WILMINGTON — As they appeared together for the first time as a Democratic presidential ticket, it was hard to miss what had drawn Joe Biden to choose Kamala Harris as his running mate. In a word, it was Beau.
In her speech Wednesday, Harris previewed what she is likely to bring to Biden’s campaign: an impressive résumé, a sharp-tongued prosecution of President Donald Trump, and the symbolism of a historic candidacy that looks much like the Democrats’ most loyal voters.
But it was the talk of Beau, Biden’s late son and a longtime friend and ally of Harris’s, that made clear to Americans why — after a search that spanned the country and women from all levels of government — Biden had ultimately chosen Harris to stand by his side.
“I know how much Beau respected Kamala and her work,” Biden said as he introduced Harris. “And that mattered a lot to me, to be honest with you, as I made this decision.”
Biden grew visibly emotional as he listened to Harris speak about Beau, who served as Delaware’s attorney general when Harris was the attorney general in California.
“I learned quickly that Beau was the kind of guy who inspired people to be a better version of themselves,” Harris said. “He really was the best of us. And when I would ask him, ‘Where’d you get that, where’d this come from?’ he always talked about his dad.”
Biden and Harris did not hug, or even touch, as they appeared together Wednesday. But Biden spoke of a connection that was virtually unique among the many women he has weighed for the vice presidential spot in recent months. Biden called Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, “honorary Bidens.”
As a woman of color and the daughter of immigrants, Harris, to Biden, also represents future generations of the Democratic Party — a fact that has significant weight given Biden’s age, 77. Among the first things Biden mentioned about Harris Wednesday: “She is ready to lead on day one.”
Biden’s speech introducing Harris also leaned into the historic nature of his choice — Harris would be the country’s first woman vice president, and is the first Black or South Asian woman to appear on a major party’s presidential ticket.
“And this morning, all across the nation, little girls woke up — especially little Black and brown girls, who so often feel overlooked and undervalued in their communities — but today, today just maybe they’re seeing themselves for the first time in a new way, as the stuff of presidents and vice presidents,” said Biden.
Outside the Wilmington high school where they appeared, a small crowd gathered despite the rain. There was a handmade sign that read “Representation Matters,” a T-shirt from Howard University, Harris’s alma mater, and at least three members of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the historically black sorority Harris joined, clad in green and pink.
In another year, they might have been welcomed into a large rally celebrating the vice presidential pick. In the age of the coronavirus pandemic, the crowd caught a fleeting glimpse of Biden and Harris before they were swept into the gym, where a small number of reporters in masks sat in circles marked off on the floor.
Denton Davidson stood out in the rain to try to spot Harris and Biden, wearing a shirt that read “Jamaica” and a Black Lives Matter mask.
“I’m an immigrant, and this is a big deal for me. I just wanted to be counted,” Davidson said. “I have to show up. I’ve got two daughters. I wanted to be present, because women, to me, have never been represented.”
Beatrice Harris, who stood outside Monday in a shirt from Alpha Kappa Alpha, said Biden’s choice of Harris confirmed what she has long known about the former vice president.
“I always felt like he’s someone that listens,” she said. “He’s a straight talker, and he needs someone around him that straight-talks, too.”