Why Joe Biden needs Kamala Harris

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, is set to announce his running mate this week. The reveal has been highly anticipated as Biden promised to select a woman as vice president if he won the nomination. Given the significant role that black voters played in his nomination, it is likely that the former vice president will select a black woman.

It appears like Senator Kamala Harris from California and former national security adviser Susan Rice are the best contenders. While the reveal has been pushed back a number of times as the campaign continues internal deliberations and vetting, it has become clear that the one logical choice is Harris. In order to build the general election coalition that is necessary to win, Biden needs a vice president who meets three criteria.

First, his choice needs to be someone who has the ability, stature, and experience to assume the presidency at any moment, given the age of Biden when he enters office if he wins the election, which is especially imperative since the campaign of Donald Trump has made his age and mental fitness a hallmark of its continued attacks against him.

Second, given that Democrats have moved further to the left on several policy issues, the person that Biden selects for vice president has to be somewhat of a unifying figure for both centrists and progressives in the party, as well as attract independent voters needed for victory.

Third, Biden has an enthusiasm deficit among Democrats. Voters are less motivated by real enthusiasm for him and more by their dislike of Trump. An ideal running mate would excite minority voters and younger people, and show them a positive reason to turn out for Biden this fall.

Harris is the candidate who fits the criteria. As a prosecutor, former state attorney general, and now senator with national recognition, she has the ability, stature, and experience essential for vice president. While there is consternation among progressives about her tough on crime record, this could benefit Biden and allow him to attract centrists and even moderate Republicans, many of whom have defected from Trump and lean toward Biden, but are disenchanted by demands to defund the police.

Further, as a black woman who was a major contender for the Democratic nomination and who has a relatively progressive, however not necessarily extreme, stance on those important policy issues such as health care and climate change, Harris is uniquely positioned to generate the high level of excitement and enthusiasm within the party that Biden needs.

Moreover, her memorable attacks on Biden during the first Democratic primary debate over racial segregation and busing is not a deal breaker. Indeed, during the 1980 campaign, George Bush famously derided the “voodoo economics” proposed by Ronald Reagan and then went on to serve as vice president with his administration for two terms.

On the other hand, Rice has no domestic policy experience and has never held elected office. She did have a government career where she reached the highest levels of administrations and most recently served as national security adviser for Barack Obama. While her foreign policy experience is considerable, not all of it works in favor of Biden. Rice has seen persistent accusations of misleading the public as she tried to explain the Benghazi disaster in 2012. Given the liability that proved to be for Hillary Clinton in 2016, that alone is reason to not select Rice for vice president.

Further, Rice is not necessarily a relatable or electrifying figure within the party, and she would do nothing to energize or motivate the Democratic base of voters. In fact, she may actually deter some progressives, due to her financial investments in several industries, such as the controversial Keystone Pipeline, stand at odds with important liberal causes.

No other candidate or member of Congress besides Harris has the ability, stature, and experience to be on the ticket, notably in the situation where she could have to assume the presidency at any time. In my view, the only other choice better than Harris that would effectively guarantee victory is Michelle Obama. She consistently outshines the several other Democratic prospects in terms of polling, favorability, and leadership style.

There is virtually no chance that Obama would accept the nomination. Yet if there is one thing I have learned in my decades of working in politics, it is to never say never and understand that anything is possible.

Douglas Schoen is a pollster and a political consultant who has served as adviser to Bill Clinton and Michael Bloomberg. His latest book out is “The End of Democracy: Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”

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