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Picking Harris, Biden puts centrist stamp on Democrats' future

Janet Hook, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- In picking Kamala Harris as his running mate, Joe Biden set a marker for how he believes Democrats can win -- both in this election and in the future -- with a multiracial coalition that can excite voters, but a center-left brand that steers clear of the most far-reaching progressive demands.

Harris, like Biden, but unlike some of the other women who were considered, has rebuffed some demands of the party's rising progressive wing. That's a profile that could help Biden appeal to moderate swing voters he needs to win in states like Michigan and Wisconsin.

It's also a political stance that, at least in the early going, has complicated the Trump White House's efforts to portray the ticket as "dangerous radicals." On one hand, President Donald Trump has portrayed Harris as a hard-left socialist; on the other hand, he's attacked her for her record as a prosecutor.

Ideological attacks by Republicans on the Biden-Harris ticket won't stick, predicted Susan Rice, the former Obama national security adviser who was one of the women Biden considered.

"They have been set up to position their assault on whoever was to be the vice president-elect as left and socialist. It's not true. That is not who Kamala Harris is. And it's not who Joe Biden is," Rice said during an interview Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show.

Biden, who is 77, has said that he considers himself a transitional leader for the party. Harris, 55, represents what may be a long-overdue generational change for Democrats. In picking her, Biden is asserting his own influence on how that generational change will play out.


The risk for Biden is that passing up more strongly progressive choices puts him further out of step with the political energy that has fueled street protests across the country. Energy on the left has played out in primary victories by people of color who have challenged establishment incumbents in several House races this year as well as in the campaign of Biden's most durable primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

Briahna Joy Gray, Sanders' former campaign press secretary, objected to the Harris pick on Twitter:

"We are in the midst of the largest protest movement in American history, the subject of which is excessive policing, and the Democratic Party chose a 'top cop' and the author of the Joe Biden crime bill to save us from Trump. The contempt for the base is, wow."

For Biden, however, the choice involves a calculated risk based on the belief that most of the party's progressive activists are so motivated to oust Trump that they will not flag in support for the ticket, even if he didn't reach for an ideological complement to his centrist brand like Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.


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