Washington Wednesday – Kamala Harris joins team Biden

NICK EICHER, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 12th of August, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. First up: we have a winner in the veepstakes.

EICHER:After weeks of deliberating, the Biden campaign revealed that it had whittled the choices to one. 

And Kamala Harris is officially joining the ticket.

BASHAM: Well, it’s Washington Wednesday and joining us now to talk about Tuesday’s announcement and what it might tell us about Biden’s strategy is Kyle Kondik. He’s with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. Good morning!

KYLE KONDIK, GUEST: Good morning.

BASHAM: We know Harris’s basic resume: former prosecutor, California attorney general, and now U.S. senator for the last three-and-a-half years. Did her resume make the difference?

KONDIK: Look, I think she has an adequate level of federal experience. Typically running mates do have elected experience, but also have maybe a longer resume of kind of higher-level elected experience, so either a governor or a serving member of the Senate or the U.S. House. So, Harris—at only three and a half years in the Senate—she’s a little light in that regard. Although, she was elected to two terms as California’s state attorney general and that’s an important job in the nation’s largest state. So that does give her a mix of what is sort of executive experience as an attorney general and also as a prominent member of the Senate. And part of her resume, too, is that she did run for president and, now, I don’t think her presidential campaign went particularly well. But she is vetted to a greater degree, I think, than many of the other people who were mentioned as Democratic vice presidential contenders. And, to me, that makes her a little bit more of a safe choice in that sometimes there are unflattering things that come out about a running mate after that person is chosen. The likelihood of something coming out that we don’t know about Harris already is probably slimmer than with some of these other contenders who had not been in the public eye as much.

BASHAM: There’s been a lot of talk about police reform and even defunding the police among the Democratic base. Now Biden has chosen someone with a law enforcement background. Could that be a liability for him when it comes to energizing his base? 

KONDIK: I do think that in some ways you’ll see the Trump campaign attack Harris in similar ways to how they’ve been attacking Biden in that they’ll find things from Harris’s record in which maybe she sided with law enforcement over reformers in certain ways and they’ll use it as a way to communicate with typical Democratic constituencies that maybe to argue that the Biden-Harris ticket is not right for them. They did sort of a similar thing against Hillary Clinton in 2016 and maybe had a little bit of success in maybe depressing Democratic turnout a little bit. Experts might be a little divided as to how prevalent that was. But that is some messaging I think you’ll see from the Trump campaign.

Now, on the other hand, I think that Biden wants to try to position himself and his ticket in a way in which they can credibly say they’re on the side of law enforcement reformers, but also not be so in favor to changes to law enforcement that their seen as being allied with the far left and so in some ways Harris’s law enforcement background or background as a district attorney and an attorney general might actually help Biden occupy maybe more of the middle on the kind of reform versus law enforcement debate that really has been so prevalent and so noteworthy in the last several months as there’ve been so many protests about inequities, racial inequities in policing. And, actually, a lot of changes in public opinion that I think the general public is maybe more open to law enforcement reform than it has been in the past.

BASHAM: Let’s talk about the Republican side of this selection. It’s still early, but yesterday House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy put out a statement drawing attention to the fact that last year Biden called Harris unfit to serve as president. He also said Harris wants to—quote—“turn America into San Francisco.” Is that a preview of how Republicans will cast Harris? 

KONDIK: Yeah, look, Republicans love to paint the Democratic party as being San Francisco liberals and, hey, we’ve got a Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, who is in fact a San Francisco liberal and Kamala Harris, the running mate, is also from San Francisco and also is liberal. So again, that’s a familiar line of attack that you’re going to hear from Republicans. As for bad blood from the primary, there’s a long history of former rivals coming together in a general election. And there have been some successful presidential tickets in the past that featured rivals from a presidential nominating contest. Obama-Biden was actually one of those in 2008 and also the Ronald Reagan-George H.W. Bush ticket in 1980, 1984 which is one of the most successful tickets of all time. Reagan and Bush were sort of at each other’s throat in that 1980 primary. So I think it’s certainly fair for the other side to point out ways in which these candidates have argued in the past, but I’m sure they know those attacks are coming and they’ll have ways to respond to them. 

BASHAM: There’s been a lot of talk about Biden’s age. He’ll be 78 this November, and he’s referred to himself as a “transitional” candidate. To what extent will Harris be something closer to a candidate than a running mate? 

KONDIK: Well, look, I think people are aware of Biden’s advanced age. I think they’re aware of what Biden himself has said about him acting as a bridge to the next generation of Democratic leaders and I think this running mate slot was very attractive to many of these contenders because running mates often do end up becoming presidential candidates and presidential nominees and even presidents in the future and, look, it’s possible that if Biden were to get elected he hypothetically might not run again in 2024 and Harris would probably be the leading candidate then or she might be a leading candidate if Biden loses and there’s an open Democratic primary in 2024 or an open Democratic primary in 2028. So, this slot—so long as Harris does a credible job as the VP and doesn’t hurt herself—this is something that she can maybe parlay into a presidential nomination in the future. 

BASHAM: Assuming the debates go ahead as planned, Harris will face off with Vice President Mike Pence in early October. Pence tends to have a more measured communication style. Harris, as a former prosecutor, is much more fiery. How do you think that matchup will play out? And what effect, if any, might that have on the race?

KONDIK: There’ve been some famous moments from vice presidential debates in the past. I think the one that a lot of people might remember—particularly older folks—was in the 1988 vice presidential debate when Democrat Lloyd Benson told Republican Dan Quayle, “You’re no Jack Kennedy,” after Dan Quayle had sort of compared his own level of experience to Kennedy. That’s the one that’s kind of funny. But, of course, Quayle had some problems as the running mate. But Bush-Quayle pretty easily won in 1988 ultimately. I think back to the Mike Pence-Tim Kaine debate from 2016 and, frankly, I don’t really remember anything particularly memorable about it. And I don’t know if you can say that VP debates have really mattered all that much in the past. Maybe this one would matter, but generally speaking it’s the presidential debates that really get more attention. It’s the one night in the spotlight for the VP candidates other than maybe their acceptance address at the conventions. A lot of people will watch, but then you’ll sort of move on to the rest of the campaign. 

BASHAM: Kyle Kondik is a political analyst with the University of Virginia Center for Politics. Thanks for joining us today.

KONDIK: Thank you.

(AP Photo/John Locher, File) In this Oct. 2, 2019, file photo, then -Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., listens during a gun safety forum in Las Vegas. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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