Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California on Wednesday delivered the most consequential speech of her political career as she accepted the Democratic vice presidential nomination and established her role as the attack dog and heir apparent of Joseph R. Biden.
Ms. Harris, a 55-year-old former California attorney general and San Francisco district attorney, will be called on to prosecute the case against President Trump and go toe-to-toe with Vice President Mike Pence at the single vice presidential debate in October.
“Right now, we have a president who turns our tragedies into political weapons,” she said. “Joe will be a president who turns our challenges into purpose.”
Ms. Harris, the first woman of color to be on a major-party presidential ticket, said the country is at an “inflection point.”
“We must elect a president who will bring something different, something better, and do the important work,” she said. “A president who will bring all of us together — Black, White, Latino, Asian, Indigenous — to achieve the future we collectively want. We must elect Joe Biden.”
She said Mr. Trump’s “failure of leadership” has “cost lives and livelihoods.”
She took the Democratic National Convention stage after former President Barack Obama, who made history as the country’s first Black president and asked viewers to trust Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris “to lead this country out of dark times.”
“Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” Mr. Obama said. “He’s shown no interest in putting in the work … no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.”
Mr. Obama said Mr. Biden, his former right-hand man, made him a better president and that he has “the character and the experience to make us a better country.”
Mr. Obama had said Mr. Biden “nailed” the pick when he tapped Ms. Harris to be his running mate last week and that the senator is “more than prepared for the job.”
Hillary Clinton, the party’s 2016 presidential nominee and the first woman to top a ticket, warmed up the virtual DNC for Ms. Harris by warning Democrats against complacency.
“This can’t be another woulda, coulda, shoulda election,” Mrs. Clinton said, according to prepared remarks. “Vote like our lives and livelihoods are on the line, because they are.”
She also gave Ms. Harris a shout-out, saying she’s “relentless in the pursuit of justice and equity” and that she’ll be able to take on incoming fire.
“Tonight, I’m thinking of the girls and boys who see themselves in America’s future because of Kamala Harris,” Mrs. Clinton said.
Her sister Maya, niece Meena and stepdaughter Ella Emhoff also delivered speeches on her behalf in a video Wednesday evening.
South Carolina state Sen. Dick Harpootlian, a surrogate for the Biden campaign, predicted that Ms. Harris would “disembowel Mike Pence” in the vice presidential debate.
“She is the right woman at the right time in our nation’s history,” he said.
Ms. Harris‘ presidential campaign flamed out before the first rounds of voting in Iowa and New Hampshire even started this year, as she failed to live up to rave reviews her candidacy won at its launch.
Polls show she is judged more favorably now as the second banana than running for the top of the ticket.
Ms. Harris faces similar criticism as Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton did for appearing detached or standoffish at times, a quality that can be the kiss of death in retail politics of the presidential campaign trail.
CBS late-night host Stephen Colbert pressed Ms. Harris in June about how she could take down Mr. Biden in a debate, jabbing him for opposing busing to desegregate public schools, and then do an about-face to back him for president.
“It was a debate,” said a laughing Ms. Harris.
“So you don’t mean it,” Mr. Colbert suggested.
“It was a debate,” she repeated. “I am one thousand percent supportive of Joe Biden.”
Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist with close ties to the White House, said Ms. Harris is the political chameleon that Team Biden wanted.
“They wanted a political shape-shifter — someone who can be a Bernie Bro to one part of the country and a law-and-order centrist in another who also can serve as an attack dog for Biden against Trump,” Mr. O’Connell said. “Who can hide behind either the race or gender card when the rhetoric gets too hot.”
She also enjoys deference from political heavyweights.
In 2013, Mr. Obama took some heat for calling Ms. Harris “by far, the best-looking attorney general in the country” at a San Francisco fundraiser. He later apologized for the remark, which attracted criticism from some Democrats for being sexist.
Mr. Obama then made light of the comment at that year’s White House Correspondents Association Dinner, calling it a “rookie mistake.”
Born in Oakland, California, to a Jamaican father and Indian mother, Ms. Harris graduated from Howard University in the District of Columbia before going on to become district attorney in San Francisco and California attorney general.
She was elected to the Senate in 2016.
She gained notoriety for her sharp questioning of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearings, though it was Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a former 2020 presidential rival, who managed to coax an apology out of then-Judge Kavanaugh after he asked Ms. Klobuchar whether she had ever blacked out while drinking.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said Ms. Harris had the best presidential rollout of any 2020 contender and that she might well have been Mr. Biden’s pick on merits alone even if race wasn’t a factor.
“Her ability as a prosecutor — someone that’s tried cases, has presented evidence — will hold her in good stead because when you’re running against an incumbent president, you’re essentially prosecuting the case against that person getting a second term,” Mr. Rendell said.
By teaming up with Ms. Harris, Mr. Biden, 77, may have set the trajectory for the Democratic Party for the next decade.
The former vice president said in May that he thinks of himself as a “transition” candidate.
If he wins in November and is reelected, he would be 82 years old at his second inauguration.
“My job is to bring the Mayor Petes of the world into this administration,” he said at a fundraiser with Pete Buttigieg, the openly gay former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who narrowly won the Iowa caucuses before dropping out of the presidential race.
A Rasmussen survey this month found that 59% of likely voters, including 49% of Democrats, think there is a good chance that Ms. Harris will have to assume the presidency before Mr. Biden’s first term is over.
“We have to look at her in a very different light than we would most vice presidential candidates,” Mr. O’Connell said.
Mr. Rendell said Mr. Biden got to where he is now partly because of his record as a two-term vice president under Mr. Obama.
“I’m sure Joe Biden will delegate some important initiatives to her, as Barack Obama did to him,” he said, citing the implementation of the $800 billion stimulus package that was approved in 2009. “I think because Kamala is fairly new, I think that people will say to themselves, ‘Well, this will give us a chance to see how she does as vice president.’”
He said Democrats have a strong bench, naming Ms. Klobuchar, Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as examples.
Ms. Harris struggled to find a clearly defined “lane” in the Democratic primary contest, with Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts on the left and Mr. Biden, Ms. Klobuchar and Mr. Buttigieg toward the middle.
“She is only a moderate if your definition of conservatism is Nancy Pelosi,” Mr. O’Connell said.
In 2017, Ms. Harris was an early co-sponsor of Mr. Sanders’ “Medicare for All” government-run health care proposal.
Asked in January 2019 whether people could keep their private health insurance under her plan, she said: “Let’s eliminate all of that. Let’s move on.”
Ms. Harris later said her statement was a call to get rid of bureaucracy and waste, not private insurance, after facing much criticism for suggesting that private insurance that Americans like would be eliminated.
At a Democratic debate in June 2019, she raised her hand when candidates were asked whether they would ditch private insurance plans in favor of a government-run program.
The next morning, she said she thought the question was about candidates’ personal health insurance policies.
By the end of July 2019, she tried to carve out a middle ground by introducing a phased-in Medicare system that would allow private insurers to sell plans as long as they met Medicare requirements on prices and services.
In a July 2019 debate, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii ripped Ms. Harris‘ prosecutorial record. She said Ms. Harris needlessly locked up too many people for marijuana-related offenses.
Ms. Harris responded by issuing a general defense of her record as attorney general of California and saved a sharper retort for a post-debate interview in which she dismissed Ms. Gabbard as a low-polling “apologist” for Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
“This is going to sound immodest, but I’m obviously a top-tier candidate, and so I did expect that I would be on the stage and take hits,” Ms. Harris said on CNN. “I can only take what she says and her opinion so seriously.”
In a November debate, she said Ms. Gabbard “buddied up” with former Trump campaign and White House operative Steve Bannon and spent much of the Obama administration criticizing the former president on Fox News.
“What we need … in November is someone who has the ability to win,” Ms. Harris said.
Less than two weeks later, she ended her campaign.
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