On August 11, Kamala Harris was named as Joe Biden’s running mate, making her the first Black and Asian-American female vice-presidential candidate in American history. She was added to the Biden campaign as a result of his promise to add more diversity to his ticket, but does she do more than just complement Biden through her race and gender? While it’s possible that she only adds diversity to the Biden administration, it seems more likely that she positively contributes with her energy and youth and negatively contributes because of ideological conflicts to the run for office.
In order to fairly measure the weight of Harris’s traits in the upcoming election, a few things must be kept in mind. First, every candidate has their flaws and it is the significance of their strengths that ultimately save or sink them in any given election. Second, Harris may succeed the president mid-term. Biden, who will be 78 on Inauguration Day, has a combination of an advanced age and a spotty health history, which includes two brain surgeries and four other preexisting conditions. According to Zogby Analytics, the majority of voters believe Joe Biden has early-stage dementia, and a Rasmussen poll also shows that 59% of people, including 49% of Democrats, think it’s unlikely Biden will complete his four-year term. Usually, vice presidents aren’t expected to make a major splash while in office. Therefore, Biden’s potential presidency is an anomaly, and Harris should be considered a secondary presidential candidate on the Democratic ticket. Consequently, the California senator should be seen in a new light, and her policies and current support among voters are all the more important.
What does Harris bring to the table? The most obvious and touted advantage is her ethnicity, especially in the context the movements like Black Lives Matter. Her diverse background allows the Biden campaign to come forward as the champion of all minorities. Even if you dismiss her race, she offers a contrast from the commander-in-chief nominee as a female, giving her an advantage amongst both women and younger voters. However, her most important asset is her reputation within liberal circles for being an energetic and vigorous debater. She had her moments of debating fame in the early Democratic debates, highlighted by her attacks on frontrunner Joe Biden during the Florida debate, eventually withdrawing before the primaries. Despite the early dropout, according to a YouGov survey, the majority of Americans believe she is the superior debater to incumbent Vice President Mike Pence. Throughout all her setbacks, she never lost her passion for the policies she advocated for, and this is what the Biden campaign hopes for in the debates in September and October. When the only other speaker on the ticket is a septuagenarian who commits gaffes and has given slow, disorderly speeches, someone who is known for an aggressive debate style could add clarity and credibility. With her strengths noted, can these outweigh the less desirable qualities of the former Attorney General?
As seen in the Democratic debates, Kamala’s weakness was in her policies and the polls. When it comes to policies, she promised to pass bills including Medicare For All and the Green New Deal, which would cost over $46 trillion in the next decade, according to the Manhattan Institute. Combined with her GovTrack ranking as the most liberal politician in the Senate, one would think that the vast majority of Democratic voters would vote for her instantly. However, these radical plans are unattractive to the majority of Democrats since more than half of Democratic voters call themselves moderate, according to Pew Research Center. This explains why more moderate candidates, such as Biden, found success, and why many leftist politicians scramble to label Harris as a moderate, a label Joe Favreau, Obama’s former speechwriter called “hilarious.” These policies once again affected the decisions of the voters, as only 26% of liberals have a “very favorable” view of their party’s vice presidential candidate, according to YouGov. This survey also showed Harris didn’t have a significant effect on minorities and women that many expected her to have. For example, although 37% of women had a favorable opinion of Harris, that was a mere 2% difference over the 35% of women who had a good view of Pence. Additionally, the former attorney general couldn’t manage to get approval from the majority of Black voters, receiving 48% favorability.
Overall, vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris’s predicted effects on the election are somewhat exaggerated, as the appeal of her diversity and her policies are questionable. However, if all the Biden campaign needs is a passionate debater, she might be just enough to make a difference in the upcoming election.