Kamala Harris seen as historic pick in US presidential race

Biden's choice of running mate hailed by black leaders; Trump quick to criticise her

US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris high-fiving in an undated photo. They were set to make their first campaign appearance together yesterday in Wilmington, Delaware, as the race for the White House enters a more
US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris high-fiving in an undated photo. They were set to make their first campaign appearance together yesterday in Wilmington, Delaware, as the race for the White House enters a more frenetic phase. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

WASHINGTON • Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris, were set to make their first appearance as a ticket yesterday in Wilmington, Delaware, as the campaign for the White House enters a more frenetic phase.

The two were scheduled to deliver remarks just days before Mr Biden formally accepts the party's nomination during its national convention next week, which will take place largely as a virtual event due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Biden picked Ms Harris as his choice for vice-president on Tuesday, making her the first black woman on a major-party US presidential ticket and giving him a partner well prepared to go on the attack against Republican President Donald Trump.

With social unrest over racial injustice rocking the country for months, Mr Biden had been under increasing pressure to select a black woman as his running mate.

Ms Harris, whose mother and father emigrated from India and Jamaica respectively, is also the first Asian American on a major presidential ticket.

In Ms Harris, a 55-year-old senator from California who made her own run for the White House, Mr Biden gains an experienced politician already battle-tested by the rigours of the 2020 presidential campaign as they head into the final stretch of the Nov 3 election.

In a Twitter post on Tuesday, Mr Biden called Ms Harris "a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country's finest public servants".

And Ms Harris wrote on Twitter that Mr Biden could "unify the American people because he's spent his life fighting for us".

Republicans immediately tried to portray Ms Harris as a "radical" who embraces far-left priorities such as sweeping police reform and a ban on fracking.

During a White House briefing later on Tuesday, Mr Trump called Ms Harris "the meanest, the most horrible, most disrespectful" as well as "most liberal" senator. He also said she was his "No. 1 draft pick" given her unsuccessful presidential campaign.

On a conference call the Trump campaign hosted for reporters, Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn asserted that Ms Harris supports eliminating private insurance in favour of "Medicare for All" and said her selection reflects the "leftist takeover" of the party.

 

As a presidential candidate, Ms Harris had proposed a government-run system that would still allow private insurers to offer plans; she also supported a fracking ban.

Mr Biden has not embraced either proposal.

Ms Harris will be relied on to help mobilise African Americans, the Democratic Party's most loyal constituency.

Four years ago, the first dip in black voter turnout in 20 years contributed to Democrat Hillary Clinton's upset loss to Mr Trump.

Mr Biden, whose own foundering campaign was rescued by black voters in South Carolina's primary in February, needs their strong support against Mr Trump.

They will be crucial in battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where Mr Trump narrowly prevailed in 2016, as well as Republican-leaning southern states like Georgia and Florida that opinion polls show have become competitive this year.

Mr Biden served as vice-president for eight years under president Barack Obama, the first black US president.

Numerous black leaders, including politicians who had themselves been considered as Mr Biden's running mate, emphasised the historic importance of Ms Harris' selection.

"To see a black woman nominated for the first time reaffirms my faith that in America, there is a place for every person to succeed no matter who they are or where they come from," said Representative Val Demings, a black woman who had been a contender.

Mr Obama, perhaps the party's most popular figure, praised Ms Harris on Twitter: "She's spent her career defending our Constitution and fighting for folks who need a fair shake."

 
 

The Biden campaign notched its best grassroots fundraising day following the announcement, according to one of its digital directors, Mr Clarke Humphrey.

Senator Harris, a former prosecutor and state attorney-general in California, is known for her sometimes aggressive questioning style in the Senate, most notably of Mr Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing in 2018.

As a presidential candidate, she also took Mr Biden to task in a nationally televised debate over his past stances on mandatory bussing for students as a means to desegregate schools.

Some Biden advisers have told Reuters that the attacks made them question whether she would be a trusted working partner because of her political ambitions.

While that exchange failed to boost her White House hopes, the Biden campaign will now look for her to train her fire on Mr Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence.

Ms Harris is scheduled to debate Mr Pence on Oct 7 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

The choice of a running mate has added significance for Mr Biden, 77, who would be the oldest person to become president if he is elected.

His age has led to speculation that he will serve only one term, making Ms Harris a potential top contender for the presidential nomination in 2024.

Mr Biden publicly committed to choosing a woman as his No. 2 in a March debate, after discussing the matter with his wife Jill.

After the protests that erupted over the May 25 killing of Mr George Floyd, a black man, by a white policeman in Minneapolis, Mr Biden's search focused predominantly on candidates of colour.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2020, with the headline 'Harris seen as historic pick in US presidential race'. Subscribe