. She used that position in the Senate to launch her unsuccessful bid for the presidency in 2019.
Unlike Stacey Abrams, the other prominent African-American in the running for the vice presidential pick, Harris has not campaigned for the job, and reports of her taking “housecleaning steps” for her future career do not indicate how she envisions that career unfolding; her options include the vice presidency, a powerful position in the Senate, or another top job in the Biden cabinet.
Harris may well desire to set her own course and not be steered by others – even if they are offering her one of the biggest platforms in American politics.
Harris is keeping her options open.
She has kept a core group of advisors from her campaign who have been instrumental in subtly influencing the conversation around Joe Biden’s pick.
In one case, Harris’ team reportedly managed to get the prominent civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton to back down from a decision to promote Abrams as the best choice to be Biden’s running mate, and it is likely that even more behind-the-scenes machinations have gone unreported.
Whichever path Kamala Harris decides to take, the public is not likely to find out for months yet. Joe Biden has no reason to rush into a decision on his running mate, and is right to take a great deal of care and consideration in reaching it — it is, after all, a decision that has a good chance of determining who the first female president of the United States will be.