The Kamala Effect; Will it help or hurt the Biden campaign?

ON AUGUST 7, the Democrat presidential candidate in US, Joe Biden drew criticism for comparing Black diversity with Latino diversity. Just four days later, the Biden campaign announced their candidate for vice president, Kamala Harris. This might have come just in time to excite Black and Asian American voters and encourage them to go to the polling booth in November’s election. This is a historic moment as she becomes the third female, the first African American and the first Asian American to be picked as a running mate in US history. Any VP pick is a gamble and there is no politician who does not come with baggage. Despite her strengths, the Biden campaign may have taken too big a gamble by choosing senator Harris.

How senator Harris can help Biden

UNLIKE Australia, voting is not mandatory in USA. As a result, voter turnout has always been a big factor in deciding the winner of any presidential election. Black and Hispanic voters appear to be much more enthusiastic about the Biden campaign than the Clinton campaign of 2016. However, Biden’s tendency to make gaffes has not helped him or his campaign.  In May, he commented in a radio show, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what, if you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black,’. Such comments can potentially convince Black or other minority voters to stay home which may benefit the Trump campaign. Biden may have realised this vulnerability of his and addressed it by making Senator Harris his running mate.

Firstly, she is a daughter of immigrant parents. Her father was born in Jamaica and mother was born in Madras, India. Her parents divorced when senator Harris and her sister were young. Her bi-racial profile and her family’s achievement of the great American Dream will likely attract African and Asian American voters. This may potentially neutralize some of the political thunder Trump captured amongst South Asian voters during the Howdy Modi event last year.

Secondly, Senator Harris has 26 years of experience as a prosecutor which earned her the victory in senate election 2016. She knows how to govern and work within a complex government environment. As election day approaches, she is under increasing scrutiny of journalists and policy makers. She has already proven during the primary debates that she is skilled to answer most of the policy questions effectively. She has also proven to be a formidable political opponent who did not hesitate to attack the frontrunner Joe Biden during the earlier stage of election. In addition, her skilled questioning drew national attention when she asked tough questions to Mr Brett Kavanaugh, Mr Jeff Sessions and Mr William Barr during senate hearings. She has certainly shown the grit that Biden badly needs in his campaign to take the political fight against the Trump campaign.

How this gamble can backfire

SENATOR Harris’ biggest strength is her strong public service record, but this record has also drawn fierce criticism within the democratic party. One of the more scathing criticisms was laid out by professor Lara Bazelon in an opinion piece of the New York Times in early 2019. Professor Bazelon articulated how Senator Harris, time and again, opposed ideas put forward by the progressives. She has been accused of ‘fighting tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that had been secured through official misconduct including evidence tempering, false testimony…’. She has also been accused of blindly siding with the police, even when the suspects are wrongfully convicted. She has changed her tone since the beginning of the campaign and criticised the excessive use of police force in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. This sudden change in position may be used by the Republicans to attack senator Harris’ record as a prosecutor and portray her as a hypocrite. If the Trump campaign can successfully label her as a politician who conveniently changed her position from a ‘tough prosecutor’ to a ‘progressive prosecutor’ simply for political gain, the Democrats may find some of their supporters disillusioned and uninterested in casting their votes on election day. This is a big gamble that ultimately may cost Mr Biden this election.

If senator Harris can successfully defend her prosecutorial career, she can prove to be the winning choice for Mr Biden. During her primary campaign, when she was challenged on her record as a prosecutor she said, ‘There are cases … where there were folks that made a decision in my office and they had not consulted me, and I wish they had.’ She may have to come up with a much better answer and explain why she did not push for reform and policy change at that time.  Her success will also depend on how masterfully she can counter attacks from the Trump camp. Trump has always found a way to criticise his opponent, he even found a way to criticise senator McCain, a widely respected senator in all party lines. Whilst it may not be easy to criticise senator Harris, Trump may try to nullify the Kamala effect. Former Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly once said on his talk show, ‘Mr Trump creates mayhem and then rides the wave of the ensuing mayhem to win.’ Trump has proven Riley’s comments to be true in the last five years. Senator Harris therefore needs to be prepared to outflank and outwit Trump’s attack. She is widely perceived to be capable of this. When asked for her reaction to Biden’s VP pick, Obama’s senior advisor, Valerie Jarrett, said Kamala is ‘more than ready’ for the job. Americans will start testing this theory soon, while the rest of the world anxiously awaits and watches.

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