When Joe Biden and his political team set about to create his reelection rollout video, they wanted to make sure it offered a preview of what his bid for another term in office would look like. The end result was an emphasis on abortion rights, a few January 6 shots—and a lot of Vice President Kamala Harris. The three-minute video featured Harris in a dozen clips, a number that struck nearly every commentator as noticeably high.
Interviews with reelection campaign officials, strategists, and Democratic donors yield a clear picture of why. The early indicators are that two of the central topics Harris has been focused on lately—highlighting abortion rights and wooing African American women voters—are the ones that the Biden campaign will lean on heavily to carry the president to another term. The usual caveats apply: It’s early. Biden’s campaign is still staffing up—as of this writing, the campaign manager hasn’t even started yet. But the signs now are that, far from thinking of dumping Harris—whose tenure has not overwhelmed most observers—Biden is leaning into the partnership.
The Republican Party sinks deeper and deeper into unfounded conspiracy theories and fringe personalities, and now will likely be nominating a legally official sexual abuser. But Biden, at 80, is still facing a tough reelection fight. His approval ratings hover at around 40 percent. Harris’s aren’t much better (although a smaller percentage disapprove of her). But among constituencies that are at the core of the Democratic Party, the vice president is in good shape. Among Black voters, she’s above water with a 64 percent approval rating, a May 2 Economist/YouGov poll found.
White House and campaign officials stress that the campaign will continue to address the major driving force behind Biden’s 2020 run: the fragile state of American democracy and the Trumpian threat. Gun control will also play a role. Yet there is a widespread expectation among party Democrats that the economy won’t be central to Biden’s campaign. That’s despite some private grumbling from elected Democrats who wish Biden and his team would do more to convince the public that Biden administration legislation on the economy and Americans’ pocketbooks is worth touting. All this was very noticeably absent from the announcement video, which didn’t mention a single legislative accomplishment or the creation of 12.5 million jobs. But with inflation still looming and nearly half of voters thinking the country is in a recession, the Biden White House clearly doesn’t want to declare “mission accomplished” on the economy.
The early signs of Harris’s prominent role underscore how the Democratic Party is increasingly focusing on two strategies: turning out Black women and emphasizing abortion. Those are also two areas where Harris is seen as a particularly effective champion. “I hope we see her doing what she has done so effectively,” said Democratic strategist Karen Finney. “I’ll use 2022 as a model. She traveled all over the country. She helped energize and increase turnout with our base. She reached out and did events with young voters. She’s very popular with young voters. She was very effective at reaching women and people of color, particularly Black folks. That is really the core of the Democratic Party.”
Harris is scheduled to travel to Georgia on Friday, where she will headline the Democratic Party’s Georgia Spring Soiree. She will also do a Biden Victory Fund event in Atlanta. Later this month she’s the commencement speaker at West Point’s graduation. So that’s first a battleground state with a large African American population that will be crucial next November and, second, a well-attended speech in front of a bunch of young cadets in uniform.
Harris has embraced her role as, in the words of NBC, the “top White House messenger” on the abortion fight. Last month she convened a White House task force that produced a set of proposals on privacy related to abortion. And whereas with some topics, like immigration, Harris has fumbled in front of the press with that near-disastrous trip to the border, on abortion she’s been out front. “The cynical view is when you’re running an 80-year-old candidate, it’s not a bad idea to run out the younger person in terms of the visuals. But beyond that she symbolizes a lot of what the party is going to need in terms of the constituencies that they need to inspire,” said Steve Phillips, the founder of the Democracy in Color political media organization.
It’s easy to see why Democrats would focus on abortion in future elections after 2022. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, “at least half of Democratic voters, first time voters, younger women voters” all said that the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade impacted their voting decision in the midterms and motivated them to turn out to vote. That analysis found 47 percent of those surveyed said the ruling had a “major impact on which candidates they” supported in the midterms. And the outcome was clear. Everyone was expecting a Democratic bloodbath, but in the end the Republicans just barely took the House and Democrats held the Senate and won some gubernatorial races that seemed impossible.
Similarly, the support among Black voters and Black women voters specifically has been key and will continue to be key to Democratic victories ahead. Look at the 2022 Georgia Senate race. Senator Raphael Warnock defeated Republican Herschel Walker by about 100,000 votes in the runoff. To get there, Warnock got 90 percent of support among Black voters, according to exit polls, and 93 percent of Black women voters.
All that said, there are still Democratic insiders who see Harris as a liability, especially on topics like foreign policy and the border. On the other hand, even if the Biden White House wanted to get rid of her (which the president has made clear he does not), replacing her would be political suicide. Instead, Biden and his team seem to have opted to go all in on her. At the very least, this strategy gives Harris the chance to prove all the critics wrong.