Joseph R. Biden’s campaign is contemplating the advent of Team Basement.
Sen. Kamala D. Harris bounded back into the presidential race with much the same fervor that greeted her primary run before she quickly went from presumptive front-runner to the first high-profile casualty.
The Californian looked great on paper but ended up crowded out by purity tests on the far left and by Mr. Biden, whose built-in advantages of being President Obama’s loyal sidekick proved insurmountable.
The dilemma now facing Mr. Biden: Is Ms. Harris a better value on the trail or huddled with him in the basement out of concern that she could flop again?
David McCuan, professor of politics at Sonoma State University in California, said it is hard to predict what comes next based on Ms. Harris’ disappointing primary run.
“The fact that she did not have primary success amongst a cast of thousands, that it is a completely different animal than running in a COVID environment and post-George Floyd and in a recession during the mother of all elections,” Mr. McCuan said.
President Trump and his team have welcomed Ms. Harris to the race by attacking her as a far-left liberal and saying she flamed out in the primary because the more voters heard from her and learned about her views, the less they liked her.
“Many people did much better than her in the primary,” Mr. Trump said. “She did very poorly in the primaries, and that’s like a poll.”
He added: “That’s the kind of opponent everyone dreams of!”
Pete D’Alessandro, who served as a top adviser to Sen. Bernard Sanders’ presidential campaign, said Ms. Harris’ past success at the ballot box should not be overlooked.
“If you look at her electoral history, she has a pretty good record of kicking ass when she runs,” he said. “That is Trump being Trump and typical politics where you throw whatever you can against the wall and see if it sticks.”
Voters in the early primary states openly dreamed about a Biden-Harris ticket. They saw it has a fusion of young and old, and a passing of the baton of sorts.
Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris, who has a Jamaican-born father and an Indian mother, made their first joint appearance Wednesday in Wilmington, Delaware, kicking off a new phase in the presidential election and setting the stage for the duo to formally accept the party’s nomination next week at the national convention.
Mr. Biden lauded Ms. Harris as a fighter for the working class and said the early attempts to sully her image show that Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are running scared.
“Is anyone surprised Donald Trump has a problem with a strong woman or strong women across the board?” Mr. Biden said.
“If you are a working person worried about whether or not you will have a job to go to, whether or not you will be able to pay your mortgage, pay your rent, worried about the poison in the air you breathe, the water you drink, worried about your civil rights, even your basic right to dignity, which is under attack with this administration, Kamala Harris has had your back, and now we have to have her back.”
Ms. Harris, taking on the traditional vice presidential role of attack dog, said the stakes in the November election couldn’t be higher for the country.
“America is crying out for leadership, yet we have a president who cares most about himself than the people who elected him, a president who is making every challenge we face even more difficult to solve,” Ms. Harris said.
“Like everything else he inherited, he ran it straight into the ground,” she said.
Four years ago, Ms. Harris became the first black woman elected to a Senate seat in California. Before that, she served as attorney general of California and as a district attorney in San Francisco.
She faced tough scrutiny in the primary, where her image as a tough-on-crime prosecutor hurt her with left-wing voters.
The Trump camp is picking at that scab.
White House senior counselor Kellyanne Conway told reporters Wednesday that Ms. Harris will have to answer for her record in California prosecuting marijuana offenders while allegedly overlooking more serious crimes.
“She called herself a criminal reformer, and she also called herself a top cop,” said Mrs. Conway. “She put people away for marijuana use and then let go people, gave plea deals to defendants who had done far worse than marijuana use. She is going to be expected to answer for that record.”
Mrs. Conway said Ms. Harris “left nobody happy when it came to law and order.”
However, the early excitement over the Harris nod among Democrats has outweighed the familiar grumbling from far-left activists who helped sink her primary bid with complaints about her tough-on-crime prosecutorial past.
Jim Wertz, chairman of the Erie County Democrats in Pennsylvania, said the excitement over the pick has been palpable.
“The minute the announcement was made yesterday, I had a woman walk through the door screaming with excitement, saying, ‘Did you hear the news?’” he said. “That has been more or less the sense of enthusiasm we have seen here, and I expect that only to grow.”
Mr. Wertz also said Ms. Harris could prove to be a major asset for Mr. Biden if she is unleashed onto the campaign trail but that he wouldn’t be surprised if the campaign, for the most part, sticks with what has worked.
“It is a striking contrast between the Trump campaign, which continues to try to hold major rallies and put their supporters at risk,” he said. “Joe Biden is the elder statesman, so he can sit back and have these fireside conversations over Zoom and bring people together that way.
“I think that is a great spot for him, especially while the Trump campaign continues to set fires,” he said. “Why walk over those coals?”
Still, the looming question is what approach they take after the Biden- Harris ticket receives its coronation next week at the Democratic National Convention.
They must decide whether Mr. Biden should break with what has been a successful basement strategy of avoiding public events and limiting press interaction to friendly outlets.
Similarly, is it worth the risk of deploying Ms. Harris outside of tightly controlled online events?
Ms. Harris has shown a unique ability to connect with and energize voters in traditional campaign settings but the Biden Team could be better off keeping her off the trail, avoiding events where the virus could spread and drawing a contrast with freewheeling Mr. Trump, Mr. D’Alessandro said.
“They might make the decision that, ‘We’d like to do this, but we can’t because we would be putting voters at risk,’” he said.
Mr. McCuan agreed that Ms. Harris’ “bread and butter” has been pressing the flesh and said he expects the Biden camp to deploy her to battleground states to boost Democrats seeking to flip contested Senate seats.
Ms. Harris also has shown the ability to learn and adapt on the fly — both in terms of electioneering and in her policy views, he said.
“That has gotten lost in her primary run, but it is evident in her history as a candidate,” he said.