World

Biden's VP pick Kamala Harris may prove an elusive target for Trump

US President needs suburban women on his side and going after Kamala Harris could put them off

US Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden's selection of Senator Kamala Harris as his running mate provides a new target for President Donald Trump's re-election campaign that has struggled to find an effective line of attack against his rival.

But going after Ms Harris comes with its own risks and challenges.

Within minutes of Mr Biden's announcement on Tuesday, Mr Trump had called Ms Harris "nasty," "horrible" and "disrespectful," while his campaign painted her as an extremist who would yank the moderate Biden to the left.

But there is little evidence at the moment to suggest that the public views Ms Harris, a former California prosecutor and attorney general, as a radical.

Indeed, Republicans like her more than they like Mr Biden, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted just before she was announced as his pick.

The poll showed 21 per cent of registered Republican voters have a favourable impression of Ms Harris, compared with 13 per cent for Mr Biden.

More concerning for Mr Trump is that attacks that could appear sexist or racist against the first Black woman on a major party ticket in US history could complicate his campaign's effort to shore up his standing among suburban women, a critical voting bloc he must win back in order to get re-elected, strategists on both sides say.

Already, leading Democratic women warned against a replay of Mr Trump's match-up in 2016 with then Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, who was subject to gender-based critiques as the first female presidential candidate.

Mr Trump has also called Mrs Clinton "nasty" and accused her of playing the "woman's card".

"If he wants to use misogynistic tropes against Kamala Harris, I think that is deeply challenging for him," said Ms Neera Tanden, a top aide to Mrs Clinton during her presidential bid.

"He has no room for error with suburban women."

According to the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, Mr Biden had an advantage of 10 percentage points among women and a six-point lead among those who live in the suburbs.

Ms Sarah Longwell, a Republican pollster, said Mr Trump's advisers would likely want the president, known for fiery and bombastic rhetoric against his political rivals, to be more cautious about attacking Ms Harris unless they had reason to believe suburban women distrusted or disliked her.

"But there's no evidence yet that they do dislike or distrust her," Ms Longwell said.

"In fact, my guess is that she'll play pretty well with suburban women."

The campaign hosted a conference call with reporters to assail her early stances during her own White House bid, when she supported progressive policy proposals such as the Green New Deal, a sweeping clean energy plan, and Medicare for All, a single-payer, government sponsored healthcare plan. Mr Biden has not backed either proposal.

Privately, however, Mr Trump's aides acknowledged Ms Harris would be a formidable adversary.

One senior White House official said that the Harris pick means Vice-President Mike Pence would have a tough debate in October.

Mr Trump, in his White House news conference, acknowledged Ms Harris' aggressive questioning of then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh at his 2018 confirmation hearing.

"She was nasty to a level that was just a horrible thing the way she treated now-Justice Kavanaugh, and I won't forget that soon," Mr Trump said. - REUTERS

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