Kamala Harris embraces VP bid in Delaware with speech that scorches Trump's record
The country's political attention turned to A.I. du Pont High School on Wednesday where Kamala Harris, the freshly nominated Democratic vice presidential candidate, delivered a speech that shifted from fond remembrance of Beau Biden to sharp rebuke of the Trump administration's record on the coronavirus, unemployment and racial justice.
After an introduction by former Vice President Joe Biden at the Greenville school's gymnasium, Harris transitioned smoothly into her new role as vice presidential candidate, and with a string of attacks offered a glimpse of the political intensity that is certain to unfold during the next three months.
Harris made clear the similarities between herself and her new running mate, insisting they "are cut from the same cloth."
On the coronavirus, Harris called Trump's opinions on masks and on treatments and his past criticisms of medical experts, "the reason someone dies of COVID-19 every 80 seconds," referencing the roughly thousand daily deaths from the virus in the United States in past weeks.
On the economy, she said the country's historic unemployment amid the pandemic is Trump's fault.
"He inherited the longest economic expansion in history," Harris said. "And, then like everything else he inherited, he ran it straight into the ground."
At the end of her speech, the candidates' spouses, Jill Biden and Douglas Emhoff, met on the gymnasium floor. As they were leaving, Biden told a CNN reporter: "If the science allows us, you’re gonna see us campaigning together.”
In response to the event, Republican National Committee spokesman Michael Joyce said Harris' nomination means "the radical left-wing is now in total control of Joe Biden and the Democrat Party."
"If you want to continue the Great American Comeback," he said, "then your only option is the ‘Promises Made and Promises Kept’ of President Trump and Vice President Pence."
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Wednesday's event, which took place about 2 miles from Biden's home, marked the first joint appearance for the two politicians since Biden announced Harris as his running mate Tuesday.
With a mother from India and a father from Jamaica, Harris, 55, became the first Black woman and the first Asian American to be a major party candidate for vice president of the United States.
She was among a handful of Black women Biden had considered for the role.
On Tuesday, Harris' nomination drew scorn from President Donald Trump, who posted a video on Twitter that called her a "phony." Vice President Mike Pence congratulated Harris when learning that she was picked, before stating, "I'll see you in Salt Lake City," in reference to a planned October debate.
In Delaware, a nuanced range of reactions to Biden's choice of Harris as his running mate came from across the political spectrum.
State GOP Chair Jane Brady called Harris' nomination a "historic moment," and said she looks forward to the day when such picks are common enough that "there are no more firsts."
Brady, who lost a bid for U.S. Senate to Biden in 1990, said she doesn’t plan to vote for Biden but understands that many Delawareans will be excited if the U.S. president hails from their small state.
Still, she questioned whether Biden's teaming with Harris, a California politician without what she said "were clear policy positions," would be able to turn Mid-Western swing states blue.
“There’s a lot of attention that’ll be on Delaware this year,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, who was involved in the vice presidential selection process, said former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden’s fondness for the California senator played a role in Joe Biden’s decision.
Harris and Beau Biden had worked closely, as respective AGs, nearly a decade ago. Beau Biden died of brain cancer in 2015.
Two of Biden's close friends said his pick of Harris demonstrates that the longtime Delaware politician does not hold grudges. During a presidential primary debate last year, Harris began a sharp criticism of Biden stating, "I do not believe you are racist," before describing his previous praise of segregationists as "hurtful."
Because of the exchange, Biden "had the option to move past" Harris as a potential VP pick, but instead made his choice based on what he believed were the best qualities for a vice president, said Biden's former Chief of Staff Dennis Toner.
Wilmington attorney Michael Kelly, who has known Biden for decades, said he encouraged the former vice president to pick either Harris or former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, who in the past had employed Kelly's daughter. He said Biden ultimately "put the country over his ego" by choosing Harris.
"Irish Catholics are sensitive – and I'm one – they often hold a grudge," he said.
Greg Lavelle, a former Republican Delaware senator who had represented Biden's home district in Dover, expressed unease with Biden's past political decisions, including support for teacher unions and federal housing policies.
He did not immediately state whether such unease extends to his vice presidential pick.
Unlike Democratic tickets of years past, the candidates did not speak to a roaring crowd of supporters, as the coronavirus pandemic largely has prevented such public gatherings.
It also is the reason Delaware has played an unlikely role in Biden's campaign in the last five months.
Harris departed Washington, D.C., in an SUV bound for Wilmington shortly after 11 a.m. Tuesday.
A handful of Wilmington residents began milling around Hotel du Pont in the city at around noon. When Harris arrived around 12:45 p.m., cheers of "Kamala!" erupted from two Wilmington women craning to get a glimpse of the new vice presidential candidate. She exited the silver SUV, waved to the women, then entered the hotel through a side door.
Michelle Kunicki arrived outside the hotel shortly after, too late to catch sight of Harris. The Wilmington woman had walked to the area on her lunch break in an effort "to see and be part of something so monumental in my neighborhood."
"Picking a strong woman for VP and also Biden being from Delaware, I have a lot of pride for that," she said.
A crowd of Biden supporters hoping to catch a glimpse of the pair also gathered through the day outside A.I. du Pont High, where several police and U.S. Secret Service vehicles were parked.
Newark resident Mary Coyle was one of a few who arrived in the morning, even before Harris had left the nation's capital.
She has actively supported the former vice president since 1978, when she worked on his reelection campaign to the U.S. Senate, she said.
"So I've known him since 1978, but that's not uncommon in Delaware. You're going to hear a lot of people tell you the same story," said Coyle, who wore a "Riding with Biden" T-shirt.
From the Hotel du Pont, Harris went on to Biden's Greenville home. There were few onlookers outside the home. Most people in the area appeared more interested in sheared trees damaged in a recent storm than in spotting national political figures.
Around 4 p.m., the duo left the house together and traveled to A.I. du Pont High.
Twelve years before, Biden had left the same house to accept Barack Obama’s invitation to become his vice presidential running mate.
His mom, Jean, who was still alive at the time, gave him a kiss in the driveway as he left. She died two years later.
Biden and Harris spoke about their parents Wednesday.
Harris referenced Joe Biden's close relationship with Beau Biden before describing how family also is "everything to me." She described how her parents who "came from opposite sides of the world" had met at protests in the Bay Area in the 1960s.
"And my mother, Shyamala, raised my sister Maya and me to believe that it was up to us ... to keep on marching," she said.
Reporters Sarah Gamard, Jeanne Kuang and Patricia Talorico contributed to this story.
Contact Karl Baker at email@example.com or (302) 324-2329. Follow him on Twitter @kbaker6.