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Harris's bad polls trigger Democratic worries
Vice President Harris has some ground to make up in order to be perceived more favorably by the public, a complicating factor for the Biden administration as it maps out its midterm strategy.
Six months into office, polls indicate Harris is viewed less favorably than President Biden. She has also made some tactical missteps outside of the White House that Democrats say show she hasn't quite yet found her bearings.
Vice presidents historically do not outperform the leader at the top of the ticket. But her lower ratings haven't gone unnoticed.
In a trio of recent surveys, Harris earned a combined unfavorable rating of 46 percent, according to an aggregate average compiled by RealClearPolitics. That number is 3 points below Biden's 43 percent in the same category.
In an Economist-YouGov poll conducted from July 24 to 27, Harris's unfavorable figure reached 48 percent.
A midterm visit by the vice president to a congressional district is generally a way to create crowds and win attention for candidates, but Harris's polling numbers are raising questions about how she might be used as Democrats seek to hold on to slim majorities in the House and Senate.
"As of right now, I think she has the potential of doing more harm than good for some of these candidates," said one Democratic strategist. "My sense is she'll probably raise a lot of money and maybe she'll go to some specific districts, but they'll have to be really strategic with her."
"She doesn't have the standing at this moment to go to a lot of these tighter districts," the strategist added.
Even some Harris allies are skeptical that she will have a seamless go as a surrogate leading up to next year's midterm elections.
"No one is coming out and saying she's doing an amazing job, because the first question would be 'On what?'" acknowledged one Harris ally. "She's made a bunch of mistakes and she's made herself a story for good and bad."
A spokesperson for Harris declined to comment.
Harris has faced blowback in particular over the border, one of two areas, along with voting rights, that are a part of her policy portfolio.
She attracted negative press for comments about asylum-seekers attempting to enter the United States during a trip south of the Mexican border, telling immigrants "don't come here" during a press conference, which triggered criticism from some progressives.
"I don't think someone like Mark Kelly would want her anywhere around him," the Harris ally said.
Kelly, a moderate Democratic senator, is up for reelection in Arizona. Republicans have identified the state as one of their richest pickup opportunities, due in part to the swingy nature of Arizona's voters. Several GOP primary candidates have already entered the race.
Harris was part of the winning ticket with Biden in Arizona last year, though the party won it narrowly, by some 10,000 votes, over former President Trump.
Some say Harris could be an asset on the ground in a state like Georgia, where Democrats will be fighting to help Sen. Raphael Warnock (D) win a full term in the Senate.
Warnock was elected in a January runoff, defeating former Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R), a close Trump ally. Harris campaigned twice in the state ahead of the November election.
Georgia is ground zero for the voting rights issue, and Harris traveled to Atlanta late last month to promote anti-voter suppression messaging, as well as to help persuade Georgia residents to get vaccinated amid rising coronavirus cases.
"You're going to use your vice president strategically," Joel Benenson, former President Obama's chief pollster, told The Hill. "She's going to be popular in many places that will matter. She may be popular in Georgia."
As officials look to plan out travel itineraries for 2022, Democrats like Benenson express confidence that Harris will rise from today's poll numbers. They argue that fluctuations are normal for a vice president who is less well-known than the boss.
"She's not the person who's out front day in and day out," Benenson said. "It's a lot harder to break through as vice president."
While Harris was a senator from California and recently ran for president herself, they say she's still somewhat of a national neophyte, especially when compared to Biden, who enjoys high visibility from his service in Washington for decades as a senator and vice president.
There's also a widely discussed notion in Democratic circles that the country's right-wing apparatus - from Trump to Republicans in Congress and prominent partisan media outlets - have worked for years to negatively brand Harris, oftentimes relying on racist and sexist stereotypes to minimize her standing as the first female, Black and Asian American vice president.
"The reason that Harris is unpopular is that they haven't been able to make headway against Joe Biden personally, so they really have switched their messaging strategy to focus on Harris and attack him indirectly," said political analyst Rachel Bitecofer.
"If Democrats buy into the old-school political book and make the same mistakes that they've made in the past and try to shelf her, hide her, run away from her, all they're doing is reasserting the right's negative frame against her," Bitecofer added.
That conservative effort against Harris is unlikely to let up anytime soon, Democrats say, and further adds to her overall negative rating in some national polls. But there is one area where some say she can make traction.
Cornell Belcher, another member of Obama's campaign polling team, said the administration would be wise to focus on the group of voters who are still unfamiliar with Harris as a way to bring up the overall number, especially among the younger segment of the population.
In the Economist-YouGov poll, 24 percent of voters surveyed between the ages of 18 and 29 expressed no opinion of the vice president when asked if they view her favorably. Only 15 percent of respondents in that same age group, meanwhile, had no formed opinion of Biden.
"Where is an opportunity group where, long-term and short-term, she's got to move that unfamiliar or neutral towards more positive? It is among the ascending American electorate where Joe Biden is gangbusters," Belcher said.
--Abigail Goldberg-Zelizer contributed to this report