By Alexander Bolton – 08/14/20 10:34 AM EDT
Kamala Harris has a few goals at this week’s Democratic convention.
The first for the California senator, who will take to the stage on Thursday, is a simple one. She wants to use her speech to introduce herself to voters and tell the story of how the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica became the first woman of color to be nominated on a presidential ticket.
Harris will also tout her connection to Biden and promote him as the best choice to lead the nation over the next four years. And she will take a hatchet to Trump — the running mate’s traditional job.
“Just look where they’ve gotten us,” Harris said of the Trump White House when she appeared with Biden last week, ticking off how the current president had mishandled the pandemic.
“More than 16 million out of work, millions of kids who cannot go back to school, a crisis of poverty, of homelessness afflicting Black, brown and indigenous people,” she said, before really digging in.
“When other countries are following the science, Trump pushed miracle cures he saw on Fox News.”
The remarks were an early preview of how Harris hopes to help Biden, both by ruthlessly going after Trump and by connecting to different voting groups — particularly young people.
“It’s just an honest admission on Biden’s part that I realize who I am, that I’m not the guy who’s going to fire up the young people or maybe people of color or women,” said Steve Jarding, a Democratic strategist, who formerly ran the leadership political action committees of former Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John Edwards (D-N.C.), the Democratic presidential and vice presidential nominees, respectively, in 2004.
“Part of getting votes out is that you have to fire up voters, and I think Harris does that in a way that Biden couldn’t,” he said.
Tad Devine, a longtime Democratic strategist who has worked on several presidential campaigns, said Harris “really has an easy connection to voters.”
“When you think about rebuilding the Obama coalition, all those young people, minorities, particularly African Americans who turned out in such large numbers in those [2008 and 2012] races, she is really a spark toward that effort,” he said.
“To have someone [like Harris] on the ticket to be the vice president and the potential future leader of the party, that is very exciting particularly for young people, African American women and minority voters in general,” he added.
One of Harris’s best skills, underscored by her introductory appearance, is cutting into an opponent without appearing angry or negative.
“She has a way of very effectively delivering a negative without looking or feeling negative herself. That’s not an easy-to-learn skill,” Devine said.
Harris was widely seen as a safe pick for Biden but also an exciting pick given the historic implications. The 55-year-old senator is a dynamic figure and a rising political star who ran for president herself earlier this year.
Many Democrats see her as providing a balance to the ticket led by Biden, 77, who first entered the Senate in the Nixon era.
While Biden telegraphs a return to traditional statesmanship after what they see as the turmoil of the Trump years, Democrats say Harris provides a spark and a nod to the nation’s multicultural future.
“Joe is sending a message of stability and calm at a time I think the nation really needs that. That’s one of the reasons I think he’s performing pretty well in the polls. … Kamala is kind of a newness and excitement. That’s a nice balance,” said Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who was the Democratic nominee for vice president in 2016.
Harris, a career prosecutor who is a favorite among big Democratic donors in Silicon Valley, has a reputation as a moderate who’s willing to stake big ambitious liberal positions.
She co-sponsored the Green New Deal in the Senate and endorsed “Medicare for All” on the campaign trail in 2019.
She also supported a compromise in 2018 with the Trump administration and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner on criminal justice reform, which fell short of Democrats’ initial goals but represented an important step forward on an issue that had been stymied on Capitol Hill for years.
Harris flamed out with her presidential bid last year and memorably attacked Biden over his opposition to school busing, an attack that left some scars.
But she is a longtime friend of the Biden family who as the Golden State’s attorney general worked with Biden’s eldest son, Beau, who served as Delaware’s attorney general until he died in 2015.
Harris and Beau Biden spoke on the phone “practically every day, sometimes multiple times a day” as fellow attorneys general during the Great Recession of 2009 and 2010 to help homeowners facing foreclosure.
While Harris’s own presidential campaign sometimes faltered during moments of indecision — such as her back-and-forth over whether to ban private health insurance — Democratic strategists say she shines as an advocate for a larger cause.
“She is probably at her best as a communicator when she’s advocating on behalf of someone or something. It’s part of her history as a prosecutor, that really comes natural to her,” said California-based Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, who worked on former Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.
“People had different perspectives as a candidate for president, but as an advocate for someone who’s running for president, she’s incredibly effective,” he added.
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Biden’s choice of Harris is an important signal to voters about his vision for the future and future leadership of the Democratic Party.
He will turn 78 before taking the oath of office and has described himself as a “transition candidate” to younger leaders of the future, raising speculation about whether he would seek two terms if elected.
“This selection elevates her to the front of the pack as a presidential contender down the road, and no doubt she knows her success is tethered to his and the best way to prove bona fides as a national leader is to succeed as one,” said Scott Mulhauser, a Democratic strategist who served as deputy chief of staff to Biden during the 2012 Obama-Biden campaign. “A successful Biden-Harris administration lays out the predicate for a successful Harris administration down the road.”