Even among those who are more sympathetic, the turnaround feels dizzying. In an interview with Harris last Wednesday, Stephen Colbert said he believed that she is sincerely behind Biden. She might be a good running mate, he said, but how would she get there after all the “haymakers” she landed onstage?
“It was a debate,” Harris said.
“Not everyone landed punches like you did, though,” Colbert said.
“It was a debate,” Harris said, deploying the laugh she often uses to deflect during television interviews.
“So you don’t mean it?”
“It was a debate,” she said again.
Harris’s hesitation in endorsing Biden earlier this year only reinforced some of his supporters’ suspicions about her. Biden advisers called Harris multiple times, urging her to back him, insisting that she could help him consolidate support ahead of the California primary and others on Super Tuesday, people who were clued in to the conversations told me. She thought about how and when to endorse. Some on her side urged her to make a splash and regain Biden’s goodwill. But she decided to wait, in part out of deference to the women who remained in the race, in part because she was hesitant about taking a chance that Biden would win. She finally endorsed Biden six days after California voted, when the primary race was all but over.
Biden has made clear in private conversations that have been relayed to me that he’s focused on beating Trump, not payback, and that he’ll pick whichever woman he believes will most help him win.
Look at what’s happening in this country, Harris supporters say. To them, there’s no way that Biden cannot pick a black woman as his running mate. Some of the Democratic intelligentsia have started swooning over the possibility of Warren as his vice president. But it’s absurd to imagine that Biden would respond to this moment by putting forward two white people in their 70s, Harris backers argue. And if Biden is going to pick a black woman, these supporters say, he’s got to pick Harris. Out of Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Representative Val Demings of Florida, former Georgia Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, and former National Security Adviser Susan Rice—all of whom have been floated as potential vice-president nominees—none has had the experience to understand the scrutiny and pressure of being part of a national campaign.
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Tubbs, the mayor of Stockton, isn’t concerned that the Biden team is considering black women who aren’t Harris. “It’s part of the vetting process,” he said. “Everyone should be vetted. But once the vetting plays out, you will see Kamala Harris emerge as the obvious choice.”
Harris fans often compare her with Warren, generally seen as the other leading contender, and the Black Lives Matter protests in front of the White House gave them a direct juxtaposition. Harris arrived the day before Trump took his walk through tear gas to his Bible photo op, clapping and chanting along with the crowd (captured in a video quickly tweeted by her husband). Warren showed up three days later, bringing along her dog and speaking with reporters. The catch: Warren and Harris polled roughly the same among black voters when they were both still running for president. And in a CBS poll released at the beginning of May—before the police killing of George Floyd—72 percent of black voters said Biden should consider Warren for vice president. Just 60 percent said he should consider Harris.