By Tal Kopan
WASHINGTON — Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden named California Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate Tuesday, adding an experienced campaigner with national star power to his ticket.
“I have the great honor to announce that I’ve picked @KamalaHarris — a fearless fighter for the little guy, and one of the country’s finest public servants — as my running mate,” Biden tweeted.
Harris tweeted that Biden “can unify the American people because he’s spent his life fighting for us. And as president, he’ll build an America that lives up to our ideals. I’m honored to join him as our party’s nominee for Vice President, and do what it takes to make him our Commander-in-Chief.”
A barrier-breaking former California attorney general and San Francisco district attorney, Harris gives the Democratic presidential nominee-to-be a vice presidential candidate with long experience in executive and legislative roles, as well as a prosecutorial sharpness that she brought with her to the Senate. She will be the first woman of color to be put on a major party’s ticket.
But Harris has been opposed by some progressives for her record in law enforcement and at times less-liberal positions. Her nearly 20 years in office in San Francisco, Sacramento and Washington, along with her criticisms of Biden during the Democratic presidential primary campaign, could also provide fodder for attacks from President Trump and other Republicans.
Sources close to Biden, a former vice president himself, said one of his biggest considerations in picking a running mate was finding someone with experience in the national spotlight. Biden’s camp did not want a candidate who would stumble under scrutiny, with some pointing to former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s performance as the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2008 as a cautionary tale.
Biden also was said to be searching for a relationship like the one he had with former President Barack Obama — a genuine rapport that allowed for free pushback and debate — as well as a person who would be a strong asset on whatever the campaign trail amounts to during the coronavirus pandemic.
Biden noted that Harris has known his family for years, tweeting about his longtime admiration for her.
“Back when Kamala was Attorney General, she worked closely with Beau,” Biden said, referring to his late son, who was attorney general of Delaware when Harris held the post in California. “I watched as they took on the big banks, lifted up working people, and protected women and kids from abuse. I was proud then, and I’m proud now to have her as my partner in this campaign.”
Harris has won three statewide elections in California and gained nearly a year of national campaigning experience during her own presidential run, which she ended in December. She has a vibrant online presence, which could be of heightened importance in a mostly virtual campaign against a president with 84 million Twitter followers.
Harris was trailing in the polls and dropped her primary bid before any votes were cast, but for most of her presidential run she was considered to be in the top tier of Democratic candidates. Since arriving in Washington in 2017, she has regularly drawn national coverage with her sharp questioning of Trump administration officials and nominees.
Harris, 55, also brings a compelling biography to the race, one that could complement that of Biden, 77. She spent her formative years in Berkeley, where her parents — an Indian immigrant mother and Jamaican immigrant father — were active in the civil rights movement. She was the first woman of color to be elected San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general, and she is the second Black woman to win a seat in the U.S. Senate.
Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee, an early supporter of Harris, was on the phone with The Chronicle when the news broke. She called Harris well-prepared, smart and “a phenomenal woman who I think is going to help bring the country together on so many fronts.”
Lee referred to Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress and the first to run for a major party presidential nomination, when she mounted her 1972 Democratic campaign.
“Shirley is smiling today,” Lee said. “Kamala Harris is certainly a catalyst for change, and I see the trajectory and the new lap of this race for justice. I see this as a major goal that Shirley Chisholm had. I think that this is a big deal.”
Biden committed in March to picking a woman as his vice presidential candidate and soon faced pressure to name a woman of color — something that would both be a historic first and would recognize a demographic that is one of the most loyal bases of the Democratic Party.
“It’s not about getting those super-voters to the polls — those super-voters, they’re going to go the polls,” Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina legislator and Harris supporter, who is Black, said before Biden made his selection. “But what you want my mama to do is, you want my mama to be on the phones, out in her community getting people to the polls, engaging her sorority. You want them to be active participants, and that’s what Kamala brings.”