5 questions swirling around Harris

Vice President Harris is moving closer to center stage as the 2024 campaign heats up.

Harris has given two major on-camera interviews within the past week, to The Associated Press and CBS News — a departure from habit for a vice president who is typically reticent with the media.

The White House also announced last week that Harris would go on a college tour that will take her to “around a dozen campuses in at least seven states” over the next month. Visits to Hampton College, Va., North Carolina A&T in Greensboro and Atlanta’s Morehouse College — all historically Black colleges and universities — are already scheduled. 

Harris hit the headlines for more celebratory reasons Saturday, when she held a party at her official residence to mark 50 years of hip-hop, with guests including Lil Wayne, Common, Jeezy and Remy Ma.

Even as Harris ups her profile, she must contend with the fact that she has long been an inviting target for Republicans. Those attacks are sure to intensify in the months ahead.

Here are five questions swirling around the vice president.

Will her low approval ratings hurt President Biden’s reelection chances?

No one believes Harris is in any danger of being ousted as President Biden’s running mate in 2024. But it’s not at all clear she is a net positive for him as he seeks a second term.

Harris’s approval ratings are generally just as mediocre as those of her boss.

A CBS News/YouGov poll released Sunday saw Biden register 40 percent approval and 60 percent disapproval among those surveyed, while Harris scored 41 percent approval and 59 percent disapproval. 

The weighted polling average maintained by data site FiveThirtyEight has both Biden and Harris at roughly 40 percent approval.

The CBS News poll had further troubling signs. Asked whether Harris’s performance as vice president made them feel better or worse about the Biden administration, or made no difference, only 18 percent of adults said she was a plus, while 42 percent said she was a minus. Thirty-nine percent said she made no difference to their view of the administration.

Harris is beloved by many Democrats, in part because of her history-making role as the first woman and first person of color to serve as vice president.

But there is scant evidence that she is helpful in winning over voters in the middle ground. 

The CBS News poll showed self-described independent voters disapproving of her performance by a more than 2-to-1 margin, 69 percent to 31 percent.

Can she persuade voters she is ready to be president?

In her recent interviews, Harris has sought to tread a delicate line, saying that there is no reason to be concerned about Biden’s vigor while asserting that she could assume the duties of commander in chief if required.

In The Associated Press interview, asked whether serving as vice president had prepared her for the job of president, she initially answered with a simple “Yes.”

But, she added, “First of all, I’m answering your hypothetical, but Joe Biden’s going to be fine so that is not going to come to fruition. But let us also understand that every vice president — every vice president — understands that when they take the oath that they must be very clear about the responsibility they may have, to take over the job of being president.

“I’m no different,” Harris concluded.

The question of whether the American people are at ease with that prospect is more complicated.

Harris’s bid for the Democratic nomination in 2020 was underwhelming, ending before the primaries even began. 

Former United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, running for the Republican presidential nomination, has repeatedly asserted that “a vote for Joe Biden is a vote to make Kamala Harris president” — a double jab at Biden’s age and the limits of Harris’s political appeal.

“We will be in a world of hurt if Kamala Harris becomes president,” Haley said during a Fox News Radio interview with Brian Kilmeade on Monday. 

The vice president faces a tricky task. She has to make the public more comfortable with the idea of her as president without undermining Biden’s argument that he is fully capable of serving a second term.

Could attacks on her by GOP opponents backfire?

Harris is a divisive figure, for sure. But attacks on her still carry their own risks.

The vice president’s supporters have long held that many of the criticisms of her carry sexist or racist overtones.

Some attacks can also seem petty, as when conservative media took glee in mocking her dancing at the Saturday hip-hop event.

Past attacks that amused the Republican base may also have fallen flat with the broader electorate, as when then-Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) seemed to mock her first name at a rally with then-President Trump in October 2020. 

Anonymous criticisms of her from other Democrats have also met with pushback. 

“People who are denigrating her are aggrandizing themselves,” Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) told CNN in March.

Put it all together, and it’s clear that Harris’s critics need to be careful not to overplay their hand. Doing so could spur voters sympathetic toward Harris to mobilize for the coming election.

Can she fire up important demographics?

Harris’s college tour is clearly intended to boost the enthusiasm of young people and Black voters.

There are question marks around the enthusiasm levels in those groups for the 80-year-old Biden, and Harris could play a role in restoring it. 

In the CBS/YouGov poll, the only age group with whom she was in positive territory was the under-30s. Fifty-five percent of Americans in that age group approved of her job performance, while 45 percent disapproved.

Harris’s standing with Black voters was higher still. The daughter of a Jamaican-born father and Indian-born mother earned 71 percent approval among Black voters.

Even as her critics on the right carp and voters in the center ground seem resistant to her, those could be key strengths going into 2024.

Will she lead the charge on abortion rights?

The first female vice president was uniquely positioned to fight back after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade’s constitutional right to abortion last year.

Harris has taken up the fight with real intensity.

“When you know what you stand for, you know what to fight for,” she told an abortion rights rally in Washington in June. “We stand for the freedom of every American, including the freedom of every person everywhere to make decisions — about their own body, their own health care and their own doctor.”

In her CBS News interview last week, Harris told “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan that she and other Democrats want to “put into law the protections of Roe v. Wade.”

On this issue, at least, Harris appears to have public opinion on her side. 

The conservative side has lost several abortion-related ballot measures since Roe was struck down, while polls have consistently shown a plurality of the public opposed to the Supreme Court’s June 2022 ruling.

Harris is already a strong standard-bearer for the abortion rights side of the argument, and her advocacy seems sure to continue.

Tags 2024 presidential election Biden-Harris 2024 reelection campaign Brian Kilmeade David Perdue J.B. Pritzker Joe Biden Kamala Harris Margaret Brennan Nikki Haley