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Choosing Harris an ‘important moment’ in democratic evolution

As Joe Biden’s running mate in this year’s presidential election, Sen. Kamala Harris will be the first Black woman and the first person of Indian heritage to be nominated by a major party.

While the historic moment is important to note, Harris’ name being added to the ticket also comes with a shift in which policies and issues will be debated in the final weeks of the race, said Wendy Smooth, an associate professor of women’s gender and sexuality studies and political science at Ohio State.

Smooth has spent her career researching and teaching about women’s experiences in political institutions and the impact public policies have on women’s lives. She discussed what Harris will do for Biden and political discourse this fall.

What do you think of Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his VP candidate?

Vice President Joe Biden’s selection of Senator Kamala Harris is bigger than his campaign alone. In so many ways, this is about the evolution of our democracy and our goals to move closer to realizing “we the people.”

This historic moment also comes at a point when we are commemorating 100 years of women’s suffrage via the 19th Amendment. And while most Black women and Asian American women were not included in that moment, we can mark how far we have come as a nation from complete exclusion of women and women of color to being names on a presidential ticket for a major party.

This is an important moment for our country as an evolving democracy.

What issues do you think she will focus on during the campaign?

Sen. Harris has been a strong voice on police reform and prison reform, which she will bring to the campaign, elevated by her background as California’s former attorney general.

Similarly, given her role as a member of the U.S. Senate, she will have an important voice on U.S. foreign policy, restoring the United States’ diplomatic engagements with allies around the world and taking a critical stance on Russia.

Joe Biden was reportedly considering a number of different women of color as VP candidates. Why was it important for him to select one?

Women of color have been some of the most reliable supporters of Democratic Party politics. Given his need to mobilize his base, Vice President Biden saw the need to acknowledge that history and loyal support. That is what happens with many groups in politics who help to shape the base and turn out.

From the onset, I believed that it was important to include women of color in all serious vetting, and if they were vetted, their records examined, they would prove solid choices. I believe this about all situations in which we recognize the potential of women and women of color to contribute.

Once you look at their abilities, talents and contributions in any serious way, they become strong contenders — and this goes for giving a look to women of color in every sector for any job. For women of color across sectors — seriously examine her record, and you find she is the top candidate for the job.

Democratic candidates are often accused of not working hard enough to cultivate the votes of Black voters and other people of color. Do you think this VP selection will help Biden in that regard?

Selecting Sen. Harris will undoubtedly help Vice President Biden’s campaign. He has fulfilled an early promise to select a woman, and that alone will go a long way.

Representation matters in politics, so this selection will have a strong impact on mobilizing women, mobilizing women of color to get out the vote. And we know from past election cycles how effective women of color can be in mobilizing communities to turn out to vote.

However, selecting Sen. Harris alone is not enough; the Democratic Party will have to invest in get-out-the-vote mobilizations in key battleground states.

For women of color across sectors — seriously examine her record, and you find she is the top candidate for the job.
Wendy Smooth, Ohio State associate professor of women’s gender and sexuality studies and political science
What are other ways that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris can further cultivate women of color and help get their votes?

Women of color need to hear a message that resonates with what is happening in their communities.

We often take for granted that women of color are foremost issue voters. They will increase turnout when they hear messages on their issues, including addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and the health disparities it uncovers; police- and state-based violence that communities of color experience routinely; the need for small-business assistance in the pandemic and beyond and access to affordable housing, eviction protections.

All of those are issues that women of color want to see advanced. Attentiveness to these issues will make the greatest difference for Vice President Biden’s campaign, far beyond his running mate selection.