Joe Biden has made it official. After months of speculation, the presumptive Democratic nominee has confirmed that Senator Kamala Harris will be his running mate. Harris jump-started her run for president by attacking Biden on racial issues during the first primary debate. But the one-time foes seem to have put the past behind them. Harris now joins the ticket as Biden enjoys a large lead in the polls over Donald Trump.
Harris graduated from Hastings College of the Law in 1989, and immediately began working in the Alameda County District Attorney’s office. She first entered the San Francisco political scene in 1995, when she was mentioned in the papers as then California State House Speaker Willie Brown’s new girlfriend.
From there Harris went to work as a prosecutor in San Francisco County. When her boss, incumbent Terrance Hallinan, decided to run for a third term, she challenged him. Hallinan was known as “America’s most progressive district attorney”, but he was scandal plagued and seen as ineffective. The campaign was nasty, but in the end, Harris won by a wide margin. Upon inauguration, she became the first Black district attorney in the history of California.
As District Attorney
Kamala Harris was a strong opponent of the death penalty. When a police officer was shot and killed, she refused to seek the death penalty. Even after Dianne Feinstein and the head of the police union used the officer’s funeral to publicly lobby her to do so, she didn’t budge.
But in a Democratic Party and country that has increasingly viewed the criminal justice system as needing serious reform, Harris is not under attack for being too progressive. Rather, Harris’s record has come under scrutiny for being too conservative. Her initiatives to punish parents whose children missed school consistently have received particular criticism. Many on the left have argued this was using the criminal justice system to criminalize poverty. Harris has pushed back, but her defense of her tactics has dogged her throughout her rise in national Democratic politics.
2010 Attorney General Race
In 2010, when California Attorney General Jerry Brown decided to run for Governor, Kamala Harris launched a run for the position. She made it through a crowded primary with only 33%, beating out a host of candidates that included then-State Assemblyman Ted Lieu.
The general election nearly ended Harris’s national career before it even started. Facing off against moderate Republican Steve Cooley, who was the DA for Los Angeles County, she nearly lost. This was the last midterm before California moved to a jungle primary system, and Kamala Harris may have been saved by it. She won by .8%, barely taking 46% of the vote. Third parties combined for nearly 9%, with right and left-wing third parties taking almost exactly equal shares of the vote.
As Attorney General
Harris’s record as AG has also drawn much condemnation from some parts of the left. Most notably, she has come under fire for filing a brief in court arguing that transgender inmates should not be given the right to gender affirming surgery. Harris has since claimed she was merely fulfilling the wishes of the California Department of Corrections, and pushed behind the scenes for them to change policy. But her detractors argue that her briefs were transphobic and damaging to the inmates affected.
Additionally, reform advocates point to Harris’s record on prison overcrowding as evidence that she lacks true progressive instincts. As AG, California failed to decrowd its prisons as it was instructed to by the Supreme Court. She also continued to pursue criminal penalties against parents whose children were consistently absent from school.
But at the time, these issues presented few problems for her. She won re-election by 15 percentage points in 2014 and had put herself on the fast track for a national profile. When the Supreme Court took up the issue of California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Harris urged them to find it unconstitutional. When they overturned it on procedural grounds, Harris officiated the first legal same-sex wedding in the state.
In the Senate
Only about eight weeks after she won re-election as California’s Attorney General, Kamala Harris launched a run for Senate. Her early bid boxed out other top contenders, and she was a strong favorite from the get-go. She finished first in the jungle primary and defeated Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez in the November runoff with over 60% of the vote.
Harris immediately became a national figure. She was being pegged as a potential president within a week of her win. During her term she has gained a reputation as one of the President’s fiercest opponents, producing a viral question of Brett Kavanaugh even before the allegations of sexual misconduct against him arose.
Race for the White House
In many ways, Harris’s quest for the White House was years in the making. She was first mentioned as a potential future president in 2008. When she declared she would seek the Democratic nomination in 2020, she was considered a formidable candidate.
In the first debate, Harris lived up to that promise. She attacked Joe Biden over his record on busing. She rose quickly in the polls after the attack, and briefly looked to be becoming a frontrunner. However, Harris faded quickly. She couldn’t replicate the strength of that moment, and her polls dropped. She would suspend her campaign before Iowa even voted.
Now she sits closer to the presidency than ever. With her attacks on Biden looking like water under the bridge, Harris could be, as observers like to say, a heartbeat away from the presidency. Her effect on the ticket is unknown. Most VP picks have minimal effects barring a total catastrophe, and the same will likely be true of Harris.
However, Biden and Harris are both likely mindful that Biden’s age will be at the forefront of voter’s minds. A potential successor may be judged more critically by the electorate than others in the past have been. The moment of truth has come for both Harris and Biden. The country will see if Harris can live up to her promise on a national stage, and Biden will be, whether he likes it or not, forced into a more high octane campaign mode than ever before.