US Election: Kamala Harris is a risk that could backfire on Biden

This piece first appeared at on August 13th 2020. It is my initial reaction to the VP selection.

After months of drama, it turns out the market was right all along. Kamala Harris is Joe Biden’s running mate. The California Senator would have led the betting from start to finish, were it not for a flip to Susan Rice just a few hours before the decision was announced.

Now, we must weigh her merit and value to the ticket. What difference, if any, will she make to the result?

The broad consensus among those who’ve been following the market closest – politicos and journalists – is that Harris was the safe pick. Whether her effect ultimately proves positive or negative, ‘safe’ is the last word I’d use. Quite the reverse.

Dynamic Harris livens up the ticket

For sure, there are positives. Harris is a heavyweight. This former prosecutor is a strong debater and forensic interrogator in the Senate. She can deliver good lines and will be an effective attack dog during the campaign. She will attract big donors. The first ever woman of colour on a major party ticket will inspire Democrat activists – a high percentage of whom are black women. Any Biden path to the presidency hangs around the black vote in swing states.

Harris is a plausible president who passes the test of being ready for the highest office at a moment’s notice, and livens up the ticket. If 77 year-old ‘Sleepy Joe’ Biden needed a younger, dynamic sidekick, 55 year-old Kamala fits the bill.

These are all reasons she was so high in the betting for the nomination and presidency. They make sense on paper. Yet when it came to the primaries, despite a vast cash advantage over most rivals, she completely flopped. Why?

Debate attacks could come back to haunt her

The likeliest specific explanation is that her well-publicised debate performances played badly. In the opener she attacked Biden’s record during the sixties and seventies on racial issues. A classic hit-job, geared to creating viral media clips, but one that appeared cynical and harsh. If not between the pair, bad blood still lingers between allies, apparently.

Incidents like this cannot be understated. Even when a politician is relatively well-known, most voter perceptions of them are shallow, based on small nuggets. Most previously knew relatively little about Harris and this amplified, negative impression damaged her.

She is now being introduced to a much larger audience. Anyone labouring under the illusion that this will be an easy ride, in which her qualities are celebrated, the rationale of her arguments win out, that her character and reputation won’t be torn to shreds, has never watched a US election.

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