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OPINION

Kamala Harris is the safe, smart, and historic pick

The selection of Harris brings excitement to a ticket that is not overflowing with energy.

Senator Kamala Harris introduced former Vice President Joe Biden at a campaign rally on March 9.
Senator Kamala Harris introduced former Vice President Joe Biden at a campaign rally on March 9.Scott Olson/Getty

Senator Kamala Harris of California always made the most sense to be Joe Biden’s running mate.

And on Tuesday, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee made the smart, safe, and historic choice by selecting her to run with him in November.

Once Biden announced in March that he would select a female vice president, Harris stood out above a crowded and impressive field of women candidates.

She has a national political profile. Having already run for president, she has largely been vetted, and at age 55, she offers a contrast to the 77-year-old Biden. She is also a polished campaigner who brings excitement and charisma to the national ticket. Above all, she has the experience to credibly argue she could step into the job of president on day one. With Biden leading in the polls by double digits, there was no good reason for him to take a chance in his pick for running mate. That the person who was the logical choice was also the safest is what made this selection a no-brainer.

Indeed, the contrast between Harris and the other possible candidates on Biden’s short list could not have been more stark. Representative Karen Bass of California began rising up the VP ranks even though she is virtually unknown outside of her home district. Picking an obscure member of Congress who has not been vetted never added up for Biden.

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The other short-list candidate was former US ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice. She is a national figure, but she has never held or run for national office. There’s little doubt that Republicans would have gone after Rice for her role following the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi. It would have been a distraction that Biden doesn’t need.

In the wake of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police in May, and the national protests that followed, the importance of picking a woman of color for vice president was magnified, which left highly qualified potential nominees, like Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, on the outside looking in.

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Yet, even though Harris’s suitability for the job is clear, it didn’t prevent several of those close to Biden from whispering criticisms of her to the press. Politico reported that former senator Chris Dodd had reservations about Harris because of her lack of remorse for criticizing Biden during a Democratic primary debate for his past support for busing. When asked about it during a vetting session with Dodd, Harris reportedly joked, “That’s politics.”

She’s right — and the supposed hurt feelings from the Biden camp over it were difficult to believe. It’s possible that Biden aides were leaking this story to make him look more magnanimous when he selected her. Still, with Harris on the ticket, Biden is sending a signal not only about the importance of diversity in our nation’s leadership, but also that unity is essential and there is no time for intraparty grudges or acrimony.

While vice presidential picks rarely have a major impact on a presidential election, the selection of Harris brings excitement to a ticket that is not overflowing with energy. Harris will be the first Black woman — and the first of Indian descent — to be nominated for vice president by a major political party. It’s a historic moment and one that has the potential to energize women, voters of color, and progressives in general. This selection is a moment for genuine celebration.

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There is, of course, one other factor to consider: Since there’s a reasonable expectation that Biden will serve only one term as president, Harris has immediately become the front-runner for the presidential nomination in 2024. As odd as it may sound, her presence on the ticket gives voters a chance to cast a ballot for not one president but potentially two.

This was always the subtext for Biden’s vice-presidential pick — that its impact would likely be felt more in four years rather than this November. By choosing Harris, Biden is sending an unmistakable signal to the party he now leads: While he may head the ticket, its future lies with his number two.


Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.