Kamala Harris used humor to swat aside the chatter about her becoming Joe Biden’s running mate: Maybe it should be the other way around, she said Wednesday, given Biden’s experience in the No. 2 job.
But inside her campaign and among allies, such talk is not a laughing matter. They’re rankled by the suggestion, privately venting that it’s demeaning to a woman of color and perpetuates an unfair critique that she’s somehow not prepared for the job she’s actually seeking.
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“It’s infuriating,” a Harris confidant fumed several days before the idea began taking hold in the media.
Since then, the chorus of Democrats sizing up her run and concluding she’d be perfect as Biden’s running mate has rapidly gone from whisper campaign to national narrative. They include some fans of the California senator: Last week, members of the influential Congressional Black Caucus floated Biden and Harris as a “dream ticket.” That put her in the uncomfortable spot of trying to delicately push back on it without offending the group, of which she’s a member.
On Wednesday, Harris joked that Biden would make a fine running mate, rounding out a ticket on which she’s at the top: “As vice president, he’s proven that he knows how to do the job,” Harris told reporters after her town hall in Nashua, N.H.
Harris’ casting as the underling in a possible Biden-Harris duo is partly a product of the former vice president’s big lead in early polling — including in South Carolina, the linchpin of the senator’s electoral strategy.
Privately, her aides and confidants say that it’s far too early to entertain a vice presidential run and that the idea only diminishes her candidacy.
Harris had already been working to dispel the narrative that she’s less “electable” than other 2020 contenders as Democrats try to win back white, working-class voters who backed Donald Trump. The focus on her as vice presidential material is seen by some allies as sexist given the general lack of discussion about whether male presidential hopefuls are viable.
Ian Sams, a campaign spokesman, told POLITICO, “She’s running for president, period, and she intends to win.” Harris’ husband, Doug Emhoff, sent a nearly identical tweet.
Anticipating questions from news media on Wednesday, Harris and her advisers settled on the humorous one-liner, according to an aide.
Further galling to Harris aides and allies is the apparent disregard for her 2-0 electoral record in a state that’s larger than all but a handful of countries. That feat is unmatched by any of her rivals, they say, noting that, yes, Biden won two national elections, but as Barack Obama’s deputy.
“Kamala Harris is seeking the office of the presidency — period,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus. “She is qualified, more than capable to lead this country and has never lost an election.”
Harris has been mentioned as a possible vice presidential nominee to Biden for months, if not years. A New York Times story in March said Biden allies discussed naming Harris, Beto O’Rourke or Stacey Abrams as his running mate long before the nomination is sealed. At the time, such contemplation was seen as a way to elevate a next-generation Democrat while assuaging concerns about Biden’s age. Abrams said she and Biden didn’t discuss their presidential ambitions when they met earlier this year.
“I do not believe you run for second place, and I do not intend to enter a presidential race as a primary candidate for vice president,” Abrams said later.
Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist who advised Abrams, told POLITICO it’s one thing when a candidate’s opponent has dropped out of the race. But homing in on a potential vice presidential pick so early actually does a disservice to Biden.
“It’s ham-handed, but it also shows a lack of understanding of Democratic primary voters,” she said. “Now is the time to be talking about the strength of your candidate — and why your candidate can beat Donald Trump and has the right vision to win, not hypothesizing about running mates.”
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus are divided over whether to back Harris or Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), both members of the group, in the primary, or to support Biden, a popular figure with CBC members and others on the Hill from his decades as a senator and wingman to Obama.
It’s not exactly surprising that Harris is viewed as an appealing No. 2 for Biden. She’s two decades younger and is winning praise from liberals for her tough cross-examinations of Trump officials. Biden has preached bipartisanship and is already clashing with progressives over his stances on the environment and his central role in the 1994 crime bill, which he argues didn’t lead to mass incarceration — a point Harris said Wednesday she “sadly” disagreed with.
California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, a Harris supporter, said the veep talk is a reflection of a strong field in which many Democrats are struggling to pick a favorite. “It’s a real shift from previous elections where typically you pick one person you’re supporting and then you’re against everybody else,” Kounalakis said.
Harris, meantime, remains focused on her own campaign.
“I will tell you that the voters, in my experience, are smarter than a lot of folks give them credit for,” she told CNN on Sunday, pointing to the times when she has been underestimated in previous campaigns. “And people would say, ‘Oh, they’re not ready for that. Oh, no one like her has done it before. Oh, it’s not your time. Oh, it’s going to be a lot of hard work.‘”
“And I didn’t listen,” Harris added. “As far as I’m concerned, my track record on this issue tells me the voters are smarter than hearing and listening to all that noise.”