Will Kamala Harris Take California to Washington?

Two years ago, the California senator was the focus of an Alta cover story by Phil Bronstein that asked whether the Oakland native would lead the Democrats to the White House in 2020. Turns out, we were close.

Sen. Kamala Harris
Senator Kamala Harris, a Bay Area native, has been chosen as Presidential candidate Joe Biden’s running mate.

Yesterday, presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden announced U.S. Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate. Alta contributor Phil Bronstein profiled his longtime friend Harris for our Winter 2018 cover story, which examined the former California attorney general’s journey to the Senate and her odds of winning the White House herself. We caught up with Bronstein to reflect on what the veep reveal means for the Golden State—and for Harris. 

ALTA: Why do you think Biden selected Kamala Harris to be his running mate?
PHIL BRONSTEIN: He thinks she’s the most impressive of the alleged contenders. I think he probably wanted someone who… I don’t know why he picked her [laughs]. I would pick her if I were Joe Biden, because she’s got the power and the strength and the conviction that I think a lot of people feel he doesn’t have. Not entirely. And if you look at her past, I mean, she’s built up this persona of someone who has integrity and believes in social justice, and she’s a Black, Asian, Indian woman, which I think, in this day and age, is a great thing to have on the ticket. And very rare, and you get the benefit of history, in the historical moment that this is. And I just think she complements Biden, but I also think that, if I were Biden, I’d probably get a food tester.

ALTA: Why? Do you think she wants the White House?
BRONSTEIN: Yeah, I think it’s sort of the natural assumption, right? It’s the natural next step for her.

ALTA: Will this pick impact California?
BRONSTEIN: I don’t think so. I think she has been a national candidate since even before she became a senator, in terms of traveling around the country for years raising money for Democratic candidates everywhere and at many levels. So I think this is just a manifestation of that national-candidate idea that she’s created over time. I don’t anticipate California will get any special favors. And it’ll be interesting to see how she and [Governor] Gavin [Newsom] get along.

ALTA: Do you think Harris’s plan in running for president was to secure an eventual second spot on the ticket?
BRONSTEIN: She has fought endlessly for what she called a seat at the table. And I think that there is not a more powerful position at that table than president of the United States. And so I think it’s natural for her to want that job. She ran a painful campaign to try and get that job. Did she have that in mind all along as her final strategy, becoming veep? No, I don’t think so.

I think she was probably willing, and certainly able, and, you know, I think there’s been talk about Biden only running for one term. And if that’s true, then I think she’s got a great shot, and maybe she anticipated that. 

ALTA: What kind of vice president do you think she’ll make if Biden is elected?
BRONSTEIN: Very active. I think she’s been aggressive in politics and things like social justice, women’s issues, and law enforcement for a long time. And I think she’s ambitious, in terms of her agenda and in terms of her own career. So I think, again, with Biden—and, I mean, who knows what to believe about Biden and his health or lack of health and cognitive abilities or lack of abilities? But certainly, the conventional wisdom is that he may not be a particularly aggressive politician. I mean, to counter claims that he’s got some cognitive issues, he just seems to yell louder. But I think she is the more aggressive politician, for sure. More aggressive public servant as well.

ALTA: Who do you think will run to replace Harris in the Senate?
BRONSTEIN: Whoever it is, they’re probably 30 years younger than I am, so don’t expect me to know who they are.

[End of call. Then Bronstein calls back with one more thing to add.]

BRONSTEIN: I hope Willie Brown doesn’t fuck it up for her.  

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

READ MORE Big Ambition: For Democrats in desperate search of new national stars, Kamala Harris is a potential contender for the 2020 presidential nomination (Alta, Winter 2018)


Phil Bronstein was named executive chair of the board of The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) in April 2012, when the organization merged with The Bay Citizen.
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