Kamala Harris
US vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris (Image: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Joe Biden has picked California Senator Kamala Harris as his vice-presidential running mate for November’s election.

Harris was one of Biden’s opponents in the Democratic primaries and will be the first black woman on a presidential ticket.

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Daughter of immigrants

Harris is also the first Indian-American on a presidential ticket. Her parents were immigrant academics from Jamaica and India.

She was raised largely by her mother in Berkeley, California, and grew up acutely aware of her mixed heritage. There were frequent visits to India as well as attendance at civil rights protests.

‘Black Harvard’-educated

Harris is an alumna of Howard University, the historically black university in Washington DC known as “the black Harvard”. Astonishingly, this means the 2020 US election will be the first since 1968 without a Harvard or Yale graduate on a major party ticket.

Harris’ educational background could give her other strengths, too: according to The New York Times her membership of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority with its multimillion-dollar budget and huge membership could be a political “secret weapon”.

Foes-turned-friends

Biden’s most well-known encounter with Harris was in a debate. Biden had made a tone-deaf statement about his civil friendships with segregationist senators in the 1970s.

Harris slammed his “hurtful” comments, describing her experiences as one of the first classes to integrate public schools in California.

A doomed campaign

Beyond debate-stage sound bites, Harris’ campaign for the presidency foundered and she dropped out of the race late last year, a month before the Iowa caucuses.

Despite strong political skills, the campaign lacked momentum and message and was hindered by a deeply dysfunctional and divided staff.

Kamala the cop

Although Harris has emerged as a leading advocate for racial justice after George Floyd’s killing, her background as a prosecutor drew frequent attacks from left-wing Democrats.

She was San Francisco’s district attorney from 2004 to 2011, and despite trying to cast herself as a “progressive prosecutor” she was elected with a “tough on crime” message and pushed for higher cash bail.

As California’s attorney-general between 2011 and 2017 she came under fire for her weak approach to killings by police.

Introducing the #KHive

Former presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is most commonly associated with having “extreme online” supporters, some of whom have attacked Harris for being a “cop”. But Harris fans, known online as the “#KHive“, give them a run for their money.

They are known for being extremely vocal (read: occasionally nasty) on the internet. It’s just the latest sign of how “stan culture” — where armies of tribal keyboard warriors and meme generators do battle with critics — has crossed the line from pop culture into mainstream politics.

‘Phony’ Kamala

US President Donald Trump, known for using belittling nicknames for his political rivals, started out with “phony Kamala” as his insulting moniker of choice. But that has not locked in. According to The Daily Beast Trumpworld is still workshopping more nicknames.

Trump repeatedly described Harris as “nasty” yesterday. The campaign’s playbook will be to portray Biden as an empty shell for the more radical Harris.

A history maker?

Harris could make more history if Biden is elected. Biden will be 78 on inauguration day and is already allegedly showing signs of senility.

It’s considered unlikely that he’ll seek a second term. That could put Harris in a strong position to become the first female president of the United States.

However, although Biden leads Trump in the polls, including in crucial swing states, let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief
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