WILMINGTON, Del. — Kamala Harris made history on Wednesday as the first Black woman and first Asian American to accept a spot on a major party’s presidential ticket, a moment intended to galvanize Democratic voters heading into the fall campaign against President Trump.
In her highly anticipated address capping the third night of the virtual Democratic National Convention, Harris mixed her polish as a former prosecutor with deeply personal tales of her upbringing to argue that she and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden can rejuvenate a country ravaged by a pandemic and deeply divided by partisan bitterness.
In accepting the nomination for vice president, Harris evoked the lessons of her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan, a biologist and Indian immigrant, saying that she instilled in her a vision of “our nation as a beloved community — where all are welcome, no matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we love.”
Harris, a 55-year-old California senator and daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, addressed race and equality in a personal way Biden cannot when he formally accepts his party’s presidential nomination on Thursday.
“There is no vaccine for racism. We have got to do the work,” she said, her words emphatic though she was speaking in a largely empty arena near Biden’s Delaware home.
“We’ve got to do the work to fulfill the promise of equal justice under law,” she added. “None of us are free until all of us our free.”
Her speech was preceded by former president Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president handing off to the first Black woman on a major presidential ticket.
Obama painted a unsparing portrait of American democracy on the brink if President Trump wins in November, warning in a scathing, and at times emotional, address that his successor is both unfit for office and apathetic about the nation’s founding principles.
“This administration has shown it will tear our democracy down if that’s what it takes to win,” Obama said in strikingly blunt remarks. He spoke from Philadelphia, where the US Constitution was drafted and signed.
Obama’s address amounted to one of the most sweeping condemnations ever of a sitting president by one of his predecessors. It was aimed squarely at jolting Democrats, as well as Republicans who are skeptical of Trump, ahead of the November election, casting the contest not simply as a choice between two politicians or two parties, but as a test of the endurance of American principles.
Obama pleaded with voters to “embrace your own responsibility as citizens – to make sure that the basic tenets of our democracy endure. Because that’s what is at stake right now. Our democracy.”
The third night of the Democrats’ four-day convention stood out for its urgent focus on voting and the party’s commitment to progressive values on issues such as gun violence and climate change. Democrats targeted Trump’s policies as dangerous, casting him as cruel in his treatment of immigrants, uninterested in the nation’s climate crisis, and over his head on virtually all of the nation’s most pressing challenges.
At the same time, high-profile party figures spoke directly to women and all voters of color, whose energy this fall could ultimately decide the outcome.
Hillary Clinton, the first woman nominated for president by a major party, spoke emphatically about the need to vote.
“For four years, people have said to me, ‘I didn’t realize how dangerous he was.’ ‘I wish I could go back and do it over.’ Or worst, ‘I should have voted,’” Clinton said. “Well, this can’t be another woulda coulda shoulda election.”
She added: “Vote like our lives and livelihoods are on the line, because they are.”
Just 76 days before the election, Biden faces the difficult task of energizing each of the disparate factions that make up the modern-day Democratic Party – a coalition that spans generation, race and ideology.
And this fall voters must deal with concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic that has created health risks for many of those who want to vote in person.
Biden leads many polls, but his supporters report being motivated far more by antipathy toward Trump than genuine excitement about Biden, a 77-year-old white man who has spent nearly a half century in politics.
Democrats hope that Harris and Obama in particular can help bridge the divide between those reassured by Biden’s establishment credentials and those craving bolder change.
The pandemic has forced Biden’s team to abandon the traditional convention format in favor of an all-virtual affair that has eliminated much of the pomp and circumstance that typically defines political conventions.
And after two nights that featured several Republicans, Democrats on Wednesday emphasized their party’s values on issues that particularly resonate with younger voters.
On guns, Biden wants to repeal a law shielding firearm manufacturers from liability lawsuits, impose universal background checks for purchases, and ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high capacity magazines. On climate, he has proposed a $2 trillion plan to invest in clean energy and end carbon emissions from power plants by 2035, even though his proposals don’t go as far as activists’ preferred “Green New Deal.”
A face of the Democrats’ support for gun control, former Arizona representative Gabby Giffords reflected on her own journey of pain and recovery from a severe brain injury nearly a decade after being shot in the head while meeting with constituents. She urged America to support Biden.
“I struggle to speak, but I have not lost my voice,” Giffords said. “Vote, vote, vote.”
Next week it’s Trump’s turn.
The president, who abandoned plans to host his convention in North Carolina and Florida, is expected to break tradition and accept his nomination from the White House lawn.
Trump spent much of this week hosting campaign events in battleground states in an attempt to distract from the Democrats’ virtual festivities. While he did not travel on Wednesday, the Republican president railed against Biden and his party at a press conference while praising a conspiracy theory group that claims Trump’s opponents have links to satanism and child sex trafficking.
“We’re saving the world from a radical left philosophy that will destroy this country,” Trump said.