Kamala Harris has begun a midterm campaign overhaul to boost turnout and her own brand


It will focus on black, women and younger voters, while maintaining a deliberate outreach to unions, both among leaders and members, according to Harris and about a dozen other White House aides. beyond knowing his plans.

“Location is not so much about geography,” said one assistant, “as about demographics.”

The central issue of his downfall will be abortion, an issue that has already proven to be an animating force for Democratic-leaning voters. Harris initially refused to be the face of the administration’s efforts to defend abortion rights, which he says backfired. be it will be, simply because she is a high-ranking woman in democratic politics, according to people who have spoken to her. But now he wants to focus on that as he tries to defend narrow congressional majorities for Democrats, even as many candidates distance themselves from him.

As White House aides have privately acknowledged that Biden is ill-suited to speak on abortion rights, they have been pleased to have Harris as the point person for advocates and officials. On Saturday, a meeting of members of the Democratic National Committee outside Washington, DC, discussed why holding on to their slim majority in the Senate would be important to Democrats – and to him.

“I can’t wait,” she said, “to cast the deciding vote to break the deadlock on voting rights and reproductive rights.”

For many Democratic operatives and officials watching, Harris’ midterm activity is part of a long arc of preparation for a bigger campaign in 2024. By spring, Harris will necessarily have a higher profile than usual for an aging president. Running for re-election — or if the situation changes, suddenly, suddenly, in a short first campaign to become an alternate candidate.

“The next eight months will be Rocky digging in the calf, running up the stairs,” said a senior Democrat who spoke to Harris recently.

Getting out of Washington

The rescue effort began last winter when the retiring vice president, his chief of staff, communications director and press secretary were replaced. Internal and external advisers assured him that the media coverage was unfair. The racism and sexism felt by the first female and first black vice president was all too real, she was told.

But the defense hole being made, they warned, would make the situation worse. And it was leaving him more prone to out-of-practice messes, like when he laughed when asked why he hadn’t visited the southern border last summer saying he hadn’t even been to Europe.

He kept saying he wanted to get out more, but advisers told the vice president that he really needed to start getting out more, and build his confidence and comfort in working his public presence.

“All his tasks before were not so clear. If you look [migration issues related to diplomacy at the] The Northern Triangle, look at voting rights, there was no clear way to measure success,” said Cedric Richmond, a former congressman and former White House adviser who has advised Harris.

“I just reminded him that he and the president are the greatest assets we have,” Richmond said, “and that people need to see what he’s doing to understand and really listen to it.”

Already planned stops include additional trips to Texas and Pennsylvania, and a panel discussion in Chicago on Friday with state lawmakers, students, abortion providers and Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, who is running against a Trump-backed Republican who supports strict abortion restrictions. . Aides expect Harris to be on the road three days a week in a mix of events that will include more fundraisers, but most of the events will be similar to what CNN has planned for a Sept. 22 Democratic Lawyers meeting in Milwaukee. The General Association, in a critical situation, where it will highlight the legal fight for abortion rights.

As Biden’s poll numbers soared in the spring, with even grassroots Democrats disaffected, White House chief of staff Ron Klain — who served as chief of staff to two vice presidents — asked Harris’ aides, and himself directly, to capitalize. where his appeal was strongest. Black voters were giving up on the Democrats and drifting away. The Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Before the decision to overturn Wade, there were also female voters. For the most part, young voters who had never engaged with Biden returned to being lukewarm at best.

They are using the pattern of the Harris’ appearance at the Essence Festival in New Orleans during the Fourth of July weekend. There are no competitive races near Louisiana in the fall. But to an audience of 10,000 black women from across the country, she spoke of Dobbs’ “outrageous” decision, not-so-subtly linking the Supreme Court’s ruling to “the history of this government in the country trying to assert ownership over human beings.” bodies”.

He brings his perspective to the subject. In internal White House conversations, for example, he has said that they should not assume that black voters will automatically agree with him on abortion rights.

After her speech at the DNC on Saturday, Harris made a surprise stop at the same hotel to address a gathering of Alpha Kappa Alpha, her black women’s sorority at Howard, and reflected on the women in the room. midterm campaign as a service.

“So many women, especially younger women who we absolutely need, connect with him in a way that they don’t connect with any other leader of the Democratic Party right now,” said Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster. advised Harris and his staff.

That focused focus will also define Harris’ approach to media interviews. Although she pre-taped a rare Sunday session with NBC’s “Meet the Press” last weekend, her aides are offering women’s magazines, Black and Latino television and radio, and a Labor Day-themed, union-centered conversation with the left. leaning magazine The Nation. (He declined CNN’s request for an interview.)

“If you’re going to put together a winning coalition at the national level, I’d say it’s more important to be on stage at the Essence Festival than to be at a rural county fair,” Belcher said.

So far Harris’s recalibration is not a complete revolution. Some of the problems he started as vice president — inconsistencies, endless meetings and training sessions — remain. Complaints come from inside and outside the government about uncertainty and lack of follow-up. “Thinking too much” is still a word often used by people who talk to him, and caution and anxiety can make his words slurred, say, to a question he wanted to avoid in a “Meet the Press” interview. Support for the prosecution of former President Donald Trump.

While the dynamics inside the White House have improved, Harris and his aides are still worried about inadvertently overshadowing Biden as they try to craft his identity.

His role, a senior Biden adviser said — acknowledging that he played Harris’ original 2020 “attorney for the president” pitch — is now making the case for Biden.

“For a lot of people we’re talking to, he’s the same person that we needed to get out for us in 2020,” said another person familiar with Harris’ thinking. “He feels a responsibility to make them understand what we’ve given and ask them to do it again.”

And when making that sale, he likes to be specific, his aides say. He’ll tick off “American Rescue Plan” or “ARP,” for example, if he sees them written into his speeches, and he’ll say things like, “Don’t tell me, ‘We’re spending money on bridges.’ Pick a bridge!”

Focus on abortion

Harris was flying to Chicago in Dobbs’s decision in late June, but he broke the majority opinion, dissent, and consensus when Air Force 2 landed, and then went to a long-scheduled event that happened on his mother’s health. , he tore notes in the margins.

Harris was quick to speak of the decision as an attack on reproductive rights, but “liberty and liberty.” He emphasized the importance of talking about the impact on IVF and abortions and potential future legal action against same-sex marriage.

Speaking to clergy and other faith leaders, she urged them to view abortion rights not as a threat to personal opposition to the procedure, but to the government not making decisions for women. He also pressured aides to ensure that he did not speak to senior believers.

The new assistants have built a calm but coherent structure of events for him, unlike in his first year on the job. Hosting abortion-rights roundtables with local lawmakers across the country, in both red and blue states, Harris has raised her profile with the spotlight the vice president’s visit brings, offering practical advice on who to call the Justice Department’s task force or legislators from another state. it might be worth connecting.

Harris has also chaired internal White House meetings, and aides say her experiences as attorney general have been instrumental in both gauging policy moves and urging everyone involved to use more practical and direct language.

“It helps for the president to have a leadership role,” said senior Biden adviser Anita Dunn, who has participated in several one-on-one and group interviews with Harris.

And, clearly, it has helped Harris as well, many people around him say.

“She’s found her groove,” said Donna Brazile, a former DNC chair and informal adviser, who marveled at how Harris’ legal background and longtime focus on maternal health and equality came to be when she needed an issue.

“He’s really been able to help the White House get the message out about opportunity, freedom and equality, which is important in a close election.”