WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Tuesday (Aug 11) tapped Senator Kamala Harris of California as his choice for vice-president, his campaign told supporters in a text message.
Harris, 55, becomes the first black woman on a major presidential ticket in US history and providing him with a partner well suited to go on the attack against Republican President Donald Trump.
“I have the great honour to announce that I’ve picked #KamalaHarris – a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants – as my running mate,” Biden said on Twitter.
With social unrest over racial injustice and police brutality against black Americans rocking the country for months, Biden had been under increasing pressure to select a woman of colour as his running mate.
She is also the first Asian-American on a major presidential ticket.
In Harris, a senator from California who made her own run for the White House before ending it and endorsing Biden, he gains a deeply 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.
Harris, who became only the Senate’s second black woman in its history when she was elected in 2016, will be relied on to help drive the African-American vote – 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 Trump.
Biden, whose foundering campaign was rescued by black voters in South Carolina’s primary in February, needs their strong support against Trump. It will be crucial in battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin that Trump won by the slimmest margins in 2016 but where opinion polls now show him trailing his Democratic rival.
The black vote is also central to Biden’s hopes of winning Southern states Georgia and Florida that Trump carried four years ago but that opinion polls indicate will be competitive this year.
Biden served as vice president for eight years under President Barack Obama, the first black US president.
Harris, 55, a former prosecutor and state attorney general in California, is well known for her sometimes aggressive questioning style in the Senate, most notably of Brett Kavanaugh during his 2018 Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
As a presidential candidate, she also took Biden to task in a nationally televised debate over his past stances on mandatory busing for students as a means to desegregate schools. Some Biden advisers have told Reuters 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 prosecutorial fire on Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Harris is scheduled to debate Pence on Oct 7 in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The choice of a running mate has added significance for Biden, who will turn 78 in November and be the oldest person to become president if he is elected.
Biden’s age also has led to broad speculation he will serve only one term, making Harris a potential top contender for the nomination in 2024. Some of his allies were concerned that would make her a bad fit for the No.2 job and questioned her loyalty.
Biden publicly committed to choosing a woman as his No. 2 in a March debate after discussing the matter with his wife Jill and had considered other former presidential rivals such as Senators Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren.
After the protests that erupted over the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a black man, by a white policeman in Minneapolis, Biden’s search focused predominantly on candidates of colour.
Harris will be confirmed as Biden’s running mate at the Democratic convention that begins on Monday, where Biden will also be formally nominated to challenge Trump.
A PROMINENT VOICE
Harris has become a key ally for Biden at a time when race has been thrust to the forefront of the campaign.
After Floyd’s death, she became a prominent voice in the push for racial justice and police reform, standing with marchers and sparring with Republicans in the US Senate over reform legislation.
Harris at times came under criticism from some in the black community and from progressive advocates for her record as California attorney general where, they say, she did not do enough to investigate police shootings and too often sided with prosecutors in wrongful conviction cases.
Her defenders say she has always been reform-minded – and point to her record in the Senate, where she has championed a police-reform bill and an anti-lynching bill, among other measures. Harris herself has said she became a prosecutor in order to bring a more progressive approach to the office.
The daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, Harris has knocked down barriers throughout her career. She was the first woman to serve as San Francisco’s district attorney, elected to that office in 2003, and the first woman to serve as California’s attorney general, elected to that office in 2010.
Biden considered several black women in addition to Harris, including former Obama administration national security adviser Susan Rice, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and US Representative Val Demings, a former police chief in Orlando, Florida. Biden also considered Asian-American Senator Tammy Duckworth and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Latina.
Historically, the vice presidential nominee has been the one to take the lead in criticising the opposing ticket, although Trump has largely shredded that tradition. Brian Brokaw, a California political consultant who managed Harris’ campaigns for attorney general and Senate, said Harris fits that role well.
“She is someone who can really make Republicans quake in their boots,” Brokaw said.