Kamala Harris May Be The One!

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

Speculation about whom the presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden will tap to join him on the ticket has reached fever pitch with the announcement expected in days.

I’m going out on a limb but I predict it will be California’s junior Senator Kamala Harris. Her less well known but closest rival could be Pres. Barack Obama’s former UN Ambassador Susan Rice.

A late entry who seems to be closing fast is Rep. Karen Bass of Los Angeles, a veteran politician and the popular Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus.

All three are black women which does not guarantee their selection and is only one element in the complicated equation by which running mates are selected. An Asian, Illinois Sen. Tammy Duckworth, is also getting serious attention.

The very much alive “Black Lives Matter” movement has created an overlapping dynamic powering a drive with support in white, black and brown communities bound to carry through to the election. 

This is undoubtedly an important factor as the nation reels from a terribly mismanaged pandemic likely to be going on long after the election is decided.

Harris checks all the boxes. She is a youngish (55), whip-smart, highly personable, persuasive (some would say a bit too tenacious) and has the gladiatorial chops that could compliment Biden’s lower voltage persona well.

Her somewhat muted left-of-center stances including increasing nods to the growing liberal wing of her party should be a plus with the younger generations who are craving a running mate that could carry their dreams for significant change into the future.

An oft-expressed concern on the minds of many Democrats is to have someone backing up Biden who will be instantly ready to assume the awesome duties of the presidency were he not to seek re-election. The former Vice President would be 82 at that time.

Harris has shown herself to be battle-ready and managed the largest Justice Department of any state for four years getting some mixed reviews but generally high marks. 

Her legal and advocacy skills much in evidence during the tumultuous confirmation hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh scored big points which were partially squandered during a promising presidential run that went off the tracks. Some attributed that to bad advice from a few in her inner circle.

Recovering quickly, she made the wise decision to pull out before California’s early March 2020 presidential primary sparing her from what might have been less than a first-place finish—an unacceptable outcome that would have jeopardized her forward movement.

More importantly a poor showing might have drawn a strong primary opponent in the state’s 2022 primary if she were to run for reelection.

A much more perilous threat to her Vice-Presidential aspirations occurred earlier in a contentious exchange with Biden during the first presidential debate when Harris accused him of being too chummy with pro-segregation senators in the 1970s citing his opposition to federally-mandated busing as a tool to integrate schools. 

Biden was unprepared for the attack and it clearly smarted. But it did little to impede his surprising and convincing rise to the nomination triggered by a runaway victory in the critical South Carolina primary where crucial black voters came out for him in force.

While Harris’s aggressive gambit did not endear her in some quarters debates are all about scoring points usually eclipsed by the next debate when a different set of attackers are hoping to claim the spotlight.

Of course her next debating opponent is likely to be Vice President Mike Pence who has been the picture of painful stoicism and forced restraint standing aside a tumultuous boss tweeting inflammatory broadsides every day at changing targets.

Ultimately the only thing that matters is the one aspirant who survives the jockeying and gets to decide who to put on the ticket.

Apologies were apparently offered by Harris and accepted. The move to withdraw abruptly from the race may have given her prospects a big boost, a chance to regroup and the time to get out in front of a formidable group of rivals.

Biden has a wealth of talented candidates from which to choose.   

Whether Biden will feel completely comfortable with Harris—a major factor for any nominee— is unknown.

Harris’s telegenic appeal has made her an instant favorite on the prime-time news shows and she has made the most of it. 

However, her meteoric political rise is not accidental. 

In her time as San Francisco’s District Attorney and then as the state’s highly visible Attorney General she had to earn her stripes in a political universe traditionally dominated by powerful men.

One of them is the state’s fast-charging Governor Gavin Newsom who has been on parallel tracks to higher office starting when he was the popular two-term Mayor of San Francisco.

Their similar voter appeal has not as yet brought them into collision. It has, however, produced some tantalizing scenarios of what might lie ahead. 

Should Harris get the call and if a Biden-Harris ticket were to win, Newsom can pick her Senatorial replacement who would be expected to complete her Senate term.

There is little doubt that the seat would remain in Democratic hands. Also, California’s 55 electoral votes in this deep Blue state are considered secure so Biden gains no geographical advantage in choosing a Californian.

(The state stands to lose one congressional seat if Trump’s proposal to exclude unauthorized immigrants in the 2020 Census is implemented and another because of population changes).

Harris has not been in the U.S. Senate long enough to compile a record that demands close scrutiny.  And that may be an advantage. Another former Senator who comes to mind that sported a sparse resume was Barack Obama. 

In all of history a mere 16 U.S. Senators made it to the White House and in modern times only Obama and JFK went there directly from the Senate. Of the 14 vice presidents who succeeded to the presidency, eight made it to the Oval Office only after the death of a president.

Trump could ensure that Biden becomes the 15th if the incumbent’s standing in the polls continues its precipitous downslide according to every key indicator.

With his suggestion that the election be delayed which he has no power to do along with killing off the post office to prevent voting-by-mail, Trump may have finally crossed the Rubicon!

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