WILMINGTON, Delaware — After Kamala Harris finished the biggest speech of her life on Wednesday, her husband walked on stage to greet her, both hands at his side, palms out, mouth open wide in a gesture of disbelief, awe, and love.
"You were great!" he exclaimed.
Doug Emhoff spent much of his fifth year of marriage to Harris, a US senator and former presidential candidate, on the campaign trail in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. Now, he is spending the week before their sixth wedding anniversary, which the couple celebrates on Saturday, here in Wilmington, Delaware, as one half of a major party presidential ticket.
During his wife's 11-month presidential campaign, Emhoff carved out a role as the candidate's biggest fan. At speeches and debates, he was never far from his wife, cheering her on, forcibly removing a protester, or capturing behind-the-scenes photos for his Instagram page with as much zeal as Twitter’s biggest Kamala stans — an unabashed, wide-eyed fandom that has engendered his own community of followers online.
On Thursday afternoon, the day after Harris delivered the keynote address on the third night of the Democratic National Convention, Emhoff made his own debut of sorts, with a seven-minute virtual speech during the party's LGBTQ caucus meeting, his first public remarks since Joe Biden asked Harris to serve as his vice presidential nominee.
"Time for some real talk first," Emhoff said. "Being out here on the presidential campaign trail talking about Joe and Kamala is not something I've ever really expected to be doing."
He spoke from Wilmington from what appeared to be a kitchen or breakfast nook — children's artwork, pinned to the wall behind Emhoff, could be seen in the background — but the Biden campaign declined to disclose the location of the setup, save to say it was "a private residence in Wilmington."
Asked if this private residence is the place where Emhoff and Harris have been staying during their time in Wilmington this week, a Biden official said she wasn't sure.
His remarks provided a broad overview of his own biography (born in Brooklyn, raised in Los Angeles, works in entertainment law, now on leave from his firm, he noted, “so that I can work full-time to help Joe and Kamala win"), his wife's record (“the first thing you need to know is she is the daughter of immigrants”), and his hope for a Biden-Harris administration next January ("We need a mandate to show this president doesn't define who our country is").
There were no surprises and he stuck to his script, speaking quietly into his computer, with only a hint of nervous energy. But Emhoff's appearance alone — he wore a black polo shirt and a single AirPod in his right ear — seemed a reminder of the curiosity he will present if he reaches the White House.
America has never had a second gentleman before. Or is it first gentleman, technically, if there is only one?
Earl Fowlkes, the chair of the Democratic National Committee's LGBTQ Caucus who introduced Emhoff on Thursday, seemed equally taken with the question. "Actually, I'm tingling, I'm tingling, I'm tingling, I'm tingling," he said of his excitement about Emhoff becoming a "major force in our country."
Fowles said he has been debating with his friends about what Emhoff's title would be if Biden wins the election in November. "What do we call Mr. Emhoff? Do we call him the second spouse? The first…?" He trailed off. "I heard he was the 'first second gentleman’?" Wilkes said, seeming to reference Biden's own description of Emhoff last week when the former vice president introduced the couple in Wilmington at their first joint appearance together.
"You know, we have time to figure that out between now and Election Day," said Wilkes.
During Harris's presidential campaign, Emhoff grew into a more active surrogate in his own right, delivering his first speech at a state party dinner in Florida and holding organizing meetings in Iowa before his wife dropped out in December 2019. He told voters at one event that if Harris won, he hoped to launch an effort as first gentleman to increase funding for public defenders and expand access to legal counsel for communities that struggle to afford it.
It’s a new level of proximity to politics for the entertainment lawyer: Emhoff said that after he and Harris got engaged, he was stunned to receive a congratulatory voicemail from Biden himself. “He is such a great guy and believe it or not, I still have that message saved on my home,” he said.
On Thursday, he did not address Wilkes' question of what his title would be or say anything about what he would want his own focus to be in a Biden-Harris administration.
For now, it seemed, Emhoff was just excited to be here.
“I can go on and on and on about what she and Joe are going to do in the job,” he said. "I'm so proud of her.”