Friday, May 22, 2020




          For months, California’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris has campaigned hard to convince presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joseph Biden he should make her his vice presidential running mate.

          The ever-ambitious, well-spoken and fast-on-her-feet Harris fits into many categories Biden openly seeks to match: She’s black, female and could appeal to foreign-born voters as the daughter of an immigrant. She would likely overwhelm the ever-meek current Vice President Mike Pence if and when they debate. In case of a loss, she would hold onto her seat in the Senate.

          But many political analysts believe that’s as far as it goes.

          For Harris also has political downsides. For one thing, she won’t get Biden many votes or states he would not otherwise win. He has California’s 55 electoral votes in the bag before the campaign really starts, holding a 30-point lead over President Trump in the latest polling. And he already dominates among African American voters.

          Harris sandbagged Biden in the first Democratic debate last year, unexpectedly scorching him for being soft 40 years ago on school busing for desegregation. Her surprise attack derailed Biden’s early momentum, which took more than six months to recover.

          In her only seriously contested statewide California race, Harris won by the narrowest margin of any major officeholder here in decades. While still serving as San Francisco’s district attorney in 2010, she barely beat Republican Steve Cooley, then the top Los Angeles prosecutor, in their run for state attorney general – during a Democratic California sweep. Harris won by less than 1 percent (74,000 votes out of 9.6 million cast), the outcome in question until a month after the vote.

          This despite several political blunders by Cooley, who insisted that if elected, he would collect his six-figure Los Angeles County pension while drawing another six-figure salary as attorney general.

          On the face of it, Harris might have some appeal to progressive, Bernie Sanders-style Democrats. But that lasts only until they look at her record.

While a district attorney, Harris backed a proposed law enabling prosecution of parents whose kids were habitually truant from school. This could have disproportionally affected people of color and the poor.

          As attorney general, she appealed when a federal judge in Orange County ruled the death penalty unconstitutional in 2014. And a federal appeals court found her office willfully hid exculpatory evidence in the case of a stepfather accused of abusing his stepdaughter. As a result, the stepfather remained in prison long after Harris moved on to the Senate, despite evidence his stepdaughter repeatedly lied.

          Trump and Pence would likely not attack Harris for much of this, but would certainly highlight her very close past association with former San Francisco Mayor and state Assembly Speaker Willie Brown.

          Then there’s the question of whether Biden could trust 
Harris after her debate surprise attack. Yet, other vice presidents 
have been chosen despite previous attacks on their future bosses or 
their close associates: George H.W. Bush famously called some 
Ronald Reagan proposals “voodoo economics” and Robert F. 
Kennedy despised Lyndon Johnson, yet Bush and Johnson became 
vice presidents and later presidents. Even Biden at one 
time disparaged Barack Obama.

          Biden, aware he can seem hesitant and even occasionally 
confused, has pledged to run with a woman, but must choose one 
widely considered ready to step into the Oval Office on short 

               “The advantage of Harris is that she might be seen as very independent and outspoken in her own right, which could be a plus with a candidate or a president like Biden,” said Arnold Steinberg, a former Republican consultant who recently has advised ballot proposition campaigns. “She might upstage Biden at times, but her persona and most of her record are solid.”

                   The real question is whether Biden – and later the great mass of American voters – will consider Harris as prepared to be president as senators like Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts or Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

                   It’s Biden’s decision and it will come soon, but Californians can be sure of one thing: Whether or not Harris gets the nod, she has a long career ahead, in California and maybe nationally.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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