WASHINGTON — Kamala Harris didn't wait long to test out her new role as lead attacker for Joe Biden's presidential campaign.
"The case against Donald Trump and Mike Pence is open and shut," Harris, the newly named Democratic vice presidential pick, said Wednesday in Wilmington, Delaware, at her first joint appearance with Biden since her selection was announced a day earlier.
Trump, the California senator said, is responsible for failing to stop the coronavirus pandemic in its tracks and for the economic destruction its spread has wrought on the nation.
"He inherited the longest economic expansion in history from Barack Obama and Joe Biden and then like everything else he inherited, he ran it straight into the ground," Harris said. "That's what happens when we elect a guy who just isn't up for the job."
Harris' ability to deliver punchy one-liners against Trump, demonstrated in her own short-lived presidential campaign and over the course of three-plus years in the Senate, is one reason supporters said she would make a good fit for the Democratic ticket. Though Trump likes to engage in verbal warfare with his opponents, most presidential candidates prefer to distance themselves a bit from the most brutal assaults on opponents by handing the rhetorical ammunition to their running mates.
But Wednesday's official unveiling of the 2020 Democratic ticket also revealed the way Biden plans to use Harris to reinforce the message that he would bring relief to struggling Americans and those aspiring to economic and social advancement. As part of a series of callbacks to his two-term tenure as President Barack Obama's vice president, he consolidated their "hope and change" promise into a one-word explanation of how the Biden-Harris campaign defines America: "possibilities."
He alluded lightly to his own support for Obama, the first Black president, in urging workers to support Harris, who would be the first woman and first woman of color to serve as vice president, against her adversaries.
"If you're a working person worried about whether or not you'll have a job to go to, whether or not you'll be able to pay your mortgage, your rent... Kamala Harris has had your back, and now we have to have her back," Biden said. "All of us are going to stand up for her."
The balance Harris must strike — and one supporters say she's capable of finding — is hammering Trump while helping Biden with two tasks key to his electoral prospects: mobilizing Black voters and persuading suburban women of all backgrounds to pick him over Trump.
"The historic nature of who she is as the running mate energizes people, number one," said Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Del., who was a co-chair of the Biden campaign team that vetted vice presidential hopefuls. "The fact that she has been able to take on, whether it was big banks or big oil or [Supreme Court Justice] Brett Kavanaugh, I think that also inspires and energizes women and people of all backgrounds, to be honest with you, because she's fearless."
Trump has argued repeatedly that his presidency has been the best for Black people in America — Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation and defeated the Confederacy, while Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — and suggested that white suburbanites should fear Biden-backed housing policies designed to facilitate the integration of neighborhoods.
"The 'suburban housewife' will be voting for me," Trump tweeted Wednesday. "They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood. Biden would reinstall it, in a bigger form, with Corey Booker in charge!"
Cory Booker, a New Jersey senator who sought the Democratic nomination for president, is Black.
Tavia Galonski, a Democratic state representative in Ohio, said Harris connects well with suburban voters, particularly women who identify with her.
Galonski, who represents Akron, traveled to the suburbs east of Cleveland for a no-minimum-donation Harris fundraiser in May 2019 that drew a multi-racial and multi-ethnic crowd of contributors who were "very, very vocal" about their affinity for Harris' message of inclusiveness.
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"I witnessed that," she said in a telephone interview Wednesday, adding that she believes protests against racial injustice in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota earlier changed the calculus around Biden picking Harris.
"They’re talking about 'Kamala Harris was the safe pick.' I love that. I love that," Galonski said. "We weren’t here when she dropped out."
Harris acknowledged the protests in a passage in her speech that served the dual purpose of commending coalition politics and slamming Trump.
"We're experiencing a moral reckoning with racism and systemic injustice that has brought a new coalition of conscience to the streets, demanding change," she said. "America is crying out for leadership."