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Kamala Harris makes history as vice presidential candidate

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In this image from video, Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks about voting during the 3rd night of the DNC, 2020.
In this image from video, Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks about voting during the 3rd night of the DNC, 2020.   -   Copyright  Democratic National Convention via AP
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Kamala Harris has made history last night as the first Black woman to accept a spot on a major party’s presidential ticket. During the third day of the Democratic National Convention, the party officially nominated Harris to be the vice-presidential candidate to run for office alongside Joe Biden.

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 Joe Biden can rejuvenate a country ravaged by a pandemic and deeply divided by partisan bitterness.

Harris evoked the lessons of her late mother, Shyamala Gopalan, a biologist and Indian immigrant, saying Wednesday 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.”

“There is no vaccine for racism,” Harris said. “We have got to do the work.”

With regards to Donald Trump's presidency, Harris said American citizens "deserve so much more." She characterised this administration's work as being chaotic, adding the "incompetence makes us feel afraid. The callousness makes us feel alone."

Most scathingly, however, she said Trump's "failure of leadership has cost lives and livelihoods."

A natural successor

The daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, Harris has shined in key moments before.

She was lauded for drawing a crowd of 20,000 to the announcement of the start of her presidential campaign in Oakland last year. Her subsequent tough questioning of two Trump nominees, Brett Kavanaugh for Supreme Court justice and Bill Barr for attorney general during Senate confirmation proceedings was a similar high point, as was her broadsiding Biden during a debate over his opposition to busing in the 1970s to integrate public schools.

But Harris also launched her presidential bid with expectations that she would electrify the field, only to see her campaign struggle to find a consistent message and fizzle — with the California senator dropping out months before the first votes were cast. She also won't have the spotlight all to herself on Wednesday: Vice President Mike Pence scheduled a visit to Wisconsin hours before Harris' speech.

Convention addresses are often the most important for those selected as vice presidential candidates, but also only the start of a far bigger role in public political consciousness should their ticket win. There's potentially even deeper repercussions for Harris, though, since she could be called upon to step into the role of party standard-bearer as soon as 2024, should Biden — who will be nearly 82 by then — opt not to seek a second term.

Biden hasn’t expressly said he'd serve just a single term, but he has talked openly about being a bridge to a new generation — setting up Harris as a natural successor.

Theme of the night: Pound Trump

There has been one persistent theme in the Democratic National Convention: to portray Trump in highly personal ways as one unsuited for the White House both in skills and temperament. And no one, not even former President Barack Obama, has been holding back.

Here are some key takeaways from the third night of the convention:

  • Obama - gloves off

On Wednesday, former US President Barack Obama dispensed with decorum and delivered a direct hit on Trump, a striking condemnation and a call to Americans, particularly young ones, to not let democracy be taken from them.

“Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t,” Obama said. “And the consequences of that failure are severe. 170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.”

  • Clinton - this time a footnote

For a historic candidate who won the presidential popular vote by more than 3 million ballots but lost in the Electoral College, Hillary Clinton seemed more like a convention footnote.

But she was there Wednesday to offer a clear reminder that every vote matters, and that staying home or choosing a third-party candidate could hand Trump a second term.

Clinton was only allotted five minutes to speak, a reminder that, while she remains popular with a segment of the party, she’s also seen as a flawed politician who blew a winnable race to Trump.

Her speech was laden with regret.

“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 all over.’ Or worse, ‘I should have voted,’” Clinton said. “Well, this can’t be another woulda coulda shoulda election.”

She ruefully alluded to how she won the popular vote, yet lost the election. “Joe and Kamala can win by 3 million votes and still lose. Take it from me. So we need numbers so overwhelming Trump can't sneak or steal his way to victory.”