biden harris

What Does the Biden-Harris Ticket Mean for the Campaign

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s selected Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as his running mate in a bid to win over moderate Republicans in the general election. 

Biden’s decision is consequential to his campaign as Harris is the first Black and Asian American women to run for vice president (VP) on a major-party ticket, at a moment where the nation is grappling with institutionalized racism. 

Joseph Patten, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Political Science, explained that Biden is attempting to thread a political needle: energizing his base by picking a non-white woman, as well as appealing to moderate Republicans who might break away from Trump since Harris is perceived as a political centrist, not a liberal Democrat. “Kamala Harris checks both boxes,” he said. 

Kenneth Mitchell, Ph.D., Chair of the Department of Political Science and an Associate Professor, explained that Biden’s selection of a “California Democrat” might act as an overall negative in Midwest battleground states, including Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, and Minnesota, that will determine the outcome of the election. Nevertheless, the opposition’s response has not factored in Harris’ voting record which is considered fairly conservative in the context of “California Democratic politics.” 

“Progressives are well-aware of the Biden and Harris’ voting records, the main reason neither candidate gained progressive support during the primaries,” Mitchell clarified. He also cited Harris “passionately” calling Biden a racist during a primary debate based on his record on busing and deals with segregationist Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC).  

Lisa Allocco, an Adjunct Professor of Communication, added that Harris’ record for being tough on crime as Attorney General in California might be problematic for some, but does not believe it will work against the ticket. 

Despite presenting herself as a progressive reformer during her presidential bid, Harris’ voting record is under scrutiny. In 2016, Harris was serving as California’s Attorney General and opposed a bill to investigate the death of a stabbing suspect who was shot by police 21 times. 

Eric Schwartz, a senior political science student, understands Biden’s motive for picking Harris, despite the potential of losing progressives.

“I think it could potentially alienate some younger left-leaning voters, but they don’t matter much in the states he’s close in. He’s better off staying towards the middle to reach some undecideds in places like Florida and the Midwest,” he said.  

Conversely, Mitchell explained that progressives who stayed home for Clinton in 2016, also a conservative Democrat, or voted for the Green party enabled Trump’s victory.

 Mitchell believes that Biden stands as the weakest Democratic nominee since Walter Mondale in ’84, because he’s been on the wrong side of too many issues significant to the Democratic electorate: the Iraq War, 1990s incarceration policies, and Wall Street deregulation, to name a few. 

He said, “People watching at home, the three percent who remain undecided (it was 16 percent at this stage in 2016), wonder: If Biden is a racist, how does Harris accept the VP slot? If Biden is not a racist, how does he trust someone reckless enough to level such a hurtful accusation?”

Mitchell continued, “Biden’s own tepid support for the Harris choice points to a larger structural Democratic Party problem—the Obama years left a weak bench. Democratic congressional gains in 2018 and Biden’s current lead in the polls strike me as a function of Trump’s historic unpopularity… Trump’s unpopularity makes Biden/Harris victory possible.” 

Allocco said, “I hope that today’s moderate Republicans have the critical reasoning skills to see past gender and color and vote for the Biden/Harris ticket if they are truly disappointed in the current face of their party.”

Patten added that Biden wanted a running mate who could “hold up” under national media pressure and the vice-presidential debate against Mike Pence. “The Biden team believes her experience as both a U.S. Senator and candidate for the Democratic nomination has her battle hardened for the heat of a presidential campaign. We’ll find out in six weeks if they were correct.”