For someone who is said not to be campaigning for the vice-presidential slot, Kamala Harris is running a pretty effective campaign.
Three major media outlets are essentially anointing her the front-runner in a process in which no one really knows who the front-runner is, since it comes down to a judgment call by one man.
But whatever Joe Biden may be privately thinking, the California senator is shrewdly pulling off the running-without-appearing-to-run maneuver. Or the Biden team may simply be touting her to journalists as a kind of trial balloon. That’s how murky the process is, and always has been.
“Why Kamala Harris Isn’t Clamoring to be Biden’s Running Mate,” says the headline on a New York Times piece. Clamoring isn’t a good look for someone who wants to be tapped as the number two. Having the pundits say you’re at the top of the short list, if there is such a list, is the cool move.
Which isn’t to say there aren’t potential problems with Harris as Biden’s pick -- or with the quadrennial veepstakes speculation in which the press often goes astray. The New York Post wrongly reported that John Kerry had chosen Dick Gephardt in 2004, and no one saw John McCain picking Sarah Palin in 2008.
The Times assures us that Kamala “has kept a noticeably lower profile than other possible contenders,” and that those close to Biden “have remarked about how little they have heard from Ms. Harris and her allies.”
And yet Politico somehow found out that “even before Harris ended her own campaign last year, aides said she and Biden were already stealing warm moments together.”
Politico goes a tad further in declaring that “Biden aides, surrogates and major donors see her as the best fit at the onset of the process — at least on paper — to join him atop the Democratic ticket.” Ladies and gentlemen, articles like this don’t appear by accident.
The Washington Post, playing catchup yesterday, hedged its bets a bit:
“Two prospects with national experience who are significantly younger than Biden are emerging as the early leaders in the eyes of top Biden allies, according to interviews with a half-dozen people in frequent contact with the campaign”: Kamala and Amy Klobuchar.
The Post quotes a source as saying “there are no strong internal front-runners” -- which of course undercuts this whole exercise -- but says that the two senators “are seen as tested politicians who experienced the rigors of a national campaign alongside Biden during the Democratic primaries, understand the inner workings of Congress and are ideologically similar to the presumptive nominee.”
I disagree with the last point -- Harris is far more liberal, Klobuchar a self-described moderate -- but have long felt Biden would pick a campaign rival because that person will have been vetted. No surprises is the way to go.
It’s worth noting that Harris’ campaign imploded early amid mismanagement and missteps, while Klobuchar had a strong showing in New Hampshire and lasted through Super Tuesday.
Obviously, Klobuchar’s Midwestern roots could help in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, while Harris could help boost African-American turnout -- to the extent that running mates matter at all. I don’t think Mike Pence and Tim Kaine had much impact on the last election. But Biden did just fine among black voters in the primaries while Harris struggled.
One disadvantage for Harris is the way she pummeled the former vice president over busing in an early debate. But Politico says that “Jill Biden -- who as recently as March described Harris’ attack as a “punch to the gut” -- said they’ve mulled ways for her to telegraph that it wasn’t a deal breaker for the California senator’s chances.”
Politico gets a quote from James Clyburn, who is pushing for an African-American on the ticket: “Joe Biden is a big boy. I’ve never seen Joe have any animus toward Kamala for what may have been said during the campaign.”
The Times and the Post both say Al Sharpton has been promoting Harris, as well as Stacey Abrams, and everyone notes Kamala’s standard line that she’d be “honored” to serve. (Abrams appeared with Biden last night on Lawrence O’Donnell’s MSNBC show, which sounds like a tryout.)
A downside for Klobuchar, says the Post, is “news reports about her poor treatment of staff members have circulated widely in the party, raising questions about her management style.” The old salad-with-a-comb rap is back.
This is clearly a more important pick than most, since Biden is 77 and win or lose, his running mate will become a front-runner for 2024.
But in the end, two things are certain: Many of the media’s VP predictions will be wrong, and the election will be decided by Donald Trump, Joe Biden and the coronavirus.