Kamala Harris speaks with presumptive Democratic nominee for president Joe Biden on Aug. 13. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Mike Espy stops short — just short — of saying that he believes Kamala Harris will make a good vice president because she is a Howard University graduate.

“I am a Bison through and through,” Espy said of his alma mater’s mascot.

“Kamala is a personal friend, but more so than that she will be good for the country, strong, capable and competent,” Espy said. And, he adds, the fact that she is an alumna of Howard, the historically Black university in Washington, D.C., does not hurt.

The time at Howard for Espy, age 66, and Harris, 55, did not overlap, but their shared alma mater has played a role in their friendship in recent years, Espy said.

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, selected Harris as his vice presidential running mate last week. As Harris seeks to become the first Indian American and Black vice president in the nation’s history, Espy is trying to become Mississippi’s first Black U.S. senator elected by popular vote.

Espy says not only does he believe a Biden-Harris administration will be good for the country, but he believes it will help his Senate candidacy.

Espy, who in 1986 became the first Black Mississippian elected to the U.S. House since the 1800s, has said in order to win this November, Black voter turnout must increase by 3% from 32.5% of the total turnout in 2018, and he must increase his white share of the electorate from 18% in 2018 to 22%.

Espy said he believes Harris, the first Black woman to serve as a vice presidential nominee of a major party, will increase African American turnout in Mississippi.

“I was on a Zoom call during the (Harris vice presidential) announcement,” he said. “I gave her a digital shout out. I said right then she should come to Mississippi. I don’t control that, of course, but if possible, she would be welcome — and Joe Biden, too.”

Espy said he will be proud to witness Harris being nominated on Wednesday at the Democratic National Convention as the first graduate of a historically Black university as the presidential or vice presidential nominee for a major party.

Espy said he introduced himself to Harris, a U.S. senator representing California, at a Washington banquet about the time he was preparing to run in the special election in 2018 to replace veteran U.S. Sen Thad Cochran, who stepped down in 2018 for health reasons.

“We talked about Howard University and about me running for the Senate,” Espy recalled. Harris later participated at fundraisers for Espy in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, and she came to Mississippi to campaign for him in 2018.

Espy lost the special Senate election in 2018 to Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, appointed to the post in the interim by then-Gov. Phil Bryant, by 7 percentage points. Espy is challenging the incumbent Hyde-Smith again this year.

Not surprisingly, Hyde-Smith and Espy have different views of Harris. Hyde-Smith, a fierce ally of President Donald Trump, posted on her social media account a campaign ad from the president’s campaign describing Harris as embracing “the radical left” and “calling for trillions in new taxes.”

Espy said Harris and former Georgia House Democratic Leader Stacey Abrams, who grew up on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, were his personal favorites to share the ticket with Biden.

Both Harris and Espy served on the Liberal Arts Student Council at Howard. Espy described the experience at Howard as life-changing for him after growing up in Yazoo City on the edges of the Mississippi Delta.

Espy told Mississippi Today he was serving as “negro senior class president” at Yazoo City High School in 1970 when he led a walkout because none of the teachers from the Black high school were transferred to the previously all-white high school. Because of his role in the boycott, he said, white administrators lowered his grade point average.

“I had good grades before then,” Espy said. “I had to write an essay explaining to colleges what had happened.”

Based on that essay, Howard offered him a full scholarship. His twin sister, Michele, also received a full scholarship. Espy said Howard prepared him for his career in politics, which culminated in him serving as the first Black secretary of agriculture in the nation in the early 1990s.

Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.