Andrea Campbell first met Kamala Harris when the California Attorney General gave her commencement address at UCLA Law School in 2009.
More than a decade later, Campbell watched as Vice President Harris gathered a gymnasium full of Democrats to support her bid to become Massachusetts’ first black woman attorney general.
“If you’re going to succeed as a woman candidate, especially women of color, you need mentorship,” Campbell told CNN, adding that the vice president told her on stage, “Be yourself. Remind people why you’re doing this job. Talk about your story and remind people why government matters.”
That full-circle moment came in the final days before the final ballots are counted in the midterm elections in which Harris is making his final round of stops. Harris, who has focused on abortion and women’s rights issues while in office, has been supporting nearly every female candidate in Democratic stronghold states these past few days, going to friendly territories to get closer than he thought. the races
Harris’s last-minute trip underscores the high political stakes for Democrats in the midterm elections, which have largely centered on the question of whether President Joe Biden’s party will be able to retain control of Congress, and if not, how much. minimizing his losses. A source close to Harris also says it’s a reflection of a year-long strategy to get in front of audiences he can build important relationships with for the future.
“Over the next four days, Vice President Harris will continue to do what he’s been doing, which is running up and down candidates who are equally committed to protecting reproductive rights and who are committed to building on the progress the administration has made to bring the economy back,” a White House official said. .
The vice president is expected to spend Monday in California for a rally with the state’s Democratic Party on reproductive rights, according to a White House official. Los Angeles mayoral candidate Karen Bass is also expected to attend, according to a California official. On Sunday, Harris will appear with Sen. Tammy Duckworth at an Asian American and Pacific Islander Victory Fund event in Illinois — in addition to a rally for Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, a day after Biden appeared in the same state.
That comes after trips to promote female candidates. Harris was in New York on Thursday with Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is running in a tighter-than-expected race, and Attorney General Letitia James, along with former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, for a high-profile rally.
Female gubernatorial candidates are breaking records in this year’s midterm elections, with 25 women receiving nominations from both major parties, according to the Center on American Women and Politics. And a record number is also underway for state legislatures.
Referring to that record breaking performance, Harris told the New York crowd, “You’ve seen a lot of history on this stage. many firsts”
“Yes, we may be the first, but we are committed not to be the last. And we’re going to count on you to help us achieve that,” Harris added, using a line his mother repeated to Harris often throughout his career.
A day earlier, the vice president traveled to the Democratic stronghold of Massachusetts to meet Campbell and Maura Healey for governor. The vice president has also campaigned for Washington Sen. Patty Murray, Connecticut Rep. Jahana Hayes, and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, among other female candidates.
But the places Harris hasn’t been in this midterm cycle, and the front-line Democratic female candidates are locked in tight races. He has not personally campaigned for Senator Catherine Cortez-Masto of Nevada, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, gubernatorial candidate Katie Hobbs of Arizona, gubernatorial candidate of Georgia Stacey Abrams, US Senate candidate Cheri Beasley of North Carolina, US Representative Katie Porter of California or Rep. Val Demings of Florida, Marco Rubio against the senator who is a candidate for the Senate.
In many cases, campaigns must invite White House officials to appear at their events, and bringing the president or vice president can be expensive as the campaign foots the bill. Some campaign operatives told CNN that increased scrutiny of Republicans following the first black woman vice president has hampered their willingness to field her.
But Harris’ absences, coupled with Biden’s relatively light campaign, which hasn’t led to many close races across the country, point to a political reality: Endangered Democrats have sought to distance themselves from the White House.
Many jumped at the chance to invite Biden or Harris to speak as they walk a tightrope over the economy and inflation. Frequent trips to states that Biden and Harris easily won in 2020 also show how defensive Democrats are in traditionally deep-blue races.
Harris has visited Nevada, Wisconsin and California for official events — abortion rights roundtables — over the past three months, focusing on an issue on the mind of some Democratic voters, highlighting the Supreme Court’s decision this summer in Roe v. After Wade was overruled. And he has held virtual events for congressional candidates from North Carolina, Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia, gubernatorial candidate Deidre DeJear of Iowa and Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo of Texas.
Harris has also chaired more than a dozen DNC events this year, raising millions, a DNC official told CNN. His allies say his strategy of staying away from tough races and spending time in heavily blue states shows the White House is taking nothing for granted.
“I think it’s a very smart strategy,” said A’shanti Gholar, president of Emerge, an organization that recruits and then trains female Democrats to run for office. Emerge’s founder supported Harris in his first run for San Francisco district attorney.
“It’s about showing the voters that they matter, that their state matters, that the city matters. It is a very holistic approach. We don’t always have to send our core principles to play defensively. They can also play in attack.”
Harris focused his closing message on urging Americans to vote Democratic as a last-ditch stand against Republicans trying to pass restrictive abortion and voting rights bills. California’s former attorney general stressed that voters should focus on down-ballot races that could decide who controls the election system and the statehouse.
“We will need people at the state and local levels who have the courage to stand up and push back against what is happening in our country. And so it does matter who your governor is. Who is your attorney general accounts. It’s a matter of who your lieutenant governor is. Because they’re going to be the last line of defense against what’s going on in our country,” Harris told the New York crowd, referring to Republican threats of a national abortion ban.
The vice president’s argument is consistent with Biden’s closing message warning Americans that democracy itself is on a precipice, with the possibility of a reversal if election deniers win important races. Biden, his advisers and Harris have tried to reframe the midterm elections as a choice between the two parties, rather than a referendum on the Biden administration.
Those close to Harris say the month’s work on abortion has been her biggest asset, lending credibility to voters who question what her government has done to protect women’s rights. The vice president has held nearly 40 events in Washington and around the country on the issue, solidifying himself as the administration’s chief messenger. That effort comes after the Biden administration has implemented small unilateral measures to try to protect access to abortion.
“Very early on he started having a conversation about freedom, liberty and abortion as an elected leader,” the source close to Harris added about the strategy as he met with state lawmakers, college presidents, labor leaders, religious leaders, students, women. magazines, community leaders and more.
“So he was very intent on talking to people who would talk to other people about these issues, people who are sort of conduits to congregations or communities.”
Harris’ office says the midterm focus has been on women, youth and people of color.
“He’s been very effective at using the vice president’s bully pulpit to help elevate state and local candidates,” Minyon Moore, a veteran Democratic strategist and an outside adviser to Harris, told CNN. “He’s been here for the last four days, or the last two months, criss-crossing the country campaigning for women. In fact, whenever you bring in a president or a vice president, there’s no one better to communicate how politics affects the American people.”
Laphonza Butler, Harris’ former presidential campaign adviser who is now president of Emily’s List, joked that Harris’ role is “the ultimate dot connector.”
“The subtext is always the economy, whether you’re talking about abortion or labor or the environment. Basically, it comes down to people being able to have a decent life. I think that’s the point [Harris] he does it better than most,” Butler said.
And the constituencies that Harris has deliberately recruited, from women to people of color, labor and state lawmakers, are the same ones he used after joining Biden’s presidential ticket in 2020.
Those close to him say it’s the same team he would need again if he ran unlike Biden. 2 or if the soon-to-be 80-year-old president does not seek a second term, putting the spotlight on his vice president’s plans for 2024.
“Women were key for them in 2020,” Butler said. “In a cycle where we have so much at stake for women like reproductive health care, it’s sure to be beneficial no matter what 2024 looks like.”