Joe Biden and Kamala Harris delivered an aggressive one-two attack on the character and performance of President Donald Trump on August 12, as they made their election case for the first time as running mates.
Mr. Biden, a 77-year-old white man, embraced the significance of naming the first African-American woman to a major party’s presidential ticket, but he also focused on other attributes Ms. Harris brings to the ticket. He hailed the California senator, the 55-year-old former prosecutor who a year ago excoriated Mr. Biden on a primary debate stage, as the right woman to help him defeat Trump and then lead a nation facing crises in triplicate — a pandemic, wounded economy and long— simmering reckoning with racism.
"Kamala knows how to govern. She knows how to make the hard calls. She’s ready to do this job on day one,” he said.
Reflecting the coronavirus pandemic, both candidates came onstage wearing protective masks in a high school gym with relatively few in attendance, not in a hall filled with cheering supporters as would normally be the case. Both spoke without masks but did not physically embrace.
Mr. Biden praised her experience vigorously questioning Trump administration officials in the Senate, and highlighted the historic nature of her pick, noting she’s the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica.
"This morning, all across the nation, little girls woke up — especially little black and brown girls, who so often feel overlooked and undervalued in their communities. But today, today, just maybe, they’re seeing themselves for the first time in a new way,” Mr. Biden said.
Taking the stage after him, she flicked at some of the gender critiques she’d faced throughout the Democratic primary, saying she was “mindful of all the ambitious women before me, whose sacrifice, determination and resilience makes my presence here today even possible.” She then launched into an attack on Trump, lambasting him for a lack of leadership on the coronavirus pandemic.
"This is a moment of real consequence for America. Everything we care about — our economy, our health, our children, the kind of country we live in — it’s all on the line,” she said.
Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris showed clear affection toward one another, with Mr. Biden calling her an “honorary Biden” and Ms. Harris offering an emotional tribute to his son Beau, whom she was friends with when both served as attorneys general. Mr. Biden seemed overcome with emotion as Ms. Harris spoke of Beau, who died in 2015, as “the best of us” and a man who modelled himself after his father.
She signalled that she’ll offer a vigorous defence of Mr. Biden’s qualifications on issues of race and civil rights, though she made headlines for assailing him for his past opposition to federally mandated busing during a primary debate last year.
Noting his own vice presidency under President Barack Obama, she said he “takes his place in the ongoing story of America’s march towards equality and justice” as the only person “who’s served alongside the first black president and has chosen the first black woman as his running mate”.
The surreal nature of the scene was not only a woman of colour stepping into the role that could carry her to the White House, but doing so in a mostly empty gym. Masked reporters nearly outnumbered campaign aides and the candidates’ families members in a grim reminder of a coronavirus pandemic that has killed 165,000 Americans, while yielding Depression-level unemployment and World War II-level national deficits.
In any other presidential election, vice-presidential picks are greeted with adoring throngs, and Ms. Harris, given her profile, almost certainly could have expected an even more enthusiastic welcome to the ticket. On Wednesday, about 100 supporters stood outside the gymnasium waving signs prior to her arrival, with no hopes of being allowed inside.
The event was the first in a rollout that Mr. Biden aides say blends the historic nature of Ms. Harris’ selection with the realities of the 2020 campaign and the gravity of the nation’s circumstances. Later Wednesday, the pair were leading an online grassroots fundraiser. They will continue campaigning together through the Democrats’ virtual convention that runs next Monday through Thursday.
They’ll nonetheless have to paper over differences exposed during the primary campaign, from Ms. Harris’ initial support for a single-payer health insurance system and the Green New Deal to her deeply personal debate-stage broadside against Mr. Biden over his opposition to federally mandated busing to integrate public schools in the 1970s.
Trump has seized on those dynamics, tagging Ms. Harris as “Phony Kamala” and casting her as the latest evidence that Mr. Biden, a five-decade veteran of the Democratic establishment, is captive to his party’s left flank.
White House adviser Kellyanne Conway on Wednesday insisted Ms. Harris is “very much part of the radical left” and suggested the senator will have a hard time not outshining Mr. Biden, whose age and fitness for office Conway frequently mocks. “He’s overshadowed basically by almost everyone he comes in contact with,” she said.
Mr. Biden’s campaign seemed prepared for the counteroffensive, noting that just weeks ago, Mr. Trump said Ms. Harris would be a “fine choice.” And campaign finance records show that Mr. Trump contributed as a private citizen to Ms. Harris’ attorney general campaigns in California. Ms. Harris was elected to the Senate in 2016.
She has broadly endorsed the Green New Deal, progressives’ most ambitious set of proposals to combat the climate crisis, but she didn’t make that an anchor of her presidential bid. Mr. Biden has moved left on his climate proposals during the 2020 campaign but has not fully embraced the Green New Deal.
In Washington, Ms. Harris has advocated overhauling the criminal justice system, intensifying her efforts since George Floyd’s killing by a white Minneapolis officer in May. And she’s called for sweeping domestic programmes to benefit the working and middle class. But she has taken heat for some of her aggressive stances as a local prosecutor in the San Francisco area and for not prosecuting bank executives in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse.
That mixed record could have unpredictable effects in a national campaign.
Mr. Biden bets that, on balance, Ms. Harris has broad appeal that will shore up any weaknesses with African-American women, an anchor of the Democratic Party, and other voters of colour, while juicing turnout among white liberals and coaxing support from independents and Republican-leaning white voters who have soured on Mr. Trump.
Karen Finney, a prominent African-American strategist in the Democratic Party, pointed to immediate fundraising success as evidence that Mr. Biden’s take on Ms. Harris is better than Mr. Trump’s. Act Blue, Democrats’ online fundraising arm, reported taking in almost $11 million in the hours after Mr. Biden’s announcement, and the Mr. Biden campaign expected a massive haul from Wednesday evening’s fundraiser, potentially rivalling previous events with Mr. Obama and former 2020 rival Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
"We won’t get the visual,” Mr. Finney said, referring to the realities of a coronavirus—era campaign. “But you can already feel the energy and excitement.”