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What Makes Kamala Harris' Candidacy Different From Past Female VP Nominees


Kamala Harris will address the Democratic National Convention tonight, the first woman of color on a major party presidential ticket. She'll become the third woman to accept the vice presidential nomination of a major party. Of course, no woman has ever been elected as either president or vice president, but Democratic women in particular have made significant gains in the last four years. NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben is here to talk to us about this. Hey, Danielle.


FADEL: So, Danielle, like we said, this is the third time a major party will nominate a woman for vice president. Is the political calculation different this time?

KURTZLEBEN: Yes, it absolutely is. I mean, firstly, we should say, of course, this election is different. Harris is unique because, of course, she is a woman of color on the ballot, and she is running on that ballot after a woman at the top of the ticket, Hillary Clinton, lost the last election. But, yes, the political calculation is also unique because this is the first time that there's been a woman running mate who wasn't brought on by a candidate who was behind. And therefore, arguably, she has the best chance, by the way, to be the first woman elected vice president. So to look back, let's look at the first woman running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, in 1984. She was brought on by Walter Mondale, who was behind throughout that whole year and then, of course, lost in a landslide. Then in 2008, we had Sarah Palin. She came on board with John McCain, who was himself behind Barack Obama around the time that he named Sarah Palin. But the circumstances this year are different, of course. Here's Deborah Walsh. She's the director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

DEBBIE WALSH: This time around, it does not feel like this is a Hail Mary. This feels like, in some ways, a nod to the future of the Democratic Party, an acknowledgement that Joe Biden may be kind of the last of a certain breed of presidential nominee.

KURTZLEBEN: And, really, if you zoom out and you think about this year, it's a year when a record number of women, Harris included, ran for president and then lost while voters were obsessed with electability, as we heard over and over. And not only that, but this is a time when Democrats are increasingly acknowledging the key role that women of color play in getting them elected. So, yeah, you could see Harris' nomination as a sign of the Democratic Party just acknowledging lots of stuff at once.

FADEL: So as Harris accepts the vice presidential nomination, Democrats are also using the convention tonight to mark the hundredth anniversary of women winning the right to vote. Do you see a connection between Harris' selection and the impact it could have on women voting this fall?

KURTZLEBEN: Yes, in the sense that, you know, of course, this week marked the hundredth anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which said you can't deny the right to vote based on sex. But, of course, to be clear, the 19th Amendment left these big barriers to women of color voting, like poll taxes, literacy tests. It wouldn't be until, you know, later on the 1960s that those were removed. So to see a woman of color be a running mate is doubly impactful. But let's be totally clear here, though. There's a misconception that a woman on the ticket will drive women to vote for her. There is not great evidence of that. Women vote on party just like men do. And women do tend more Democratic than men. But it's by no means monolithic.

FADEL: In the few seconds we have left, of course, Americans will be electing a lot more than the president this year. And there's a record number of women running for Congress. What's behind that?

KURTZLEBEN: To be short, it's Republican women. In 2018, of course, there was that big blue wave of Democratic women running. Republican women - Republicans worked hard at recruiting women this time. Also it's possible they were responding to that, so we have a lot more Republican women this time around. That said, Democrats are favored to keep control of the House this November.

FADEL: NPR's Danielle Kurtzleben, thank you so much.

KURTZLEBEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a political correspondent assigned to NPR's Washington Desk. She appears on NPR shows, writes for the web, and is a regular on The NPR Politics Podcast. She is covering the 2020 presidential election, with particular focuses on on economic policy and gender politics.