Harris and Obama make impassioned pleas to voters, saying democracy is in their hands

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris accepts the Democratic vice presidential nomination
U.S. Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) accepts the Democratic vice presidential nomination during an acceptance speech delivered for the largely virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention from the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., August 19, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

In accepting the Democratic nomination for vice president Wednesday, California Senator Kamala Harris made history — becoming the first Black and Asian-American woman on a major U.S. presidential ticket — and an impassioned plea to Americans to elect Joe Biden president in November.

Harris accused President Donald Trump of failed leadership that had cost lives and livelihoods during a pandemic, adding that his divisive leadership had brought the country to an “inflection point.” She made a direct appeal to the party’s diverse electorate whose vote is crucial to defeat Trump on Nov. 3.

“The constant chaos leaves us adrift, the incompetence makes us feel afraid, the callousness makes us feel alone. It’s a lot,” Harris, California senator and former prosecutor, said while speaking from an events center in Biden’s hometown of Wilmington, DE, that was largely empty because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“We must elect a president… who will bring all of us together — Black, White, Latino, Asian, Indigenous — to achieve the future we collectively want. We must elect Joe Biden,” she said.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama, speaking just before Harris, also delivered a sharp rebuke of his Republican successor, saying Trump had used the power of his office only to “help himself and his friends.”

Obama, whose vice president was Biden from 2009-2017, said he had hoped that Trump would take the job seriously, come to feel the weight of the office, and discover a reverence for American democracy.

“For close to four years now he has shown no interest in putting in the work… no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves,” Obama said, in unusually sharp criticism of a sitting president by a former president.

Harris‘ nomination capped the third night of a party convention that has featured a crush of women headliners, moderators and speakers, showcasing the growing power of women in politics and in the Democratic Party. Biden leads Trump in opinion polls, bolstered by a big lead among women voters.

Biden, 77, would be the oldest person to become president if he is elected, leading to speculation he will serve only one term. The nomination for vice presidency would make Harris, 55, a potential top contender for 2024.

The speech by Harris served as a reintroduction to the country after her unsuccessful White House bid. Harris outlined her background as a child of immigrants from India and Jamaica who as a district attorney, state attorney general and now vice-presidential candidate shattered gender and racial barriers.

She said she was able to make history because of the trailblazing efforts of women before her who fought for the right to vote.

“That I am here tonight is a testament to the dedication of generations before me,” she said. “They ​organized​, marched​, and ​fought ​— not just for their ​vote​, but for a ​seat​ at the table.”

‘No matter what, vote’

In a speech from the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, Obama warned Trump and Republicans were trying to make it harder for Americans to vote and called Trump’s leadership a threat to democracy.

“We can’t let that happen. Don’t let them take away your democracy. Make a plan right now for how you’re going to get involved and vote,” Obama said.

Democrats have been alarmed by Trump’s frequent criticism of mail-in voting, and by cost-cutting changes at the U.S. Postal Service instituted by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump supporter, that could delay mail during the election crunch. DeJoy said this week he would put off those changes until after the election.

Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee who lost to Trump, told the convention she constantly hears from voters who regret backing Trump or not voting at all. She won the popular vote against Trump but lost in the Electoral College that determines the U.S. presidency.

“This can’t be another woulda coulda shoulda election,” she said. “No matter what, vote. Vote like our lives and livelihoods are on the line, because they are.”

Clinton said Biden needs to win overwhelmingly.

“Joe and Kamala can win by 3 million votes and still lose,” she said. “Take it from me. So we need numbers overwhelming so Trump can’t sneak or steal his way to victory.”

Throughout the convention, Democrats have appealed directly to women voters, highlighting Biden’s co-sponsorship of the landmark Violence Against Woman Act of 1994 and his proposals to bolster childcare and protect family healthcare provisions.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a leading progressive who ran against Biden in the 2020 primary, spoke from a childcare center in Massachusetts that is now closed because of the coronavirus. She cited Biden’s proposal to make childcare more affordable as a vital part of his agenda to help working Americans.

“COVID-19 was Trump’s biggest test. He failed miserably,” Warren said. “Joe and Kamala will make high-quality childcare affordable for every family, make preschool universal, and raise the wages for every childcare worker.”

Biden named Harris as his running mate last week to face incumbents Trump, 74, and Vice President Mike Pence, 61. The Republican National Convention, also largely virtual, takes place next week.