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The Case for Kamala Harris

 Author: Cynthia Richie Terrell

Credit: Micheal Democker

America needs a woman president. It’s both principled and expedient.

We don’t know if Joe Biden will withdraw from the presidential election. But already trailing Donald Trump in the polls, Biden has a new hurdle: a disastrous presidential debate that reinforced most Americans’ belief that he lacks the fitness to be president. What seemed inevitable—a showdown between 81-year-old incumbent Biden and the 78-year-old former incumbent and convicted felon Donald Trump—might get a new look.

The best alternative for Democrats would be Vice President Kamala Harris. I support Jim Clyburn’s suggestion of a mini-primary, especially one with ranked choice voting and deliberative tools to define an informed consensus. But I’m confident Harris would win that contest. Outside of Michelle Obama, Harris polls best against Trump. She won a SurveyUSA ranked choice voting poll in 2020 about who Biden should pick as VP. She’s been vetted on a national ticket that beat Trump and is ready to step in as president since 2021. Congressional leaders Clyburn and Hakeem Jeffries have signaled she’s their choice if Biden withdraws.

Men like Gavin Newsom, Andy Beshear, Josh Shapiro, Jamie Raskin, Pete Buttigieg, Jared Polis, and JB Pritzker can be vice presidents. With reproductive freedom a defining campaign issue and with women poised to surpass men among Democratic state legislators, Democrats need a woman to lead the party and defeat Trump.

Some may be concerned that Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 makes it risky to nominate another woman. Yet Clinton won a significant popular vote majority, and even Trump was surprised he swept the close swing states. Now he’s been exposed for what he is: a misogynist who named three of the five Supreme Court Justices who took away abortion rights. 

Harris is experienced but no embodiment of the “swamp."  She’s 19 years younger than Trump, who would become our nation’s oldest president if elected and serving a full term. As Ohio's Tim Ryan argued in recently endorsing her, “She would energize the Black, brown, and Asian Pacific members of our coalition. (Read Philadelphia, Atlanta, Detroit, Charlotte, Miami, and Milwaukee.)"

Democratic women have beaten Republicans in battlegrounds everywhere. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer won in 2018 and 2022 by an average of ten percent. Arizona Governor Katie Hobbs defeated Kari Lake to become the state’s first Democratic governor since 2009. Governor Laura Kelly twice won in the heavily Republican state of Kansas, while Governor Janet Mills won twice to become Maine’s first woman governor and first Democrat since 2010. Democratic women keep winning tough Senate races, including Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin, Nevada's Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen, New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen, Minnesota’s Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, and Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow.

Many of these women also would be great presidential candidates. However, none have been on the national stage like Harris, and none could fluidly inherit the Biden-Harris campaign apparatus, including over $200 million in cash reserves. None would have the bully pulpit Harris can have as Vice President of a successful administration.

Democrats are well-positioned to win. Biden’s age is the problem. Statistician Nate Silver spotlighted that harsh reality by comparing results across 47 credible polls in Arizona, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin swing states with Senate races. Democratic candidates outperformed Biden in 46 polls without trailing once. Yet Biden led in only seven polls.

Biden’s favorability rating has lagged incumbent norms for years, and it’s getting worse. A CBS poll shows that 72% of voters believe Biden lacks the mental and physical health to serve. While Harris also has low favorability, she’s had few opportunities to stand independently.  Against Trump, she would present a powerful contrast that will expose his even more remarkable unpopularity – and the concerns most swing voters have about his 34 felony convictions, positions on reproductive freedom, and promise to dismantle democratic institutions.

Trump is hardly an electoral juggernaut. Most 2016 primary voters voted against him, and nearly 10 million votes twice lost him the popular vote to Democrats. Republicans in the 2018 midterms took a beating and lost the House and Senate by the end of his presidency. In 2022, Republicans lost ground in the Senate mainly because voters seemed ready to move on from his grievances, extremism, and chaos.

Kamala Harris is a former prosecutor who can make this case, build upon Biden’s achievements, and argue that democracy should be fixed, not torn down. And yes, she can embody a party that, a century after women earned suffrage, can fight for what most women want and are determined to achieve.

Cynthia Richie Terrell is the founder and executive director of RepresentWomen, a nonpartisan research and advocacy organization seeking parity for women in elected office.

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