With Harris, Biden seeks spark but no extra glare for campaign

Washington: By selecting Kamala Harris as his running mate, Joe Biden is seeking to remedy one of his main flaws as a presidential candidate: a lack of enthusiasm among younger and more progressive voters.

It's a strategic, carefully-considered decision – albeit one that carries the risk of Biden being overshadowed by his compelling, less familiar deputy.

Biden has so far been a formidable opponent for Donald Trump, as demonstrated by his sustained lead in both the national and battleground state polls.

Joe Biden wants some of Kamala Harris’ glow. Credit:AP

Biden’s core campaign pledge – a return to competence and compassion in the White House – has proven appealing to a nation facing a pandemic, mass unemployment and a reckoning over race relations.

To Trump’s frustration, he has been unable to vilify Biden nearly as effectively as he did with "crooked" Hillary Clinton in 2016.

But while he is broadly well-liked, 77-year-old Biden is not an electrifying campaigner.

“Let’s go win this, @KamalaHarris” tweeted Joe Biden after he selected her as his vice-presidential running mate.

Polls repeatedly show that Democrats are more excited to vote against Trump rather than for their party’s presumptive nominee. Even in Democratic strongholds like New York and Los Angeles, it’s rare to see a Biden 2020 lawn sign or bumper sticker on display.

As the first black woman ever to appear on a presidential ticket, Harris is a historic and attention-grabbing pick.

By choosing the 55-year-old senator, Biden believes he can inject a surge of energy into his campaign without scaring away moderate voters. He’s sending a message to Democrats that, although he may be an "old white guy", he understands the importance of gender and racial diversity to modern America.

Biden's choice reveals a candidate operating from a position of strength, but not complacency.

For black women – the Democratic Party's most reliable voters – he is telling them specifically that he does not take their votes for granted.

Biden’s choice is not as high-risk as John McCain’s Sarah Palin selection in 2008, nor as overly-cautious as Hillary Clinton’s 2016 running mate Tim Kaine. It reveals a candidate operating from a position of strength, but not complacency. He’s seeking to enhance his electoral appeal, not to upend the direction of the campaign.

Since Biden announced in March that he would choose a woman as his running mate, there has been an air of inevitability about Harris' selection. In some ways, that's perplexing.

Harris has only been in Congress since 2017, making her a relative newcomer to the national stage.

Her home state of California is safely Democratic, meaning she's unlikely to deliver victory in a battleground state. She dropped out of the Democratic primaries as a presidential candidate early after falling between the cracks of the party’s moderate and progressive wings.

During the first Democratic debate last year, Harris attacked Biden over his opposition to the forced integration of black and white school districts in the 1970s and 1980s (a practice known as busing).

Biden and his family were hurt by the attack, and his allies have recently grumbled about Harris not showing enough "remorse".

In the end, Biden didn’t hold a grudge.

Harris ticked enough boxes to win him over.

Having served on the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees, as well as attorney-general of the nation's most populous state, she is sufficiently qualified to be president.

She is centre-left, but not a socialist. As a former prosecutor, she is well placed to go hard against Trump while Biden campaigns as a national unifier.

That's all in theory of course.

So far, Biden's subdued campaign has been working for him. If Harris slips up on the campaign trail, Trump will seize upon it and try to use as proof that Democrats are "radical" and out-of-touch.

Given Biden's advanced age, Harris will be under even more scrutiny than usual as a potential president-in-waiting.

As with doctors, the first rule for vice-presidential nominees is: do no harm. Harris' job until November 3 is to add spark to the Democratic ticket without overshadowing Biden.

With the party conventions beginning next week, the US election campaign now enters a more intense and significant phase. There's no room for error.

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