This is not the article I intended to publish twenty-four hours ago when I wrote yesterday’s article, A Lot Of Smoke. Today I find it necessary so please indulge me and come along.
Somewhere about thirty years ago I came up with the saying, “Life is but a constrained optimization problem.” That’s the twenty dollar word version of, “You do the best you can with what you have to works with.” That’s not completely fair here because it implies that Kamala Harris was the best of a tainted lot. In fact she was the best of an exceptional field and in this case is almost the tailor made solution to the “problem”. (It’s already apparent to me that I’m going to revert to the nerdy guy with the management degree today.)
The challenge that currently confronts the Democratic Party is how to defeat Donald Trump in what will be a less than totally free and fair election less than 100 days from now. Joe Biden has been the presumptive nominee for some time now; until Tuesday afternoon the open question was who would be his running mate. That is now answered and her name is Kamala Harris.
The big mistake presidential candidates need to avoid is naming a running mate who will make them look foolish and/or motivate the opposition. That happens much more often than most people think. Two recent examples come to mind. In 2008 John McCain selected Sarah Palin. I know from my involvement in that campaign, (I did not work directly for President Obama in 2008), that many undecided voters came over to the Obama side because Palin appeared to be such an idiot. (Tina Fey helped solidify that image on Saturday Night Live.) In 2012 I ran a field office for Obama. Mitt Romney selected Paul Ryan on a Saturday. The following Tuesday was the next day we held an open phone bank. That day I was overwhelmed with angry, motivated volunteers and our phone banks continued to be among the campaign’s most productive the rest of the campaign. We often made the vast majority of the calls for our entire region of North Carolina.
In the immediate aftermath of Harris’ naming, the GOP attacks have been atypically uncoordinated, lame and in many cases non-existent. She has been attacked as being both too far right and too far left. On the Democratic side she has universally been embraced.
In A Lot Of Smoke I referred to a first choice purposely not naming names in case she was not the pick. Today I will reveal the Harris was my first choice. In fact early in the process she was also my first choice for the top spot.
A lot of people thought that the Biden-Harris confrontation of the first debate would be a knockout for her candidacy. It was not and again looking at recent political history we see that it can be overcome. In 1980 George H. W. Bush called Ronald Reagan’s economic plan, “Voodoo economics”. Reagan still selected him, they won two terms and Bush succeeded Reagan for what was effectively a 12 year reign. Ironically, Bush was correct in labeling supply side economics as Voodoo Economics. The Biden-Harris spat was over school integration methodology from decades ago and, “I was that little girl” was both accurate and nowhere near as damaging.
Voter turnout will be the key to a Democratic victory in 2020. African-American turnout will determine if total Democratic turnout is adequate to supply the victory. Harris both self-identifies as African-American and is perceived as such by the African-American community at large. That is huge! Not only are African-American women the key to African-American turnout they are also the biggest “bloc” of potential volunteers. Because of the pandemic door knocking will be close to non-existent but phone banks and social media will be more important than ever. Having run a field office I can attest that those efforts cannot be successful without a large corps of volunteers. Traditionally the vast majority of those volunteers are female and for Democrats in most locations they are Black. By having chosen a Black woman Biden has given well deserved respect to them and if history is any indication they will acknowledge it.
Women, as the phrase goes, “especially women of a certain age” (about my age), have long felt left behind at the highest levels of elected office. The fact that Senator Harris is a female will be huge in turnout, volunteers and donations. Too many political operatives are still stuck in the 1950s; (Little lady is your husband home?). Today women have their own money (if married often more than their husbands have) and they make donations but not if you disrespect them.
Harris is an AKA. That may mean nothing to many of you but I assure you that is simply because you have a gap in your knowledge of Black American History. AKA signifies being a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. It is one of the Divine Nine, a collection of nine Black fraternities and sororities. Along with the sisters of Delta Sigma Theta they are the two of the nine that can and do often quickly mobilize crews that are willing, intelligent and hard workers for good causes embraced by one of their members (very much including alums!). What more important cause than saving America?
While the Vice Presidential Debate has produced a few memorable lines – “You’re no Jack Kennedy” and “That’s a bunch of malarkey” – they seldom, if ever, have swung the election. I’m certainly not predicting that will happen this year and I doubt the Veep debate was front and center in Biden’s mind when he tapped Harris. That all being said, who would you bet on after the fact checkers get done dissecting the Pence-Harris square off currently scheduled for October 7th? Along those lines what is more important is that Harris is both very smart and capable of thinking on her feet. The Vice Presidential nominee is traditionally the attack dog on the ticket and Harris is well equipped to “play that position”.
Something that has been overlooked is that Harris’ addition should be a boost to Senate candidates Cal Cunningham in North Carolina and Jamie Harrison in South Carolina. Representative Jim Clyburn of South Carolina was particularly pleased with Harris’ naming and we know Biden gave him the courtesy of a heads up call before the announcement went public. Harris will increase African-American voter turnout in those two states and they both have large African-American populations. In addition Clyburn is a powerhouse when it comes to getting out the vote in South Carolina and he likes both Harrison and Harris. Both races are currently polling in the margin of error and every vote will be needed to flip either or both of those seats.
The challenge at hand is beating Donald Trump and Kamala Harris brings so much to the table to help Joe Biden successfully complete that mission. Again, I invoke my late political mentor and teacher John Maloney, “The first obligation of a politician is to win because if you don’t you can’t do yourself, your Party or your causes any good.” Going back to my management school education this is a constrained optimization problem and Harris is the optimal choice for the “Veep variable”. By the way voters, as a bonus I think she’d make a good to great president should the occasion or opportunity arise.
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