The historic nomination of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris as the first Black woman and first person of Indian descent to be nominated for vice president of a major party is being felt across Lancaster County, with several county residents calling her nomination “exciting” and “groundbreaking.”
Presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden on Tuesday chose Harris as his running mate. She had previously challenged Biden, 77, on his record on race relations while she was a presidential candidate.
Harris, 55, is the former attorney general of California and was listed as the most liberal senator in Congress in 2019 by GovTrack, a legislation- and vote-tracking website. If elected, she would assume the highest elected position in United States government ever held by a woman.
“How can I not but have a sense of pride with her nomination, being Black, being a woman?” asked Cheryl Holland-Jones, the retired executive director of Crispus Attucks Community Center and member of the same prestigious sorority as Harris, Alpha Kappa Alpha.
“Her nomination to me helps to solidify the White House for Biden,” Holland-Jones added. “I think he already was a great candidate but the team certainly makes it much stronger and more powerful team to clench this in success.”
But will Harris as the vice presidential pick change the trajectory of the election?
Nivedita Bagchi, a government and political affairs professor at Millersville University, said it’s impossible to measure if people are more likely to go out and vote for a Biden/Harris ticket. While popular opinion assumes running mates make a huge difference, historically, the number of people who alter their decisions based on the ticket is statistically insignificant or small.
“Essentially, the people who wanted to vote for Biden would’ve voted for him whether they liked Harris or not,” Bagchi added.
Vice presidential candidates are important to help the presidential candidate “cement a message or tell a story” about the kind of governing these candidates will lead, she said.
Harris as a vice presidential choice is “both safe and historic,” Bagchi said. And although it is a historic moment for women and women of color, there is no evidence to support that the selection of Harris will change the outcome of the election, she added.
Kirk Radanovic, chair of the Republican Committee of Lancaster County, said in an email that Biden’s selection “further proves that he is running a campaign crafted by the radical left,” noting Harris’s support for climate action proposals like the Green New Deal.
“These policies are out of touch with America and are certainly out of touch with our values here in Lancaster County,” Radanovic added.
But for Timbrel Chyatee, the owner of Lush Bazaar in Lancaster city and a first-generation Indian immigrant, Biden choosing Harris helped her see where Biden stood on issues like diversity.
She was especially excited to see the news about Harris -- and found similar immigration stories from India between Harris’s family and her own -- but hopes that people understand her “complete heritage” as the first Black woman and the first woman of Asian descent to be nominated to this post. Harris’s father is from Jamaica and her mother is from India.
“She’s not just a Black female vice presidential candidate,” Chyatee said. “She also has that Indian heritage and that speaks to a lot more other people who come from other cultures.”
Lancaster NAACP President Blanding Watson said in a news release the selection of Harris "reminds us of the persistent and often unnoticed contributions of Black women to the struggle for equal justice.”
Malachi Longmore, a sophomore public health major at Franklin & Marshall College and social action chair of the school’s Black Student Union, said Harris will help motivate students of color to vote.
Longmore, of Union, New Jersey, said Harris’s nomination is especially important to him because both his mother and sister are graduates from Howard University, the historically Black college or university of which Harris is also an alumna.
While Longmore has some concerns about her past record as a prosecutor, Harris being chosen helped him feel less hopeless about his choices for president, he said.
“I feel this history behind it,” Longmore said. “We’ll look back at this moment [and say] ‘This really did happen in 2020.’ And so whether or not she wins, it’s a groundbreaking moment for Black people and people of color all around.”