Harris under pressure to outline stakes of the election as Biden faces calls to step aside

As President Joe Biden took on his critics in Washington, Vice President Kamala Harris this week made the case to their allies around the country.

On Tuesday in Nevada, a battleground state crucial to their reelection bid, she blasted Project 2025 – the 900-page policy agenda drafted by conservatives with ties to former President Donald Trump.

In Dallas on Wednesday, she reminded her Alpha Kappa Alpha sisters that they had been “on the front lines of the fight to realize the promise of America” for more than a century.

And in Greensboro Thursday, Harris told the crowd that 2024 is the most “existential, consequential and important election” of their lifetimes.

“We will continue to fight. And we will continue to organize. And in November, we will win,” Harris said. “We will win, because we know what’s at stake.”

Whether Biden steps aside or – as he has insisted for nearly two weeks – remains the Democratic nominee, Harris has been under increased pressure to clearly articulate the significance of this year’s election, draw distinctions between the Biden administration and Trump, and defend the ticket from Republican attacks. The vice president’s efforts to reach minority voters and other key constituencies has become critical.

Supporters say this is the work she has been doing – drawing on her lived experiences as a Black and South Asian woman as well as her professional background as a former district attorney, attorney general and California senator as she lays out the campaign and administration’s policies such as gun safety, small business and reproductive rights.

“I think there’s a strong team. I think you’ve got Biden, but you also have a really strong vice president, and I’m glad that the world is discovering her now,” said LaTosha Brown, a co-founder of Black Voters Matter. “Oftentimes, Black women are not seen until they’re needed.”

If Biden remains the nominee, Harris’s work shoring up the base could help in swing states like Pennsylvania, where she is attending the Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote presidential town hall Saturday.

Dennisa Thomas, a Kansas City, Missouri, resident who attended AKA’s 71st Boule in Dallas, cited Harris’s support of the president as part of her own continued backing of Biden.

“She is supportive of him staying on the ticket and I trust her judgment,” the 31-year-old systems engineer told CNN. “So if he needs to stay, he needs to stay.”

If Biden does step aside, her presence on the campaign trail could help quell concerns about her ability to take on the role without gaffes or missteps.

A new Washington Post-ABC News-Ipsos poll found that just 30% of adults – including 42% of Democrats – want Biden to continue his campaign, compared to 67% who think he should step aside for someone else. If Biden ended his reelection bid and Harris became the nominee, 44% of all adults would be satisfied – including 37% of independents, 18% of Republicans and 77% of Democrats.

Biden and the campaign have insisted that he is the strongest candidate to defeat Trump, despite polls showing a slight drop in his support post-debate. In a Biden campaign memo to staff first reported by The Associated Press, senior aides wrote there is “no indication that anyone else would outperform the president vs. Trump,” arguing that hypothetical match ups don’t take into account future negative coverage another candidate would face.

One of the first criticisms Harris would face as the nominee would be over her support of Biden.

“Kamala Harris actually is responsible for Joe Biden’s disastrous presidency because she’s covered for it,” Ohio Republican Sen. J.D. Vance, a possible Trump vice presidential pick, told CNN this week.

This week, the Trump campaign released a digital ad accusing Harris of a misleading the public about Biden’s fitness, featuring clips of Harris vouching for Biden’s health and mental capabilities.

Even before the president’s shaky performance in last month’s CNN debate, the Biden-Harris ticket trailed Trump in polls and showed signs of losing support among Black and Hispanic men and young voters compared to 2020.

Now, Biden is trudging down a long, hard road to rebuild faith in their ticket after weeks of Democrats publicly and privately doubting his ability to win. As of now, the campaign has maintained the trust of many Democratic Party loyalists, particularly Black women, who have balked at the idea of shaking up the ticket, even if it meant making Harris the nominee.

“We’re in a moment right now where there is this distinction between Democratic voters and the elites within the party,” said Adrianne Shropshire, the executive director of BlackPAC, a Black voter engagement group. “And so that gap needs to be closed rather quickly, because time is short and you don’t want to depress your own vote.”

That dynamic has created an opening for Harris, who many of the president’s Democratic critics have suggested could replace him on the ticket, to redirect attention to the campaign – and her role within it.

“As President Biden has said, he counts on Vice President Harris’ advice and counsel,” Harris press secretary Ernesto Apreza said in a statement. “Whether it is fighting to protect fundamental freedoms — including a woman’s right to make decisions about her own body — lowering the cost of prescription drugs for families, or advancing U.S. national security interests on the world stage, Vice President Harris is proud to be a governing partner to President Biden, and together they will continue to lead the nation forward.”

The last two weeks have shown a change in tone regarding Harris. At one point last year, the vice president was the subject of Democratic hand-wringing and concerns that she would drag down the ticket, following the waves of bad headlines throughout the first of the Biden administration.

That included a botched response to an interview question about whether she planned to visit the US-Mexico border as part of her role managing the flow of migration from Central America.

In other instances, allies argue, Harris received pushback because her approach to the job – such as efforts to highlight Black maternal health or her focus on the Divine Nine historic Black sororities and fraternities – didn’t resemble how past vice presidents tackled the role.

“I don’t think people quite knew what to make of her, because she was trying to do it differently,” said one senior Democratic official who is close the vice president’s office. “She was trying to figure out how to do the role in a way that was true to her, not just how others had done it.”

The shift began after the Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision to overturn the federal right to abortion, which helped turned the tide not just for Democrats, but for Harris specifically. In March, Harris became the first sitting vice president to visit an abortion clinic.

Mini Timmaraju, the president of Reproductive Freedom for All, formerly known as NARAL, said Democrats’ best bet for winning in November is with Biden, but Harris is the “best spokesperson” on the issue.

“I want to be clear, Joe Biden is with us,” she said. “But she needs to be that cheerleader and that person who’s really lifting up the accomplishments of the entire ticket.”

On Thursday, Harris traveled to North Carolina for a campaign event at Greensboro’s Dudley High School, the first Black high school in Guilford County in a school system that was once segregated by law. The trip marked her sixth visit to the state this year.

In her remarks, she described what the administration has done on health care, student loan debt, gun violence and working to strengthen NATO.

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper pointed to Harris’ visit to the state, on the heels of Biden’s Raleigh rally the day after the debate and a recent trip to Wilmington by First Lady Jill Biden, as more evidence that the Biden-Harris campaign is “still alive and well in North Carolina.” Cooper waved off speculation that he might be on the short list for vice presidential nominees if Biden steps aside and Harris becomes the nominee.

“I don’t want to play into this new favorite political parlor game, because it’s too important for America to stop Donald Trump,” Cooper told CNN Wednesday. “Joe Biden has said he is running. I support him. We have a president and a vice president who are doing a good job, and I don’t expect those nominees to change.”

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