Kamala Harris an assured performer but past record faces scrutiny

Critics say Joe Biden’s running mate took insufficient action against police misconduct during legal career

The announcement by Joe Biden that California senator Kamala Harris will be his presidential running mate followed feverish speculation in recent weeks about who would join him on the Democratic ticket in November's election.

Almost a dozen women were seriously considered by his four-member selection committee, after Biden committed to choosing a female candidate during the last Democratic debate against Bernie Sanders in March.

A last-minute visit by Michigan governor Gretchen Whitmer in recent days to Delaware, where Biden is sitting out the coronavirus pandemic, prompted speculation that she was emerging as a late favourite. Names including former national security adviser Susan Rice and Illinois senator Tammy Duckworth had also moved to the forefront in recent days.

But in the end, Biden chose the woman who was the early favourite. Harris, an assured and accomplished performer in the Senate, has long been perceived as a leadership figure within the Democratic Party.


Nonetheless, her own bid for the presidency was viewed as disappointing. Her mixed messages on healthcare in particular suggested she was a candidate who lacked a clear focus.

Ironically, her standout moment of the campaign was during the June Democratic debate when she took on Biden about his previous opposition to bussing – a strategy to improve racial integration in American schools.

Biden was reportedly deeply hurt by the intervention, and it says something about his character that he moved on from the episode.

While Biden’s decision brings an end to months of speculation, the scrutiny of Harris is only beginning.

In particular, her record as a prosecutor will come under the spotlight following fresh interest in issues of criminal justice reform and policing in the wake of the death of George Floyd in police custody.

To many on the left of the party, Harris took insufficient action against alleged police misconduct during her legal career, though Harris highlights the progressive reforms she introduced during her time in law enforcement, such as the “Back on Track” programme for low-level young offenders.

But in a sign of how a candidate’s credentials that can be interpreted in different ways, the Trump campaign tried to paint Harris as a “radical left” Democrat who wants to defund the police. A press release issued minutes after the Biden’s announcement said she had “gleefully embraced the left’s radical manifesto”.

Harris’s famous steely nerves and quiet composure are likely to be skills she will need in the coming months.