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Black Democrats in Pa. are ‘beaming with pride’ after Biden picks Kamala Harris for vice president

Biden's pick made Harris the first woman of color on a major presidential ticket — and excited Democrats across Pennsylvania, who called her a historic nominee who could inspire voters.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) speaks at a campaign rally for Joe Biden in March. Harris was picked Tuesday as Biden's running mate.
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) speaks at a campaign rally for Joe Biden in March. Harris was picked Tuesday as Biden's running mate.Read morePaul Sancya / AP File

Joe Biden on Tuesday named Kamala Harris as his running mate, making her the first woman of color on a major presidential ticket — and exciting many Democrats across Pennsylvania, who called the California senator a historic nominee who could inspire broad swaths of voters.

But some who had hoped for a more liberal candidate to balance Biden’s relative centrism offered muted comments, focusing more on defeating President Donald Trump than on any enthusiasm for Harris.

Harris, whose father is from Jamaica and mother is from India, could be the first woman to serve as vice president. Her selection came after many Democrats urged Biden to pick a Black woman, arguing that the party needs a ticket that reflects its diversity and that of the country. Their imperative only grew in recent months as protests against systemic racism swept the country, drawing in people of all races.

“I’m so excited I can hardly talk,” said Marian B. Tasco, a former member of Philadelphia City Council. “For us to have an African American woman be a candidate for vice president, that is just so exciting for me, having worked so long in the political arena.”

Tasco, a longtime leader of the Northwest Coalition political machine, is one of the most influential figures in Philadelphia politics and an expert on voter turnout. She said many Black women, including members of the national sororities Alpha Kappa Alpha and Delta Sigma Theta, will be energized to help the campaign. Harris joined AKA while at Howard University.

“These women — the AKAs, the Deltas, and the other organizations — they’re so happy because they worked so hard to make a difference in this country for African American women and for Black families,” Tasco said. “And that is happening.”

Rogette Harris, chair of the Dauphin County Democrats, said it was “very important” that Biden complete his ticket with a woman of color.

“Number one, it was Black voters who pretty much gave him the nomination, and he did not ignore that,” said Harris, referring to the South Carolina primary voters who helped revive Biden’s candidacy in February. “It’s time that we’re not just seen, but we’re actually heard. And the only way to be heard is to be in positions of power.”

Harris is also a groundbreaking pick for Asian Americans.

“Kamala Harris’s story is the story of a changing, inclusive America. At a time of rapid change, she ties all our national threads together,” said a statement from Neil Makhija, a Philadelphia attorney who heads IMPACT, a political group that backs Indian American candidates. “Harris represents the future and promise of this country. Her candidacy is historic and inspiring.”

An estimated 1.3 million Indian Americans are expected to vote in this year’s election, including almost 200,000 in Pennsylvania, Makhija said.

Biden’s choice had drawn outsize attention even for a normally significant political event. In part that’s because of the stagnant nature of this presidential race, largely sidelined by the coronavirus. That left Biden’s vice presidential pick as the last major decision he had to make before the campaign’s homestretch. He had promised to select a woman, nodding to the party’s disappointment after Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016 — and the extent to which women have powered its political resurgence since.

But the choice carries added weight because of Biden’s age, 77. If he wins, he would be the oldest president inaugurated to a first term. Even allies said he needed a vice president who appears capable of leading the country if he can’t finish his term. And if Biden serves just one term, Harris, 55, would likely be the Democratic heir apparent in 2024.

“At the end of the day, he picked what he viewed as the person who could take his place,” said U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans of Philadelphia. “I have full confidence in his judgment because he has been vice president, he knows what it means to be vice president.”

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, a colleague of Harris’ and a onetime rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, said, “This isn’t the first time my friend and sister Kamala Harris has made history, and it won’t be the last.”

“I can’t wait to call her Madame Vice President,” Booker added.

But some on the party’s left wing were less celebratory. Harris has drawn criticism from liberals for her record as California’s attorney general — particularly as issues of race, policing, and criminal justice have come to the fore. Many of the party’s most progressive voices had hoped Biden would choose Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) as an inspiring figure whose policy prescriptions, they argued, were needed during a period of economic devastation.

City Councilmember Kendra Brooks, who ran with the far-left Working Families Party last year and had endorsed Sen. Bernie Sanders, released a statement avoiding any mention of Harris.

“Our movements are not dependent on who’s in the White House — and we won’t stop until working class Philadelphians thrive,” Brooks said.

Another Sanders supporter, City Councilmember Helen Gym, said Biden’s choice “reflects these times.”

“We can’t play games with this election, and we can’t cry tears over the past,” Gym said, “so it’s time to move forward, and we have to do so understanding that there is a massive threat posed to all of us” by Trump.

She said progressives should still feel hopeful about their movement at a grassroots level.

“The Democratic Party is not just who’s defined at the top,” Gym said.

Trump and his campaign, meanwhile, foreshadowed the attacks they’ll train on Harris after struggling to define Biden for months. Several statements labeled her “Phony Kamala” and prominently noted how she had sharply attacked Biden over his past stance on school busing during a Democratic primary debate last year.

Trump called her “nasty,” using the same phrase he hurled at Clinton in 2016.

“She was very disrespectful to Joe Biden, and it’s hard to pick someone that’s that disrespectful,” Trump said at a White House news conference. He added that Harris was “nasty” toward Brett Kavanaugh during his contentious Supreme Court confirmation hearings.

“Clearly, Phony Kamala will abandon her own morals, as well as try to bury her record as a prosecutor, in order to appease the anti-police extremists controlling the Democrat Party,” the Trump campaign said in a statement.

Trump himself donated a total of $6,000 to Harris’ campaign for California attorney general in 2011 and 2013, according to the Sacramento Bee, while his daughter Ivanka gave her $2,000 in 2014.

Biden has a solid lead in Pennsylvania, according to public polling, and, with his Scranton roots and longtime ties to labor unions, has worked hard to win back the white working-class voters who abandoned the party to devastating effect in 2016. He already had huge support from Black voters.

But many strategists in the party argue that Democrats still need to stir excitement in cities like Philadelphia, Detroit, and Milwaukee — which serve as the party’s foundations in key swing states.

Harris has struggled on the national stage, despite high expectations and a few standout moments. Her campaign folded in December, before the first votes were even cast.

She was still widely seen as the safest pick for a Biden campaign that already has a lead. She had more experience, as an attorney general and senator, than most of Biden’s other options, and she had run for national office.

Some Pennsylvanians, while acknowledging that Warren would excite the left more, worried that she would make it easier for Trump to brand Democrats as radical — a charge that has so far failed to stick to Biden. Several Democrats noted Harris’ experience and predicted that the prosecutor would blister Vice President Mike Pence in their debate.

Cherelle L. Parker, the majority leader on City Council, said she was “beaming with pride” Tuesday.

“Believe me,” Parker said, “there are little Black girls who are watching this and saying, ‘Wow, I can be and do whatever I want in this nation, because now I have someone who is a reflection of me.’”