AUSTIN (KXAN) — Less than a week before the start of the Democratic National Convention, Presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Joe Biden picked California Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate for vice president.
With the pick, Harris becomes the first African-American and Asian-American to be selected as a major party’s nominee for the role.
It comes as polling shows the race in Texas is a dead heat.
So does Harris help Biden in the Lone Star State?
KXAN’s Tom Miller talked with Texas Politics Project Director James Henson to find out.
Tom: The race in Texas appears to be closer than it’s been in decades. Would that have factored into Biden picking Harris?
James: I don’t know that Texas was central to the decision, but certainty the things that Kamala Harris brings to the table are useful in Texas and useful in a lot of the battleground states.
She’s kind of a very modern version of how we think about political identity right now. She obviously is thought of as a Black candidate — which she should be — but her background doesn’t fall easily into our kind of 20th Century candidates. She has both experience and a narrative as somebody who is an American, ultimately of African descent, she’s Jamaican though, and she’s also got this immigrant experience that’s part of her family story. Both of these are front and center in the way that we think about ethnic identity in the 21st Century and speak directly to Democratic constituencies and to issues that will loom large for a lot of Democratic voters — particularly people of color.
Tom: Texas has strong Black and Indian populations. Does Harris help Biden in Texas with identity politics?
James: The Democrats really need to open the spigot on voter turnout if you will, particularly in places like Houston and Dallas. Her particular combination of personal history and identity is going to speak to a lot of voters, and in particular to some voters that have uneven records of turnout.
With the rapidly growing Asian-American population in Houston, she’s going to have a narrative that speaks to people. To the large African-American populations particularly in Houston and Dallas, but throughout that band of the state going east, she has a lot to say and I think it’s going to help a bit with turnout. It’s not necessarily decisive, but every little bit is going to help in a state that’s as closely contested as Texas is now.
Tom: Does she have liabilities here as well?
James: Her critics will try to seed doubt about her past as a prosecutor, and then as an attorney general in an environment where people are really thinking seriously about how we have proceeded on criminal justice issues in the past.
There will also be some complaining along those lines about the fact that she is not as progressive as the most progressive wing of the party. Republicans are already trying to lump her in with the socialistic left of the Democratic Party. There’s not going to be a lot of grist for that mill, but that won’t stop the argument, because that’s pretty clearly going to be one of the general angles of attack of Republicans in the 2020 Dlection.
Tom: Bottom line, does this move the needle at all for or against the Biden campaign?
James: I think that this isn’t a game changer in any fundamental sense, but the Biden campaign dodges a mistake or some backward, some falling backwards, that has plagued some other campaigns in the past when they’ve made the vice presidential pick. It firms up the base that Biden has been building since his nomination, and particularly in a place like Texas it provides a little bit more for people of color, and even to a certain extent the progressive wing, to hang their hats on.