Vice President-elect Kamala Harris arrives to speaks Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020, in Wilmington, Del. Credit: Carolyn Kaster / AP

Marwa Hassanien, a Muslim and the daughter of Egyptian immigrants who serves as an elected member of the Bangor School Board, posted on Facebook Saturday that she was “happy and elated” that the election is over.

“I’m not crying, you’re crying,” she said, as President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris addressed the nation from Delaware on Saturday night, calling for unity amid a tense election season.

“Differences in opinions used to look and sound so different, and we’re all to blame for that,” Hassanien said. “My wish is that we regroup, refresh and restart as a country. I pray that this is the end of the deep-seated antipathy, partisan animosity and political polarization of our country?”

Marwa Hassanien smiles after being sworn onto the Bangor school committee in November 2019. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Kamala Harris will become the 49th vice president of the United States, the first woman and the first person of color to hold the nation’s second-highest office. It’s no easy feat to win elected office at any level, but the challenge is more difficult for women of color, who remain historically under-represented in American politics.

Just ask Bangor City Council member Angela Okafor, a Nigerian-born immigrant and attorney who was one of the first three women of color to be elected to public office in the city in 2019.

She’s changed her Facebook profile image to a picture of Vice President-elect Harris but isn’t giving her all of the credit for ushering in a new wave of politics, where women of color are gaining a voice.

Donald Trump has “made America great again,” she said, “just not on his own terms.”

Many Americans — and especially women of color — who cast votes for Biden were casting votes against Trump, but they were also excited to support his VP partner Harris after watching the California Democrat push hard to reach out to Blacks, Latinos, women and others who have historically been in the political shadows.

Bangor City Councilor Angela Okafor shares stories of the discrimination her son faces during the anti-racism protest in Bangor on June 1.

Along the way, Harris had to fight opponents who tarred her with remarks often viewed as racist and sexist.

President Donald Trump frequently took aim at her. “You don’t often see a president attacking the opposing vice presidential candidate,” said Joel Goldstein, a vice presidential expert and law professor emeritus at St. Louis University.

But Harris, he said, was a good campaigner who made no slips and helped mobilize key Democratic constituencies.

Safiya Khalid, a 23-year-old Mainer who made history when she became the first Somali American elected to Lewiston City Council in 2019, knows the importance of running a strong campaign. 

Khalid, who is also the youngest person to hold a seat on that city’s council won with 69.6 percent of the vote after receiving political training through Emerge Maine, which helps Democratic women who want to run for office.

Khalid said she was motivated to run by what she saw as a lack of diversity in Lewiston’s city government at the time. On Saturday she tweeted congratulations to Biden and Harris. 

“Breath of fresh air!” she tweeted after election results were in. “No more hate and division but rather love and unity.”

Safiya Khalid, 23, speaks with a resident in the Michaud Meadows subdivision in Lewiston in on August 28, 2019. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

Harris, 56, is not the first non-white to win high office — Barack Obama won two terms as president. And in an increasingly diverse nation, non-white candidates who can win with broad constituencies are becoming commonplace.

But as a woman and person of color, Harris had to overcome the perception that in so many ways “she is the antithesis of all the elected leadership we’ve had,” said Kimberly Peeler-Allen, visiting practitioner at the Center for American Women in Politics in New Jersey.

Harris arrived on the ticket after running her own race for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2019.

Support waned throughout the year, and she was out of the race by December. In perhaps her most notable moment, she focused forcefully on Biden in a June debate, bringing up his work with segregationist senators and opposition to school busing in the 1970s.

Biden, who has deep ties in the African-American community, put her on the ticket anyway. As the 2020 campaign neared its finish, Harris provided an extra boost in getting Black voters to the polls, adding a special incentive to stand in long lines or head to a drive-in rally. Her presence served to “reinforce the excitement about the ticket,” said Hilary McLean, a Sacramento-based Democratic consultant.

Harris spent the fall often campaigning in areas where that excitement could be stoked. In September, she visited Headliners Barber Shop in Detroit, a Black-owned business on one of the Black community’s major roads.

“It was very important to us and to me personally to be here,” Harris said. She spoke about how Black business has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The campaign also ran ads aimed specifically at Black voters, including one in a barber shop where voters talked about the election.

Harris, a veteran campaigner who has won three statewide races in California, proved adept at staying on the message despite the Trump campaign’s efforts to rattle her.

“She is not a person that will get distracted by gaslighting and name-calling,” said Aimee Allison, founder and president of She the People, a political network for women of color.

From the day in August that Harris was named to the ticket, the Trump mantra was the same: She’s a radical. A socialist. She’s about to benefit from a plan to quickly become president because 77-year-old Biden is unable to do the job.

None of that was true, but Trump and his backers were relentless.

Harris, Vice President Mike Pence said, was “nasty,” a “monster,” and “totally unlikable.”

Republicans called all this standard political theater, and pointed out that Harris on the ticket was hardly likely to determine the race’s outcome.

“Tell me the last time a vice presidential candidate made a difference,” said Paul Shumaker, a Raleigh, North Carolina-based Republican consultant.

Harris had other obstacles to overcome.

“A lot of folks out there still have a problem seeing a woman in an executive role like that,” said Michael Steele, a former GOP national chairman who supported Biden. He said criticism of how Harris reacted and spoke during her October 7 debate with Pence “had nothing to do with substance or the quality of her answers.”

She also faced skepticism from many Black activists for her self-described role as California’s “top cop.”

Black activists, though, ultimately rallied around her.

“I was more interested in what her views are now,” said A’shanti Gholar, president of Emerge America, a Democratic women’s group. “There’s no perfect candidate.”

David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau, contributed to this report.