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Californians React To Biden's Decision To Name Kamala Harris His Running Mate

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, let's hear what her home state thinks of the elevation of Kamala Harris. She's Joe Biden's choice as the Democratic vice-presidential nominee. Harris identifies as Black. She is the child of a Jamaican immigrant father and a South Asian immigrant mother. Nobody of such a background has ever served on a major party national ticket before. But for Californians, that is just one layer of her story. Scott Shafer, who knows a lot about California politics, reports from member station KQED in San Francisco.

SCOTT SHAFER, BYLINE: Kamala Harris launched her short-lived campaign for president last year in her hometown of Oakland, Calif. While she dropped out of the race before a single vote was cast, leading Democrats in the state take pride in her being back in the national spotlight.

AIMEE ALLISON: To have our hometown California senator is amazing.

SHAFER: That's Aimee Allison of She the People, an Oakland-based organization that advocates for having more women of color in politics. Her group desperately wanted - insisted, really - that Biden add diversity to the ticket. And she thinks that's what Kamala Harris brings.

ALLISON: She knows how to navigate complex racial politics. She did it in California. And that's the value. That's what she's going to do in places like Texas and Florida and Georgia.

SHAFER: California is used to being the ATM of national politics, the place politicians of both parties come to raise money. And former California Senator Barbara Boxer, whose retirement prompted Harris' run for the Senate, says being a solid Democratic state has reduced California's presence on national tickets.

BARBARA BOXER: And so people take us for granted. And most the time, a vice-presidential pick will come from a swing state. So this is unusual and exciting for us.

SHAFER: For California Democrats who didn't support Harris' run for president, her selection by Biden is a disappointment, to put it mildly. Norman Solomon is a delegate for Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who won the California primary in March. His group of progressive Democrats calls Harris a political weather vane shifting with the winds.

NORMAN SOLOMON: For Joe Biden, he doesn't want the so-called big tent of the Democratic Party to be big enough to include, really, authentic progressive activists and progressive voters. And I think that's disturbing.

SHAFER: When she ran for president, Harris presented herself as a progressive prosecutor, a so-called smart-on-crime attorney general of California who supported criminal justice reforms. But she was slow to support legalizing marijuana. And critics said she was timid on pressing for police reform and holding corporations accountable. Former Senator Boxer says Harris has evolved. But in any case, it doesn't really matter.

BOXER: Right now, she's not running on her record. She's running, basically, to help Joe Biden get elected. And the record that's going to be in front of us is, really, his record, Joe's, and Trump's.

SHAFER: State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who became AG after Harris was elected to the Senate, says she adds energy to the ticket.

XAVIER BECERRA: You've got this dynamic duo now. The level of experience that the two of them bring, the type of dynamism that she adds, it's just all good.

SHAFER: Becerra says having a Californian on the ticket will bring the state's progressive values to the highest level of government.

BECERRA: All the innovation, all those ideas, all that energy - guess what. Now you'll have a Californian in the White House working with the president directly, so even more likely that as goes California will go the country.

SHAFER: Of course, that notion strikes fear into the hearts of Republicans who see California as a high-tax nanny state. And Ron Nehring, former chair of the state Republican Party, says Harris' record as a prosecutor might go over well in San Francisco, but not in the Midwest.

RON NEHRING: This looks like one of those prosecutors who doesn't take the role of prosecuting seriously and letting bad guys off the hook.

SHAFER: Whether that line of attack works with voters focused on a pandemic and a staggering economy remains to be seen. For NPR News, I'm Scott Shafer in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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