Sen. Kamala Harris of California will be the first Black woman and the first person of Indian descent to be nominated for national office by a major party. A pragmatic moderate and one of Joe Biden’s former rivals in the presidential race, Harris was a barrier-breaking prosecutor before being elected to the Senate in 2016.
Harris, 55, was born in Oakland, California. She is a former attorney general of California and a former San Francisco district attorney.
When she announced her own bid for the presidency — on Martin Luther King’s Birthday in 2019 — she pitched herself as a history-making candidate, paying homage to Shirley Chisholm, the New York congresswoman who became the first woman to seek the Democratic Party’s nomination for president.
Before she was a senator, Harris was a prosecutor, elected as the San Francisco district attorney in 2003 and as California’s attorney general in 2010. She held that position until she won her Senate seat in 2016.
Harris made this part of her career a major theme of her presidential campaign, describing herself as a “progressive prosecutor” and arguing that it was possible to be tough on crime while also confronting the deep inequities of the criminal justice system. Part of her argument was that voters could trust her to overhaul the system because she knew it “from the inside out.” But some parts of her record were a source of criticism from the left.
Her prosecutorial record will almost certainly be raised in the general election, especially amid the national outcry over police brutality and systemic racism that has followed the killing of George Floyd.
Elected to the Senate in 2016, Harris was the first Black woman in the chamber in more than a decade. During her relatively brief time as California’s junior senator, she has become known for her intensive interrogations of Trump administration officials and nominees, including Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearing and during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing with Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
In recent years, she had sought to align herself more with the Democratic Party’s left wing, initially supporting Sen. Bernie Sanders’ “Medicare for All” bill before shifting her position during the presidential campaign. She has also been a vocal supporter of racial justice legislation since the killing of Floyd.
While Harris dropped out of the presidential race late last year after running low on money, she entered as one of the front-runners and had a significant impact on the trajectory of the campaign.
Part of her influence was ideological: She was the first candidate, for instance, to suggest requiring federal preclearance for state abortion restrictions, a position that numerous top candidates later expressed support for. And part of it stemmed from her debate performances, including an electric moment in the first debate.
On the stage in June, she forcefully challenged Biden over his record on race and, specifically, busing. It was “hurtful,” she said, to hear Biden speak positively about working with segregationist senators, because “there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day, and that little girl was me.”
How Voters May View Her Selection
During her presidential campaign, Harris appealed in particular to more moderate Democrats and those drawn to her biography. She could reinforce Biden’s appeal with Black women and women generally who are eager to see themselves reflected in the country’s leadership.
The progressive left, including some supporters of Sanders, will most likely be disappointed in Harris’ selection, viewing her as far more supportive of incremental change than the kind of broad, revolutionary proposals they champion.