Kamala Harris was conflicted.
California’s senator needed a big splash in the first Democratic presidential debate, and her main rival, front-runner Joe Biden, seemed to have teed up a perfect opportunity. Days earlier, at a New York City fundraiser, he reminisced of a bygone era in the Senate and his ability to work civilly alongside two segregationist lawmakers.
Harris, only the second Black woman ever to serve in the chamber, was deeply offended. But she also had warm feelings toward Biden, a friend and past political ally.
Her decision to call him to account before a national prime-time audience produced one of the most electric moments of the 2020 campaign and, more than a year later, continues to echo as the presumptive Democratic nominee chooses his vice presidential running mate. Harris is seen as a top contender.
The heated exchange on a tropical June night in Miami, however, has complicated Harris’ hopes of landing on the ticket, even as Biden appears — at least publicly — to have forgiven his former rival.
More broadly, the clash and deliberations leading up to it suggest the approach Harris would take as Biden’s running mate — a style not far removed from her days as a prosecutor, when she relied on meticulous preparation, a dramatic presence and the willingness to set aside personal feelings to do whatever was needed to prevail.
“It’s kind of like being in the courtroom,” said an associate from Harris’ days as California attorney general, who described her capacity to compartmentalize. “You might have the utmost respect and good relations with the defense attorney or the public defender. But you’re there to win.”