Emory’s national election experts react to Joe Biden’s vice-presidential pick

Aug. 12, 2020

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Emory Election 2020

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s selection of Senator Kamala Harris as running mate marked two historic firsts on Tuesday, Aug. 11. Harris became the first Black and South Asian American woman to run on a major political party’s presidential ticket. Emory’s election experts weigh in on Biden’s vice-presidential pick.

Alan Abramowitz

Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science

In Kamala Harris, Joe Biden has chosen a running mate who meets several criteria that he had indicated were important to his decision. First and foremost, as a former presidential candidate with extensive experience in state and national government, he hopes she will be seen as a credible potential president should she have to step into that role. The Biden campaign is probably also hoping that a relatively young, African-American woman will generate enthusiasm among younger and nonwhite voters who may not be excited about Biden himself. Finally, she is probably seen as a strong debater who can go toe to toe with Mike Pence in a vice-presidential debate.

Bernard Fraga

Associate Professor of Political Science

By selecting Kamala Harris, the assumption is that the Biden campaign is seeking to increase turnout among African-American voters. Based on my research, disparities in voter turnout between racial/ethnic groups are a product of differences in mobilization and engagement on the part of parties, campaigns, and organizations. To shrink the gap in turnout between Black and white voters it will take a concerted effort to engage the African-American community, and selecting an African-American candidate is a symbolic step in that direction. However, if the Biden campaign truly seeks to boost voter turnout, it must also partner with organizations that have already done the hard work of registering Black voters, young voters, and other key parts of the Democratic Party’s base.

Ed Lee

Senior Director of the Alben W. Barkley Forum for Debate, Deliberation, and Dialogue

The United States now has a vice-presidential candidate who can credibly weigh in on the Tupac vs. Biggie debate. We now have a vice-presidential candidate who is interested in transforming the United States into "one nation under a groove." That commitment garnered Senator Kamala Harris the endorsement of Bootsy Collins, member of the Parliament-Funkadelic, when she was running to be Democratic nominee. What does Senator Harris bring to the Democratic ticket as Joe Biden's choice to be the Vice President? She is a politician whose lived experience, educational opportunities, and political awareness have equipped her with the ability to craft compelling and influential messages tailored to her audience's needs and composition. Harris upgrades the ticket's capacity to consistently communicate a message that energizes and resonates with their audience.

Senator Harris is a brilliant communicator who will deftly blend cultural references with cogent policy analysis. She is eager to have a conversation that seamlessly transitions from political philosophy to music preferences and the interplay of the two. Harris now becomes the chief communicator of the Biden campaign. From a public communication perspective, Kamala Harris seems destined to become the principal messenger for the Biden campaign that appears to have embraced the meme that Biden is trying to win the presidency from his basement. If you are Biden, you don't pick Kamala Harris if you expect your vice president to join you in that proverbial basement. He is smart enough to realize how that would waste her talents and, potentially, garner significant blowback.

Some came to reference Dick Cheney as George W. Bush's "brain" because of Cheney's role in shaping the presidential campaign and formulating the administration's policies. Senator Harris' superior communication skills and inspiring biography will inevitably make her the "mouth" of the Biden campaign.

The Biden campaign is now dancing to a different beat. You can find the playlist on Spotify by searching for "Kamala Harris."