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Picking Kamala Harris makes history, but will it make a difference in November?

(CNN)Commentators weigh in on Joe Biden's selection of Sen. Kamala Harris for his running mate. The views expressed in this commentary are their own.

Harris brings Biden a direct link to the party's African-American base, reflecting his team's strategy of generating excitement and high turnout in Black communities. Four years ago, the Democratic ticket lost Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania -- and with them, the White House -- by a scant 80,000 votes.

As operatives pointed out at the time, slightly higher Black voter turnout in Detroit, Milwaukee and Philadelphia would have brought victory to the Democrats. The party is taking no chances this time: Biden's headquarters is in Philadelphia and the Democratic convention, pre-coronavirus, was supposed to take place in Milwaukee.

Harris also brings a connection to a politically potent, largely overlooked Indian-American community that has produced successful candidates throughout the nation. Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley were both elected Republican governors of Louisiana and South Carolina, respectively, and the current mayors of Hoboken, New Jersey, Anaheim, California, San Antonio, Texas are all of Indian descent. If elected, Harris would be the most prominent and powerful representative of this community.

At a time when demands for racial justice and inclusion are surging, Harris can speak with experience and authority about balancing the need for change with the core requirement of maintaining public safety. Attacks from leftist activists on her record as a tough prosecutor will likely fall flat. Harris comes across in public as pleasant, earnest and fair: Trying to accuse her of being pro-incarceration will sound like nonsense to most voters.

She is fearsome in debate and comfortable on television, two skills that will come in handy in a race that will largely be fought on small screens rather than at huge outdoor rallies.

Errol Louis is the host of "Inside City Hall," a nightly political show on NY1, a New York all-news channel.

Frida Ghitis: A running mate to inspire even Republicans

Frida Ghitis
Frida Ghitis

Joe Biden made precisely the right choice with Sen. Kamala Harris, a passionate, eloquent, inspiring figure with the potential to do everything a presidential candidate needs from his running mate.

To make his decision Biden, the former vice president and soon-to-be Democratic nominee, had to contend with competing demands. Pick someone who could help him win the election through campaigning prowess, or someone who can help him govern and is ready to take over if needed? Someone who would energize progressive Democrats, or someone who could appeal to the party's centrists? Someone who would boost turnout among Democrats, or someone who can lure disaffected Republicans?

The choice was obvious. As if by magic, Harris manages to meet all those seemingly-conflicting qualifications.

She is a centrist, like Biden. They share an overall philosophy, which is the most important criterion for choosing a potential successor. But most left-of-center progressives, despite some inevitable complaints, will find her an irresistible choice. She is a woman of color, with roots in Africa, India, the Caribbean. Her mother was born in India, her father in Jamaica. That means she is an American through and through; like pretty much all of us the product of immigration.

She would become the first woman vice president and she also has a very good shot at becoming president, not only because of Biden's age, but because she is now the automatic choice for his successor.

Some will object to her track record as a tough public prosecutor. But that prosecutorial background deals a devastating blow to President Donald Trump's efforts to claim the Democrats are soft on crime.

Ignore the sexists. They already accused her of being "too ambitious." Feel free to laugh at that charge: What politician is not ambitious? What Senator is not ambitious? Name one person who has run for high office who did aspire to have an impact, even to change the world. How many in Congress have dreamed of the presidency?

Some thought Biden would rule her out because she hit him too hard during the presidential debates. But Biden was probably impressed. Kamala is a brilliant debater, a fighter. She can spar with the best of them. She delicately shredded Justice Brett Kavanaugh with her questioning during his confirmation hearings.

The debate with Vice President Mike Pence will be must-see TV. Democrats, as if they needed more motivation than getting rid of Trump, will rally behind her. And those Republicans questioning their party's choice -- except for the most sexist and racist among them -- will find it tempting to back Team Biden-Harris 2020.

Frida Ghitis, a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a frequent opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. Follow her on Twitter @fridaghitis.

Scott Jennings: The problem with choosing Kamala Harris

Scott Jennings
Scott Jennings
When I think of Kamala Harris, a comment about her by an African American voter in Michigan sticks with me: "She's fake. She's phony. She's not one of us. She built a political career by over-prosecuting Black kids," Brandi Neal, an employee at Detroit City Hall, told Politico.
That sentiment may explain why Senator Harris' presidential campaign was a short ride.

In my view, several primary rivals like Bernie Sanders outlasted her because their authenticity was perceived to be far greater. But winning the vote of one person - Joe Biden, in this case - was easier than winning the millions of votes necessary to be the nominee herself.

Harris was the safe choice for a campaign that is playing it safe. The Biden camp thinks it is sitting on a lead so it took the safest route - a basically vetted person who will neither help nor hurt the Democratic campaign.

Most research shows that VP choices rarely make a difference. Harris probably won't, either. Her home state is safely Democratic. Her primary campaign shows she's not a great fundraiser. Her politics - liberal with more than a hint of authoritarianism (think of her attempts to get Donald Trump banned from Twitter) sprinkled in for good measure - fit well on a national ticket trending hard towards both.
Scott Jennings, a CNN contributor, is a former special assistant to President George W. Bush and a former campaign adviser to Sen. Mitch McConnell. He is a partner at RunSwitch Public Relations in Louisville, Kentucky. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJenningsKY.

Tara Setmayer: Biden-Harris is the best chance for disaffected conservatives

Tara Setmayer
Tara Setmayer

Tara Setmayer

From the beginning of his campaign, Joe Biden has made it clear that we are in a fight for the soul of America. He needed to find a partner in that fight -- now he has California Sen. Kamala Harris.

Throughout his career, Biden's most trusted advisers have been smart, strong women, from his wife Dr. Jill Biden to his sister Valerie Biden Owens, who has played a central role in every campaign throughout her brother's political career.

It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Biden would choose a woman who exhibits those same characteristics as his running mate. Harris's prowess as a formidable questioner and debater should send chills down Vice President Mike Pence's spine. The vice presidential debate in the fall is going to be must-see television.
Although Harris' prosecutorial skills have served her well in the political arena, her record as a prosecutor could also become a liability. Within minutes of Biden's historic announcement, the Trump campaign and their surrogates telegraphed their attack strategy against the newly minted campaign duo as out of step with the Black community's current calls for police and criminal justice reform.

It's clear the Trump campaign will use Harris's prosecutorial record and Biden's sponsorship of the infamous 1994 crime bill as wedge issues to depress the black vote in crucial swing states. Harris and Biden must be fully prepared to assuage any voter concerns those issues may cause. They can't afford to make the same mistakes Hillary Clinton's campaign made in 2016.

As the country continues to reel from the tragic impact of a deadly pandemic, economic distress and racial division, the American people now have a clear choice in this 2020 presidential election.

Unlike Trump, Biden is competent, compassionate and battle tested through tragedy. With Harris at his side as a happy warrior with a powerful personal story of her own, the contrast couldn't be any starker. Biden-Harris is everything Trump-Pence is not.

Despite the policy differences many of us disaffected conservatives may have, the Biden-Harris ticket presents the best prescription to defeat the existential threat Trump poses to our democratic norms, institutions and ideals come Nov. 3.

Tara Setmayer is a former GOP communications director, host of the "Honestly Speaking with Tara" podcast, a Harvard Institute of Politics 2020 Resident Fellow and a CNN political contributor. Follow her on Twitter @tarasetmayer.

David Gergen: Picking Harris shows Biden's good judgment

David Gergen
David Gergen
In selecting the first woman of color to serve on a national ticket, Joe Biden has not only made an historic choice, but also made an important and wise choice for the future of the presidency.
Biden found several qualities in Kamala Harris that made her an appealing selection. He made clear from the start, for example, that he wanted a running mate who would be a trustworthy partner in the West Wing — a veep whose working relationship would resemble the one he had with President Barack Obama. Harris seems well placed to play that role.
Biden had also promised he would name a woman to the ticket.
And, in recent weeks, activists in the party have made clear they wanted a woman of color. Harris, of course, fills that role -- but she brings an added benefit: When President Donald Trump goes after Harris, he will have a hard time convincing anybody she is a radical. Like Biden himself, she has always been considered more of a centrist in Democratic circles.

But from my perspective, there is even more reason why Harris is a good choice: Among the women of color under consideration, she is clearly the most qualified to become President. In this election, that matters.

Of the country's 15 vice presidents since World War II, no less than 5 have eventually become president. That means that if history holds, a Vice President Harris would have a one-in-three chance to become a future President. The fact that Biden went for a running mate who could take over on day one reflects well on both his judgment and his respect for the office.

David Gergen has been a White House adviser to Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, in addition to being a senior political analyst at CNN. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is a professor of public service at the Harvard Kennedy School, where he founded the Center for Public Leadership.

Patti Solis Doyle: Kamala Harris will help change how we view and treat women in politics forever

Patti Solis Doyle
Patti Solis Doyle

When the race is over and history has been made, Joe Biden will need a partner. He chose Kamala Harris because of her skill, her judgment, and her experience as a legislator, a prosecutor and a politician. Harris' gender and her race are icing on a very formidable cake -- and, for a woman of color like me, it just might be the most delicious icing ever whipped up.

As the head of VP operations for the Barack Obama/Biden campaign in 2008, I got to watch Biden win, learn and excel at the vice presidential role. Here's the thing: No one knows more about what is needed in a vice president than Biden -- and no one knows more about the kind of support and trust a vice president deserves.

He wanted to be Obama's partner—to be the last voice in the room before then-President Obama made the most difficult decisions. That is the vice president he was, and that is what he wants in his own—a partner who can help him as he manages multiple crises on multiple fronts -- a global health crisis, an economic crisis, an education crisis and a climate crisis.

By selecting Harris, Biden has made history: the first Black and first Indian American woman on a national ticket. She is transformational, and she will energize the base. And, if they win,

she will help change how we view and how we treat women in politics forever.

Patti Solis Doyle, a CNN commentator, was an assistant to the President and senior adviser to then-first lady Hillary Clinton, was chief of staff on Clinton's 2000 and 2006 Senate campaigns, and Clinton's presidential campaign manager in 2007 and early 2008. She is president of Solis Strategies, a Washington-based consulting firm that specializes in serving nonprofits, nongovernmental organizations and corporations. Follow her @pattisolisdoyle.

Alice Stewart: A Biden-Harris ticket will not lure in independents

Alice Stewart
Alice Stewart

On paper, Joe Biden made a wise move in choosing California Sen. Kamala Harris as his vice president. Biden's former challenger brings diversity, youth and energy to the Democratic ticket.

As the first Black vice presidential nominee for a major party, Harris is also a historic pick and checks the female box that Biden promised back in March. On top of all that, Harris has the necessary leadership experience to step into the top job if needed, having served at the local, state and federal level in positions of power.

That said, some may be surprised that after her brutal attack against Biden in an early primary debate, she was even considered for the number two position. Clearly, the Biden campaign let bygones be bygones. After all, that's politics. Candidates duke it out in the primary, and then join forces in the general election.

However, mark my words, while Democrats may be able to bury that hatchet, the Trump campaign will make sure the Biden-Harris divisions are front and center. Video of Harris attacking Biden for opposing forced busing as a means to integrating schools in the 1970s will play over and over and over -- until November. And President Donald Trump will continue to say, as he did just after the announcement, that Harris was "nasty" and "disrespectful" to Biden.

As for the historic nature of a Black running mate, I don't see that moving the needle. A majority of Black voters already support Democrats -- and likely would have with or without Harris on the ticket. It's the independent voters who matter, and it's unlikely these voters will be persuaded by a game of identity politics, especially when a Biden-Harris ticket is the most progressive presidential ticket in modern history. While independents are a mixed bag of political views, they will likely not embrace all the progressive policies that the Democrats are championing this election cycle.

So, while this week will be a high point in the Biden presidential campaign, when the confetti settles, reality will sink in. And independent voters, as well as much of mainstream America, will have a tough time supporting the Biden-Harris agenda.

Joe Lockhart: Good choice... but the election is still about Trump

Joe Lockhart
Joe Lockhart

Bottom line, Joe Biden hit a home run picking Kamala Harris as his running mate. She is smart, tough, a former prosecutor who can take it to Trump/Pence. All of those things matter, but her race makes this both a historic pick, as a Black woman who would be a heartbeat away from the Oval and as an affirmation of just how important Black voters and women are to Democrats in 2020.

There will be plenty of talk about why Biden didn't give a nod to the Bernie Sanders voters in the party, and Elizabeth Warren supporters no doubt will be disappointed. But Biden won the nomination by garnering more support among women and Black voters than any other candidate. In the end, he earned the right to pick the woman he was most comfortable with.
The Vice Presidential pick has not had much of an impact on a Presidential race since 1960, when John Kennedy selected Lyndon B. Johnson who delivered Texas and the White House . But this year, in my view, it will matter even less.

This election is about one, and only one, person -- Donald Trump. His gross mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic carnage that has come as a result of his lack of leadership, makes this campaign a referendum on his presidency.

Harris is a great addition to the Biden team. But Biden/Harris will win in November because they offer hope that government can and will work for the people again -- and Trump will be relegated to the annals of the worst Presidents in our history.

Joe Lockhart was White House press secretary from 1998-2000 in President Bill Clinton's administration. He co-hosts the podcast "Words Matter."

Raul Reyes: The vice presidential debate between Harris and Pence will be epic

Raul A. Reyes
Raul A. Reyes
Joe Biden has been clear about what he was looking for in a vice president. He has said that he wants someone with strengths that complement his own, who is willing to challenge him and who is prepared for the presidency on Day One. He wants to feel "simpatico" with his vice president. These criteria are more than met in his historic selection of Kamala Harris.

Harris is an outstanding pick for vice president for several reasons. She has been a presidential candidate, so she already has a high public profile. This matters because the presidential campaign will take place in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic -- meaning there will be few rallies, large events or opportunities for Harris to introduce herself to voters (the convention may well be largely virtual).

Her experience as a candidate for the nomination means that she has been through the press vetting and scrutiny that come with being in the national spotlight. Plus, Harris being on the ticket will energize key Democratic constituencies in battleground states. She can be expected to help drive turnout in African American voters, particularly African American women.

That Harris comes from California is important, as this state is a microcosm of the 21st century United States. She knows how to connect to and support communities of color.

And she has been vocal on how to do so, despite being criticized for her criminal justice record while she was the district attorney of San Francisco and attorney general of California.
Consider that as attorney general and senator, Harris advocated for DACA. As senator, she co-authored a bill on police reform
Latinos and immigrants can also take heart that a "Vice President Harris" will likely be a champion of immigrants. Her father emigrated from Jamaica to the US and her mother emigrated from India, so Harris has firsthand experience of what it means to seek the American dream.
If Biden made a safe choice in picking Harris, who has been favored by voters in polls, he also made a smart choice. Harris' questioning of Brett Kavanaugh, William Barr, and John Kelly during Senate hearings have ably demonstrated her sharp intellect. Expect the October vice presidential debate between Harris and Mike Pence to be epic.

Jen Psaki: The only reaction Democrats should have to Harris

Jen Psaki
Jen Psaki

The only reaction Democrats should have to Joe Biden picking Kamala Harris for his running mate is a warm embrace of his new running mate. Harris is not only a historic pick, as the first Black and Asian American woman to be on a national ticket for either party, but she is young, tough as nails (just ask Attorney General Bill Barr, or Biden for that matter) and prepared to do the job on day one.

Typically, there are only three big moments during a campaign when this choice matters. First, the day it is announced. The Biden team deserves high praise for rolling out the choice without leaks, inaccurate reporting and on a timeline that worked for them.

In addition to the element of surprise, they will have another chance with the official announcement on Wednesday, when Biden and Harris will appear together to announce their candidacy. Then, it will likely dominate news coverage for the next 48-hours, which is a great boost for them considering how hard it is to break through the President Donald Trump show.

The second moment is the Democratic National Convention next week. Harris' speech will be her chance to re-introduce herself to a national audience. We will hear about her biography, and hopefully we will hear more about her career as a prosecutor. Her law enforcement record has been picked apart, and that will continue, but she has a high-profile opportunity to talk about her record from a position of strength, describing how her experiences have impacted her positions today.

The third moment is the vice presidential debate in October. Vice President Mike Pence won't even dine alone with a woman. Now the most important night of his year will be spent debating one.

My bet is Harris will have more moments than the traditional three. But beyond 2020, Biden's pick also tells us something about the future of the Democratic Party. A Black woman is now the safe pick for running mate.

Jen Psaki, a CNN political commentator, was the White House communications director and State Department spokeswoman during the Obama administration. She is the founder of Evergreen Consulting. Follow her at @jrpsaki.

Julian Zelizer: Biden's Harris pick should worry Trump

Joe Biden made an extremely strong pick. In this case, the safe choice is a bold choice. This selection will light up the ticket.

Senator Kamala Harris offers an important mix: she is a candidate with a track record showing she can govern and a skillful campaigner. During the Democratic primaries, the former prosecutor showed she can deliver a tough verbal punch.

She also has extensive experience as a public servant in California and Washington. Biden knows the importance of a running mate who would be able to help him lead in Washington after the responsibilities that he himself was given under the Obama administration. And if there are concerns about whether the vice president would be able to step into the role of president should that be necessary—Senator Harris will allay them.

Through this choice, Biden sends the message that his administration would be committed to serious governance—a stark contrast with the chaos that has been on display every day in the Oval Office under President Donald Trump.

The selection of a Black woman will offer more evidence to voters that Democrats aim to be a party that represents the pluralistic and diverse character of our nation in 2020 rather than some reactionary throwback to the nineteenth century. She will help Biden ensure that turnout is as strong as possible in every segment of the Democratic electorate.

To be sure, there are elements of her past that will be controversial, such as her record on criminal justice reform while working in California. Biden and the Democrats have candidates who lack a very strong record on one of the most urgent questions of our times—criminal justice reform. Harris won't instantly assuage concerns over Biden's role in the passage of the 1994 crime bill, signed by President Bill Clinton and blamed by many for leading to mass incarceration.

But she has the opportunity to turn this to her advantage if she demonstrates a genuine commitment to changing the way the nation polices and imprisons. She can deliver this message as someone who has been "tough on crime" and understands the legal process better than most. Like Biden, she will be difficult to pin as part of the radical left—although the GOP will certainly try to do so.

Harris is also very good on television and social media, and this matters a great deal. During the pandemic campaign, Biden will need help selling his message on camera—one area where he doesn't shine as much as he does when he's out on the campaign trail. Most observers agree that Harris "pops" on the screen. Americans saw this not only during the debates, but also during Senate hearings, when she has delivered razor-sharp questions.

After dropping out of the primaries, Harris tweeted "Don't worry, Mr. President, I'll see you at your trial." While she was referring to Donald Trump's impeachment, the real trial will take place in November -- and now the senator will have the chance to deliver on her promise.

No vice-presidential candidate is perfect. Over the next few weeks, some of her weaknesses and flaws inevitably will be exposed as she faces the glare of the media once again. But the Trump campaign should be very worried. In one of his most important decisions of the campaign, Biden has made a strong choice that will greatly improve his chances of defeating President Trump.

Julian Zelizer, a CNN political analyst, is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and author of the book, "Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party." Follow him on Twitter @julianzelizer.

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