Los Angeles Times

Don’t forget Harris in 2024 speculatio­n


As Democrats despair over President

Biden’s unpopulari­ty and cast about for an alternativ­e, many overlook the obvious frontrunne­r to succeed him as party leader:

Vice President Kamala Harris.

Biden, of course, has said he fully plans to seek reelection in 2024, with Harris as his running mate.

But that hasn’t stopped rampant speculatio­n about the leadership and direction of a post-Biden Democratic Party, and how soon it will take shape.

Some Democrats have turned from musing to open mutiny, urging the septuagena­rian president to stand aside for the perceived good of his party, as well as the country, and make way for someone younger and more vigorous.

Some of that may be ageism. (Though, at age 79, Biden has clearly lost a few steps.) Most of the chatter stems from panic among Democrats fearing a ghastly November and worried that worse could come if Biden tops the ticket again in 2024.

Hence, the breathless­ness surroundin­g a notional Gavin Newsom run for president and the bruiting about other possible Biden replacemen­ts: Transporta­tion Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, and on.

Clearly, the thinking goes, if Biden were to withdraw, the 2024 nomination would not be Harris’ for the asking, never mind her role as the president’s understudy. She is no heir apparent.

Which, despite Harris’ own slew of problems, shouldn’t necessaril­y be taken as a personal reflection on the vice president.

“Of course it’s not going to be given to her,” said Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster who made clear his belief that Biden should and would seek election to a second term. “It never is.”

Harris’ 2020 presidenti­al bid ended in a heap of smoke and ash, and she’s been working to politicall­y rehabilita­te herself ever since.

The results have been decidedly mixed.

She acquitted herself well as Biden’s running mate, doing her duty attacking President Trump and holding her own in the debate with Vice President Mike Pence. Her time in office, though, has been much rockier.

Some of that has nothing to do with Harris and everything to do with the vice presidency. The job is inherently subservien­t, which tends to diminish those in the post — even a historymak­ing figure like Harris. If anything, her role as the first female and first woman of color to hold the position has increased the gap between reality and expectatio­n.

But many of Harris’ difficulti­es have been her own doing, including stumbling TV interviews, persistent staff turnover and a penchant for verbal calamity when speaking off script. (Clips labeled “Kamala Harris word salad” have been viewed nearly 27 million times on TikTok.)

As a result, she has a dismal approval rating that nearly matches Biden’s poor standing, and some Democrats are eager to write off both Harris and the president and start fresh in 2024.

That thinking, however, diminishes her political prospects and ignores advantages Harris enjoys over other possible contenders.

The office of vice president might shrink its occupants in the public eye. But behind the scenes it offers a formidable platform for building a national campaign. (In recent decades, Biden, Al Gore, George H.W. Bush and Walter Mondale held the office before winning their party’s nomination.)

Harris, who publicly shuns overt political activity, has neverthele­ss made moves that could serve her well, speaking at a major Democratic Party dinner in early-voting South Carolina and, as the administra­tion point person on abortion rights, meeting state lawmakers and Democrats across the country.

Last weekend she was in Pennsylvan­ia, appearing on behalf of gubernator­ial hopeful Josh Shapiro and rallying activists in the major battlegrou­nd state.

It also helps a great deal that Harris is a pioneering Black woman in a party whose most loyal constituen­ts are Black voters. Their support for Harris remains strong.

In a Fox News poll released last month, the vice president’s overall approval rating was 41%. Among Black respondent­s, it was 73%.

In a recent nationwide survey of Black women, Belcher put the question differentl­y, asking how warmly they felt toward Harris. She rated a quite favorable 71 on a scale of 100.

“Until Gavin and Pete and Kirsten and Liz show they can win Black voters, Kamala Harris is the frontrunne­r,” said Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina lawmaker who co-chaired Harris’ presidenti­al campaign and remains a friend and confidant. “That’s just pure objective analysis.”

South Carolina has been crucial in deciding the Democratic nomination ever since it moved its primary forward in 2008.

The state’s most powerful Democrat, Rep. James E. Clyburn, was vital to Biden’s success in 2020, rescuing his flailing campaign with a timely endorsemen­t, and he’s made his 2024 preference known.

“Right now, I’m for Biden, and second I’m for Harris,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

“So I don’t care who goes to New Hampshire or Iowa,” Clyburn said of two other traditiona­lly early-voting states. “I’m for Biden and then I’m for Harris — either together or in that order.”

All of the political handicappi­ng will be moot if Biden runs again.

If he doesn’t, and Harris bids to succeed him, she’ll have to run a better and smarter campaign than her last one, which sunk in a mire of mixed messaging and internal squabbles. Her ability to do so is by no means certain.

But any Democrat who thinks the vice president is a nonfactor or would be an easy pushover in a fight for the nomination risks failing as badly as Harris did in 2020.

Today’s head-to-head polls are meaningles­s. In the fight to succeed Biden, his vice president remains the one to beat.

 ?? Kent Nishimura Los Angeles Times ?? VICE PRESIDENT Kamala Harris, in Buffalo, N.Y., after May’s mass shooting, remains popular with Black voters, who are key to any Democrat’s prospects.
Kent Nishimura Los Angeles Times VICE PRESIDENT Kamala Harris, in Buffalo, N.Y., after May’s mass shooting, remains popular with Black voters, who are key to any Democrat’s prospects.
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