Harris Rises To Top of Biden's VP List After Klobuchar's Strategic Exit

It happened swiftly and in the dead of night.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, whose case to be Joe Biden's running mate had been badly bruised in recent weeks due to her record on race, declared on MSNBC that the Democratic nominee should choose a woman of color to begin to "heal this nation." The appearance served as a big moment in its own right, but it cut two ways: As both Klobuchar's exit from the VP race and an effort to remove Senator Elizabeth Warren from the picture.

And with that, Senator Kamala Harris of California rose to the top of the VP list.

"I think Kamala Harris is best suited to be VP because she checks all the boxes and makes the energy on the ground more palpable," Bakari Sellers, a former state representative from South Carolina, told Newsweek.

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To be sure, black supporters rushed to Twitter to defend Warren, and others argued that Klobuchar's gambit to cut Warren out won't work. But veterans of Democratic campaigns also told Newsweek it's becoming increasingly difficult to make the case against creating a diverse ticket and identified Harris as the candidate best positioned to seize the moment.

"Diversity is a strategic imperative for Democrats," Barack Obama's former pollster Cornell Belcher told Newsweek. "We had back-to-back majority victories when we had a diverse ticket. So it's not whether we should have a diverse ticket, it's 'What do you mean you don't want a diverse ticket?' You better have a damn good reason."

The vice presidential vetting process comes as the nation faces two enemies: One from outside and one from within, in the form of a pandemic and racism in America. As the political climate was remade in recent months and protests exploded onto the streets in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd by police, Harris reemerged as a voice in national media, and was front and center as a top Democrat leading police reform efforts.

A Biden campaign source who requested anonymity so they could discuss the VP race said Harris is "thought of very highly within the campaign" and there is "a lot of love" for how she has led on police reform.

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The love isn't just coming from within Biden's campaign either: a Monmouth University study released Thursday based on interviews of more than 2,000 people who voted in Democratic primaries and caucuses found that Harris was the top choice of voters by far.

"I think Kamala is the obvious choice for one reason," Albert Morales, who spent nearly a decade at the Democratic National Committee and serves as the senior political director for Latino Decision polling firm told Newsweek. "There's no time to formulate name ID, we're not in an environment to get to know new faces."

Those new faces include Representative Val Demings, who like Harris faces questions due to her criminal justice background, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who finds herself at the center of the discussion around police brutality in ways that have both burnished and hurt her standing in the VP discussion.

"I am a mother to four black children in America, one of whom is 18 years old. And when I saw the murder of George Floyd, I hurt like a mother would hurt," Bottoms said at a press conference the week of Floyd's death, adding that she instinctively called her son to ask where he was because "black boys shouldn't be out today." She was also critical of efforts that turned to vandalism. "This is not a protest. This is not in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. This is chaos," she said.

Police violence and the death of an unarmed black man also came to her city, however, after Rayshard Brooks was killed last week after being found asleep in his car outside a Wendy's. Bottoms said at a news conference Saturday that she does not believe the use of deadly force was justified and that "it didn't have to end that way. It pissed me off, it makes me sad and I'm frustrated."

"She's politically a very risky pick," Democratic donor Steve Phillips, who has advocated that Biden choose a black woman as his VP, told Newsweek. "She is the mayor of a city that's had a very recent high-profile police murder of a black man. She spoke out but it happened on her watch. It's a risky challenge to assume that the movement that is demanding accountability will draw the distinction."

Belcher disagreed, and said both Harris and Bottoms stocks have risen the most since the protests began. He added that Biden would be "hard-pressed" to find someone who has risen in stature in the face of this volatility more than Bottoms.

"She is arguably in the capital of the resistance," Belcher told Newsweek. "What city is more central to African-American experience and culture than Atlanta? Anyone who questions her leadership is dead wrong."

The issue of Harris's time as a prosecutor is not inconsequential, with the former California attorney general criticized during the primary for a record that was not seen as sufficiently progressive on issues like cash bail, body cameras for police or ensuring independent investigations of officer-involved killings.

But the view within the Biden campaign is that it was litigated "ad nauseam" during the primary, reducing the chance of surprises. The Biden campaign source said Harris deserved "huge props" not just for leading on police reform, but also for not tiptoeing around the issue of police brutality as a former prosecutor might.

While other candidates on the shortlist have studiously avoided weighing in on the issue of defunding the police—which has become a rallying cry among activists, but worrisome for Democrats—Harris has argued that examining bloated police budgets to give to community programs is prudent.

Harris' office declined Newsweek's request for comment. Bottoms' office did not respond by the time of publication.

Sellers said "Keisha is dope" when asked about Bottoms, but said the "only deficiency she would have on her resume is being able to be president on day one" because of her position as a mayor. Harris, he noted, has the national experience Bottoms does not.

"Kamala Harris is a layup," he said of Biden's choice. "But Democrats miss layups all the time."

The Biden campaign source also noted that "black women get under Trump's skin like nobody else."

But the staffer wasn't talking about any of the other candidates on the shortlist.

They were talking about Harris.

Harris biden
California Senator Kamala Harris (C) hugs Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden after she endorsed him at a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, Michigan on March 9, 2020. JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images/Getty
Harris Rises To Top of Biden's VP List After Klobuchar's Strategic Exit | U.S.