I assume you are all aware that California Sen. Kamala Harris is now the Democratic nominee for Vice President. I didn’t post about that on Wednesday because it was hardly news by the time I published, but there are things to discuss. Pretty much as humidity follows the rain in Houston, we now have several articles about how Harris’ place on the ticket may have an effect on the race in Texas. So let’s take a look and see what we can learn.
From the Trib:
“I think Kamala Harris is the perfect choice for the moment,” Abhi Rahman, a spokesman for the Texas Democratic Party, told The Texas Tribune on Wednesday. “She’s the perfect pick for Texas and for this entire country. … A lot of us knew her potential and what she could bring.”
In Harris, Texas Democrats see a winning formula — someone who can excite key members of their electorate but who holds positions that won’t alienate the more moderate voters the party is trying to win over with President Donald Trump on the ballot. The party faithful, still energized by former U.S. Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke’s closer-than-expected margin of defeat in 2018, think that the mainstream Democratic politics shared by both Biden and Harris will give the state the much-needed boost to flip the state blue. Texas hasn’t nominated a Democrat for president since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
This year the once-reliable Republican stronghold of Texas is approaching swing state status. A June 3 poll by Quinnipiac University gave Trump a 1-percentage-point lead in the state. A July poll by the same university gave Biden a 1 point lead over Trump.
Though Harris’ selection may have eroded any hope for progressives that Biden would choose someone from the Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren-led wing, others in the party are hoping Harris can get more suburban women to the polls and can help hone Biden’s pitch to Black voters, a bloc that needs to turn out in strong numbers if Democrats are going to have a chance in the state.
Harris is the daughter of immigrants; her father is from Jamaica and her mother is from India. By picking her, Democrats argue, Biden may have given the party’s most loyal voters a reason — beyond animosity toward Trump — to work for and elect the ticket.
“The Black, Hispanic and South Asian communities have been engaged in the political process for quite a number of years,” said state Sen. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston. “These communities were largely already there for Biden, but this is going to solidify that support. These communities aren’t just casting votes, but they’re going to get out there and work.”
Along similar lines, here’s the Chron:
“For Texas, there is not a better pick,” said Mustafa Tameez, a Democratic strategist in Houston.
“She has a multicultural background,” Tameez said. “Having someone who can authentically speak to those populations in the suburbs is going to create momentum. Having somebody like that on the ticket automatically jump starts it.”
Political scientists say Democrats are probably right about the boost Harris can provide in the suburbs, even though she may not excite progressives in the state who were crucial to elevating O’Rourke’s 2018 campaign and mobilizing younger voters in general in Texas.
Harris, who is the daughter of immigrants, could be especially effective in areas like Fort Bend County, one of the biggest and fastest growing counties in the state, where more than 28 percent of the population is foreign born and more than 20 percent are Asian-American.
“By selecting someone who isn’t overwhelmingly identified with the most progressive wing of the party, Biden’s pick can technically appeal to both sets of voters — moderate whites and moderate white women who may be considering the Democratic party, and people of color in Texas,” said Joshua Blank, research director at the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Politics Project.
Harris also could appeal to minority voters who make up the bulk of the Democrats’ base in Texas — both the Asian-Americans who are driving much of the growth of the state’s suburbs, and with Black women who “have been the base and buckle of the Democratic party,” said Michael O. Adams, a political scientist at Texas Southern University
“There’s a lot of energy there,” Adams said.
Harris addresses the biggest concern that Democrats had coming out of 2016, when a record 137.5 million Americans voted in the presidential election.
But data from the Pew Research Center shows that while almost every demographic group saw a corresponding boost in turnout, black turnout declined for the first time in 20 years, falling from 66.6 percent in 2012 to 59.6 percent in 2016.
In the battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania there was a huge drop-off in turnout among women of color who previously voted for President Barack Obama, said Aimee Allison, founder of She The People, a California-based group that has been pushing Democrats to more genuinely address issues of importance to women of color. All three of those states wound up voting for Donald Trump, paving his way to the White House.
“Women of color are one of the largest and most influential Democratic constituencies — and no candidate can win the nomination or the White House without us,” Allison said earlier this year.
In 2019, Allison organized the first She The People rally in Houston at Texas Southern University, an ode to former Houston Congresswoman Barbara Jordan. That event put Harris and other early Democratic contenders for the White House before an audience of mostly women of color in an early test of who could connect with that critical base of voters.
For Harris, it would be one of three stops at Texas Southern University while she tried to build momentum in Texas — a state where her campaign never gained traction despite those early forays into Houston.
Still those trips illustrated Harris’ ties to historically Black colleges and universities. Harris is a graduate of Howard University and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, a Black sorority with 300,000 members and more than 1,000 local chapters.
“Things like this resonate well in the Black community and the Black electorate,” said Adams at TSU.
A lot of opinions, but not a lot of data. It’s really hard to say what the actual effect of Kamala Harris as the VP candidate as opposed to any of the other possible candidates may be. She has her strengths and her drawbacks, but overall and in many ways looks to be a big positive for the ticket. The main job of any VP nominee is to first do no harm, and then from there to be the most effective voice for the Presidential nominee that one can be. I appreciated the insights that Morgan State poli sci professor Jason Johnson gave in this episode of the What Next podcast. I tend to agree with the position that Donald Trump will have the biggest effect on the election, because the election is entirely about Donald Trump. I think Harris advances the argument that a vote for Biden (now Biden/Harris) is a vote to restore sanity and stability in America, and I’m confident she will be an outstanding campaigner. That’ll play just fine in Texas.
There is another factor to consider.
On a quiet street in Bellaire, the Sinha sisters, in seventh and fifth grade, already know all about the historic nomination of Sen. Kamala Harris as the Vice President on the Democratic ticket.
“I think that Kamala Harris has inspired young women like me that we can do anything we put our minds to,” 10-year-old Anisa Sinha said.
“Kamala, she comes from a culture that really celebrates the strength of powerful women,” said older sister Reva, who is heading into seventh grade. “I just feel like she helps me and other young women feel seen and heard.”
The girls’ parents smile with pride hearing those words from their daughters. As Indian Americans, the fact that a child of Jamaican and Indian immigrants is nominated for the second highest office in the country is a point of pride.
“I think the intersection of her being Black and Asian is really important,” said Pranika, the girls’ mother. “Not only is she a woman of color, but the fact that she is representing two populations that are historically underrepresented in politics is really important. My great aunt’s name is Kamala, so I identify with that as well.”
Meanwhile, Judge R.K. Sandill, the first civil district judge of South Asian descent elected in Texas, shares the same sense of hope.
“If my Twitter and Facebook feed is any indication, the South Asian community is pumped,” he said. “We’ve been huge (monetary) contributors to both parties for a long time. But now that we’re on a track to engage, not just with activists, but also for our kids.”
Sandill remembers when he first ran for office 13 years ago, South Asian candidates were almost unheard of in Texas. Now, there are several other judges from his community, and the Fort Bend County Judge, K.P. George, is Indian American.
Harris’ background could increase voter turnout in November, and could possibly make a difference in a few tight races down the ballot.
“In a diverse state like Texas, she brings a lot to the table,” political consultant Keir Murray said. “Texas has more Black voters than any state in America, more than 1.5 million. And she’s South Asian, and the Asian American population is the fastest growing and most politically dynamic in Texas.”
In fact, as Michael Li notes, Texas is home to over 700K Asian voters, more than double what any other battleground state has. Asian-Americans voted strongly Democratic in 2018, so if there is a boost in turnout with them thanks to Kamala Harris, that will be a benefit as well. That might be a good topic for some political scientists to look into, now and after the election once the voting results are in. We know she has a lot of strengths as a candidate. Now we look forward to seeing her use them.