Democrats Decline an Opportunity with Senate Appointment

President Biden’s poll numbers are dismal, and one factor diminishing his reelection prospects is Kamala Harris. With questions surrounding President Biden’s age and health, there is a very real probability that a vote for the Biden-Harris ticket in 2024 would be a vote for Harris to ascend to the presidency, should Biden be unable to complete his term.

Republicans understand this, and it has become a campaign issue. Do voters really want to take a chance that VP Harris could move into the Oval Office? The death of Senator Dianne Feinstein presented an opportunity for the Democratic Party and for Governor Newsom, which, somewhat understandably, he could not take.

Had Newsom appointed Harris to fill Feinstein’s seat, that would have removed Harris as a liability to Biden’s reelection campaign. And the most prominent possibility to replace Harris as VP would be Newsom, who has obvious presidential aspirations.

Harris’s return to the Senate and a Biden-Newsom Democratic ticket in 2024 could have benefited the Democratic Party. Harris could have fulfilled Newsom’s promise to appoint a black woman to the Senate should Feinstein be unable to complete her term, and pending Biden’s reelection, Newsom would have been in line for the presidency should Biden be unable to complete his term. A Biden-Newsom ticket could have been much more attractive to voters than a Biden-Harris ticket.

While that might have been good for the Democratic Party, Newsom would face criticism for appointing Harris because that whole scenario would look too much like a power grab on his part. Harris might go for the deal if she was concerned that Biden-Harris would not be reelected. Still, it could make sense for her to stay on the ticket and, with concerns about Biden’s health, have a shot at the presidency in 2028, if not sooner. Biden could tell Harris he intends to choose another running mate in 2024, forcing Harris to take the Senate seat, but Biden would look bad doing that.

Feinstein’s passing presented a missed opportunity for Democrats to run a stronger Biden-Newsom ticket rather than Biden-Harris in 2024. That outcome could have been better for Biden, Newsom, and maybe Harris (we’ll see), but it would have been difficult for Biden, Harris, and Newsom to pull off.

Randall G. Holcombe is a Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University, and author of the Independent Institute book Liberty in Peril: Democracy and Power in American History.
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