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Kamala Harris inherits a crucial job: inspire Black voters in key states

Tyler Pager and Naomi Nix, Bloomberg News on

Published in Political News

Joe Biden is counting on his running mate Kamala Harris and her deep connections to the Black community to boost turnout from one of the Democratic Party's most important voting blocs.

But Harris's difficulty stirring enthusiasm among Black voters during the Democratic primaries show that she still needs to prove she can motivate this constituency, some activists say. Her efforts could be crucial in swing-state cities like Philadelphia, Detroit and Milwaukee where Black voters may prove decisive in defeating President Donald Trump.

"These are questions that she has to answer head on, she actually has to talk about her evolution and talk about the way the world was in terms of her progressive prosecution back when she was a prosecutor, talk about the challenges that she's had and talk about where she's moved," said Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, a racial justice organization.

Prominent Black Democrats are cheering her selection, and political strategists say that Harris, the first Black and Indian-American woman to be on a major party presidential ticket, will enhance Democrats' efforts to win over Black voters.

Since the announcement on Tuesday, many Black Democrats have said it shows a long overdue commitment to African-American voters and the issues that matter to them.

"For once in my lifetime, it doesn't seem like the Democratic Party is taking Black people totally for granted," said Charlamagne Tha God, a host on "The Breakfast Club," a nationally syndicated radio show popular among young Black people. "And you know Black people, we want to show up for who shows up for us."

 

Yet Democratic strategists say Harris, California's junior senator, was held to a higher standard during her presidential run because voters also worried she couldn't beat Trump. She consistently polled in single digits among Black voters, who overwhelmingly supported Biden, followed by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. In particular, she was skewered over her tough-on-crime record during her years as San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general.

"Joe Biden was a candidate that was known," said Chryl Laird, an assistant professor at Bowdoin College who studies the Black electorate. "He had already sat alongside Barack Obama. If you are risk averse, if you are somebody who doesn't want to take a risk in a system that often doesn't allow for that kind of behavior, I think African American voters thought he is the safer bet."

Now, the calculus has changed, Laird said, arguing that Harris, 55, will excite middle-aged and older Black women. She also predicts that Harris will energize younger Black women, including those whose views are to the left of Harris's.

"Even though they are more progressive leaning, the symbolic nature of what she represents as a woman of color will be significant for them," she said.

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