Biden names Harris as running mate

Emily DeRuy The Mercury News (TNS)
Democratic presidential candidates former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speak after the Democratic Presidential Debate at Texas Southern University's Health and PE Center on Sept. 12, 2019 in Houston, Texas.  Biden has named Harris as his running mate.

SAN JOSE, Calif. - After weeks of growing speculation, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Tuesday answered the most highly anticipated question of his campaign, naming California Sen. Kamala Harris to be his running mate.

The historic decision propels Harris, 55, back onto the national stage after a disappointing end to her own run for the White House, which peaked with a shot at the man she now joins at the top of the Democratic ticket.

If elected in November, Harris would become the first woman, first Black and first Asian American vice president - more firsts in a career full of them.

Biden made the historic announcement with a tweet, calling Harris a "fearless fighter for the little guy" and referencing her friendship with his late son, Beau, who was Delaware's attorney general when Harris held the job in California.

"I watched as they took on the big banks, lifted up working people, and protected women and kids from abuse," Biden tweeted. "I was proud then, and I'm proud now to have her as my partner in this campaign."

Harris is scheduled to join Biden in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, on Wednesday for their first joint appearance. Her nomination comes less than a week before the Democratic National Convention begins in Milwaukee. In her own tweet, Harris said she was honored to join Biden, praising him as a president who will "build an America that lives up to our ideals."

The news was celebrated by Harris' longtime supporters in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she rose from a prosecutor in Alameda County to become San Francisco's first female district attorney. "It's a historic choice, but I think from the standpoint of being an exceptional candidate. That's first and foremost," said Clarke Allen, a longtime supporter of Harris from Alameda. "Her being very tooled in the art of politics at the state, federal and local levels becomes the key."

But her nomination drew criticism from the more progressive ranks of the Democratic Party, who raised concerns about her criminal justice track record and her tendency to shift on key issues. Harris initially embraced "Medicare for All," before backtracking on the idea of eliminating private insurance. She has criticized big tech companies for failing to do enough to protect users but stopped short of calling to break them up, like former presidential hopeful and progressive Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

"I think that once she's in office, there is a strong possibility that she will revert back to her more conservative views when it comes to mass incarceration and policing," said Cat Brooks, an Oakland activist and co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, who is deeply skeptical that Harris will meaningfully advance efforts to overhaul policing and the criminal justice system if she is elected.

As a senator, however, Harris has won praise among her Democratic colleagues for her intense questioning of Trump administration officials such as Attorney General William Barr in congressional hearings. She is widely seen as someone who can hold her own on the campaign trail and in debates.

Minutes after Tuesday's announcement, President Donald Trump began mounting an attack against Harris, tweeting a video calling her a member of the "radical left."

Born in Oakland in the fall of 1964 to immigrant parents from India and Jamaica and raised in Berkeley, Harris would go on to become the first woman and first Black person to serve as California attorney general. In 2017, she became the first South Asian American senator in history and only the second Black woman to serve in the Senate.

On Tuesday, her sister, Maya Harris, tweeted a photo of Harris as a baby with the words, "That day when a little girl from Oaktown became the first black woman to be a major-party vice-presidential nominee ... So incredibly proud of you, sis!"

Harris' selection was by no means a foregone conclusion, although her name began surfacing as a vice presidential contender almost as soon as she ended her own presidential campaign last December.

"The obvious choice before this whole vetting process began was Kamala Harris, and the final choice through all the vetting is Kamala Harris," said political analyst Sherry Bebitch Jeffe. "There will be some problems because of her past as a prosecutor, but what is the alternative? I think that's what Biden is gambling on."

After her parents split when she was young, Harris lived with her mother and sister in a duplex in the flatlands of southwest Berkeley and took a bus to Thousand Oaks Elementary School in a richer, whiter neighborhood - becoming part of the second class desegregated through busing.

The junior senator from the Golden State drew on that experience in her high-profile clash with Biden during a primary debate in June, when she rattled her then-rival, condemning his past opposition to busing and his comments about finding common ground with avowed segregationists.

Biden allies were reportedly critical of what they viewed as Harris' lack of remorse for her shot at Biden, but the presidential hopeful recently was photographed while holding handwritten notes about Harris that said "do not hold grudges" and "great respect for her."

Others view her as too eager for the presidency herself, prompting fear she will not be content to do Biden's bidding.

Not so, say her supporters - the most fervent call themselves the KHive - who also have come to her defense over claims she is too eager for the presidency herself to do Biden's bidding. They call that argument sexist, pointing out it was well known Biden had an interest in being president when he agreed to serve under former President Barack Obama, who was effusive in his praise of Harris on Tuesday.

"Her own life story is one that I and so many others can see ourselves in: a story that says that no matter where you come from, what you look like, how you worship, or who you love, there's a place for you here," Obama wrote in a statement.

Biden committed in March to choosing a woman as his running mate. But Harris is just the third woman to fill that role for the two major parties, following Sarah Palin on the Republican side in 2008 and Geraldine Ferraro on the Democratic side in 1984.

She becomes the first Californian on a major party ticket since President Ronald Reagan, and, if elected, her vacancy would open up a coveted Senate seat for Gov. Gavin Newsom to fill.

"I think that going through the presidential primary process probably was an incredible help to her," said longtime Democratic strategist Darry Sragow. "Losing is a learning experience, and I'm going to guess she came out of the whole primary process just sort of battle hardened. ... I'm already seeing emails saying they can't wait to see the Pence-Harris debate."