September 19, 2020

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A shrewd choice, but Harris has much to prove

Editorial

The pick, when it came, was as remarkable as it was expected: for weeks, the political calculus surrounding Joe Biden’s choice of running mate had pointed to California Sen. Kamala Harris as a top contender.

Still, there is a difference between prediction and reality, and when Mr. Biden handed down his choice this week, it marked another milestone in America’s halting effort to break its remaining glass ceilings. Ms. Harris, the daughter of a Jamaican scholar father and an Indian scientist mother, is the first Black woman on a presidential ticket, as well as the first South Asian woman.

There is power in that moment, which should be honoured. There is also power in Ms. Harris, who appears to have every skill she needs to flourish in the role. She is brilliantly smart, with a prosecutor’s flair, and will no doubt be a daunting sparring partner for current Vice President Mike Pence in their debate.

The selection does come with a number of issues the campaign will be challenged to navigate. Last year, before Mr. Biden officially entered the Democratic primary race, Ms. Harris said she believed a number of women who had come forward to state Mr. Biden had subjected them to unwanted touching. One wonders how she can walk that back now.

Meanwhile, Ms. Harris’s political past draws some debate. As a senator, she has had a progressive voting record; moreso than Mr. Biden. But as California’s attorney general, she oversaw prosecutions that led to a higher rate of convictions on simple marijuana charges than her predecessor. Even under pressure, she resisted calls to more aggressively investigate police violence.

To be fair, Ms. Harris did also pursue some criminal justice reforms and work to promote a more equitable justice system for people of colour. But as a result of her actions as attorney general, she is distrusted by many on the left. Choosing someone with this history in the midst of an unprecedented wave of protest against policing will lead some to conclude the Democratic party is uninterested in reconciling its fractured parts.

Carolyn Kaster / The Associated Press</p><p>Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris arrive for a campaign event in Delaware on Aug. 12.</p>

Carolyn Kaster / The Associated Press

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris arrive for a campaign event in Delaware on Aug. 12.

"The contempt for the base is, wow," tweeted Briahna Joy Gray, former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders’ campaign.

The question is, will that matter? Elections involving an incumbent are really a referendum on the current office-holder; in this one, the battle lines are clearly drawn. U.S. voters will be motivated largely by incredibly strong feelings on President Donald Trump. There are few voters who are likely to be swayed to the Biden side by the selection of Ms. Harris; there are few left-wing voters likely to be any more dissuaded from voting for Mr. Biden than they already were.

So on an electoral basis, the Harris pick might not move the needle much. Yet it may prove to be an especially history-making decision. Simply stated, Mr. Biden will turn 78 shortly after the election. While there are no immediate concerns with the candidate’s physical health, the fact remains that Ms. Harris would have a higher chance than most vice presidents of ascending to the Oval Office outside of an election.

Time will tell. What is certain is that Americans are facing a critical election, one which falls during one of the most polarized and pugnacious political climates in the country’s history, at a time when nearly all the republic’s institutions are in turmoil.

Now, all that’s being asked of Ms. Harris is to prove she presents one of the best chances to fix things.

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