Democrats see Harris as major player in midterms
Democrats expect Vice President Harris to be a major player in revving up the party’s liberal base ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
Harris’s allies believe she will play a significant role, both by fundraising and participating in campaign rallies.
Democrats see Harris as uniquely positioned to drive up turnout among young people and women, who they believe will be critical to Democrats retaining their majorities in Congress. Historical trends suggest that Republicans should have an edge in the midterm elections, and Democrats say a strong turnout will be key for the party to keep power.
“She is very popular with the base. She is particularly strong with women and with young people. Turn out for young people is going to be critical for the midterms and it is uncertain,” said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who advised President Biden’s campaign. “Between turnout and swing independent women, I would think she would be quite aggressive because of her own appeal and popularity.”
The vice president can also use the midterms to boost her own brand, given questions around whether Biden will seek a second term as he says he intends to do.
Harris has had a shaky start to the vice presidency in part due to her difficult portfolio that includes immigration, leading some Democrats to express concern about her strength as a candidate.
One Harris ally said the vice president will likely focus on fundraising before switching over to rallies and traditional get-out-the-vote events. She could also work to remind voters to return their ballots in specific states. The ally said Harris, a former senator from California, could do events for Sens. Alex Padilla (Calif.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.) and Maggie Hassan (N.H.).
“Ultimately, she’ll want to go where she can be most helpful,” the ally said. “She definitely wants to do whatever she can to keep Democrats in the Senate majority. Relationships are important to her. So if she is asked to do something by a candidate she knows well or who has been helpful to her, she will make that a priority.”
A White House official said there were no specific events to preview but predicted that it would be a “heavy” travel year for both Harris and Biden.
“They are two individuals who throughout the course of their careers have always and actively campaigned for other Democrats,” the official said.
The official pointed to the way that Biden and Harris crisscrossed the country to campaign for Democrats in the 2018 midterm cycle, before they entered the White House.
“In the same way they did during the general election, they’re a really nice one-two punch who can cover every district between the two of them with a lot of nice overlap in key [districts],” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale.
Vale pointed out that while Biden can help “juice up” turnout in blue collar areas, Harris can help do the same with minority voters and women.
Harris has already held a number of engagements for the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and recorded videos on behalf of California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe (D).
Harris has also been seen as a major asset to the DNC. The committee already manages social assets, which include her 40 million followers across multiple platforms, on Harris’s behalf.
Additionally, Harris has collaborated with the DNC’s I Will Vote initiative. In July, she announced the DNC’s $25 million investment to expand the effort.
“Vice President Harris is a trailblazer and having her alongside President Biden at the top of the ticket in 2020 was critical to flipping the White House and Senate and maintaining control of the House,” DNC spokeswoman Adonna Biel told The Hill. “She is an invaluable asset to the DNC, and as we head into 2022, Vice President Harris will play a key role as the DNC continues to fight to expand our majority and defeat the disastrous Trumpian agenda Republicans are pushing.”
Insiders say that they expect candidates to request Harris as a top surrogate for more campaign events ahead of the midterms.
Harris had the opportunity to test out her messaging recently during a rally for Newsom, who defeated a recall attempt earlier this month, and a fundraiser for McAuliffe.
In each of those appearances, she warned of the new Texas law largely banning abortions and new restrictive voting laws, describing Democrats as stewards of voting rights and the rights of women, working people and immigrants.
“What’s happening in Texas, what’s happening in Georgia, what’s happening around our country, with these policies that are about attacking women’s rights, reproductive rights, voting rights, workers’ rights. They think if they can win in California, they can do this anywhere,” Harris told a crowd at the Newsom rally in her home state. “So this election, guys, it’s not a one-off.”
The White House official said that broader theme will be a “through line” in Harris’s future campaign speeches.
Democrats also view Harris as a strong messenger for Biden’s economic agenda, which could help excite female voters in particular. The $3.5 trillion reconciliation package Democrats are trying to pass includes funding to expand access to child care and education and a new paid leave program.
The package is likely to be a major focus of Democratic messaging leading up to the midterms. But Democrats need to unify behind passing the package first, and this week is a critical test of that effort.
“She is a great spokesperson for the Build Back Better plan,” Lake said of Harris.
A recent poll suggests that Harris’s approval rating has ticked up since a rough patch earlier in her tenure. A Gallup poll released last week found that 49 percent of U.S. adults approve of Harris’s job as vice president, while the percent who approve of Biden is much lower — 43 percent — as he faces scrutiny for the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. Harris currently performs better than Biden among independents, the poll shows.
But even some Harris allies acknowledge that it’s somewhat out of her control.
“I think her coverage is better for sure,” said one Harris ally. “Though I think that’s largely due to circumstances outside of anyone’s control. She had bad luck a few months ago and Biden has had some bad luck recently. A lot of politics is random.”
The campaign trail could be a path for Harris to further solidify her own standing.
“As vice president, she is naturally a front-runner of the next presidential election should Biden decide not to run, so any opportunity that Democratic leaders and donors have to improve her standing and strengthen her will strengthen candidates down ballot,” said Basil Smikle, a Democratic strategist and director of the public policy program at Hunter College.
Julia Manchester contributed.