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What To Expect From Kamala Harris As VP Pick

A Texas A&M politics expert breaks down Joe Biden's historic choice in running mate and what it could mean for the election.

By Caitlin Clark, Texas A&M University Division of Marketing & Communications

Joe Biden has selected U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California as his running mate, a choice that a Texas A&M University expert says is at the same time historic and conventional.

Harris is the first Black woman and first person of Indian descent to appear on a major-party U.S. presidential ticket. Still, she is seen as a Democratic Party insider who shares Biden’s centrist politics, and could be considered a “safe” choice, said Kirby Goidel, director of the Public Policy Research Institute and a professor in the College of Liberal Arts.

“It tells us that he is looking for a traditional candidate – he didn’t go to a progressive to add to the ticket,” Goidel said. “He didn’t go to electoral politics. She’s from a state that Democrats are likely going to win, and she doesn’t add ideological balance. She is someone he feels comfortable with, that he thinks is talented and has a good future.”

Goidel thinks Harris is a “great pick” – she has experience as a prosecutor and sitting senator in California, and proved to be “sharp and aggressive” during the confirmation hearings for Trump appointees including Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Biden even found himself on the receiving end of Harris’ sharp criticism early during the Democratic Primaries.

Goidel said that having run for office in California, Harris has won more votes than others who might have been considered for the job, like former Obama administration official Susan Rice.

“One of the reasons I like the state is if you have to run and win in California, that’s about as close to running for national office as you can get in the U.S., because you’re going to be subjected to a lot of scrutiny,” Goidel said. “I think what we’re going to see is she’s pretty good at that.”

The Trump campaign, though, will likely seize on her experience in California as evidence that Harris is a liberal who is “out of touch with the rest of America,” Goidel said. And from the left, Harris will be criticized for her record on crime, policing and criminal justice during her time as a prosecutor.

“There will be some sexism. One of the criticisms that we heard of her when she was being vetted is she was too ambitious, and that’s not the kind of charge you make against a male candidate,” Goidel said. “It’s certainly something that the right will point out, that she can’t wait to be president, like that’s a bad thing.”

Ultimately, Biden’s choice in running mate may not play much of a role in deciding an election shaped by a polarizing incumbent, a global pandemic, an unprecedented recession and a national movement toward racial justice after the death of George Floyd.

Vice presidents typically do not play a role in most people’s votes, Goidel said, and even “pretty bad” running mates have not hurt tickets in the past. He points to former Vice President Dan Quayle, who Goidel said floundered under the national spotlight when selected by former President George H.W. Bush, but did not cost Bush the race.

Harris is disciplined and focused, Goidel said, and will be helpful in reinforcing campaign messaging. “In that way, I don’t see any way she hurts Biden too much,” he said.

While Harris’ role as the vice presidential candidate may be limited, it could potentially set her up as the Democratic Party’s heir apparent.

At 77, the former vice president’s age makes it unlikely that he would run for a second term, if elected, Goidel said. The 55-year-old Harris could have an advantage in positioning herself as a future leader come 2024.

“Objectively, I think she’s got the experience and qualifications for being the pick,” Goidel said. “Now the question is with the scrutiny that’s going to come from the pick, can she handle it, and does she handle it well? And does she add to the ticket, or create problems for the ticket? My guess is she’ll be fine.”