Harris emerges as main GOP foil on campaign trail

Republicans on the campaign trail are zeroing in on Vice President Harris as their political target of choice as the midterm battle draws closer.

The attacks against Harris come as Republicans have struggled to define President Biden, who enjoys higher approval ratings than his vice president and who has largely managed to sidestep any major controversies so far.

Harris, on the other hand, has drawn intense and persistent criticism over everything from her handling of the surge of migrants from Central America to her recent suggestion that voter ID laws make voting “almost impossible” for people in rural areas.

“Harris’s numbers aren’t as good as Biden’s. She hasn’t shown herself to be particularly adept on the trail, in the public eye,” Keith Naughton, a veteran Republican strategist, said. “She just doesn’t seem to have very good instincts.”

“She’s a San Francisco Democrat,” he added. “She fits as a better target than Joe Biden does.”

A Morning Consult-Politico poll fielded late last month showed Harris’s favorability breaking even at 46 percent to 46 percent. Biden’s favorability, meanwhile, is above water at 52 percent to 45 percent.

And while Republicans have overwhelmingly negative views of both the president and the vice president, more Democrats hold a favorable view of Biden than of Harris, 91 percent compared to 85 percent. The same goes for independents, 51 percent of whom say they see Biden in a favorable light compared to 42 percent who see Harris favorably.

At the same time, Harris has been put in charge of a daunting political portfolio. In addition to heading up the administration’s efforts to deter migration at the southern border, Harris has also been put at the helm of a sweeping legislative effort to protect voting rights.

Her involvement in those hot-button issues has made her an easy target for Republicans, who have tried aggressively to paint the country as being in a state of crisis — including at the southern border and at the ballot box — ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when Democrats’ narrow House and Senate majorities will be on the line.

“Kamala Harris is supposed to be fixing the border crisis, but she’s only making things worse,” one recent Facebook ad from Rep. Andy Barr says. Another ad from the Kentucky Republican taken out the same day calls Harris “the most radical liberal politician in history.”

Barr is far from the only Republican to prominently feature Harris as a foil in campaign ads. Just last week, Jessica Taylor, an Alabama consultant, launched her campaign for the Senate with a promise to “be Kamala’s worst nightmare.”

“Today, in Kamala’s America, I fear everything we hold dear here in Alabama is under attack by socialists, Big Tech and the radical liberals in D.C.,” Taylor says in an announcement video, in which she mispronounces Harris’s first name. She mentions Biden only once in the video, almost as an afterthought.

It’s not unusual for a vice president to have lower favorability ratings than the president he or she serves under. And even some Republicans acknowledge that Harris isn’t the most liberal politician in U.S. history, as Barr’s ad claims.

But the Republican onslaught against Harris is due, in part, to the fact that the GOP has struggled to land attacks against Biden. While Republican voters see the president in an overwhelmingly negative light, “it’s difficult to make him look like the main villain,” one Republican strategist said.

“People just don’t really have very intense feelings about Biden,” the strategist said. “He’s been around forever, and he still has kind of the ‘Uncle Joe’ persona to a lot of people. It’s not that everyone loves him, but people see him as more of a regular guy, a union guy, more as a centrist.”

“It’s easier to go after Harris and make it look like Biden’s just a bumbling old guy who’s not in control,” the strategist added.

There’s also the fact that, unlike Biden, whose political career spans nearly five decades, Harris is relatively new on the national political scene, having been elected to the Senate for the first time in 2016. Republicans say that gives them an advantage.

“She’s still somewhat undefined and her inexperience is definitely showing,” Naughton said.

Harris’s office declined to comment on the record for this story.

Democrats say that the GOP attacks on Harris are born out of desperation and a sense that, as the vice president, Harris is the presumptive future of the party. Aimee Allison, the founder of She the People, a group that supports women of color in politics, said the Republican broadside against Harris “is more cultural than political.”

“This is another front in the Republicans’ culture war,” Allison said. “Instead of focusing on policy they’re using attacks on the vice president as a shorthand for a whole number of assumptions and statements that are red meat for their base.”

“The way I look at it is the vice president, Kamala Harris, her presence in the White House and who she is, is shorthand for a number of things about the future of this country,” she added.

Jon Reinish, a New York-based Democratic strategist, said Republicans “are grasping for any villain they can, and they’re trying to attack the administration, attack the Democratic Party by attacking the vice president.”

Reinish also said Harris’s gender and race can’t be ignored in the context of the Republican attacks. The former California senator made history as the first woman and person of color to serve as vice president, and research shows that female candidates — and especially women of color — are more likely to face aggressive political attacks.

An October report from the Institute for Strategic Dialogue nonprofit found that “women and candidates from an ethnic minority background are more likely than men and those who do not have an ethnic minority background to receive abusive content on mainstream social media platforms.”

“This is a page out of the Republicans’ Barack and Michelle Obama playbook: try to scare the Republican base, try to make it sound like there’s a ‘dark other’ working against their interests,” Reinish said. “They’re working overtime to create a boogeyman.”

But some Democrats acknowledge that Harris’s time as vice president hasn’t always been smooth.

Some progressives criticized her last month after she told would-be migrants not to come to the U.S. during a trip to Guatemala. She also faced weeks of bruising criticism from Republicans, who complained that she had not yet traveled to the southern border. More recently, the White House has found itself pushing back on media reports about tension and dysfunction within Harris’s office.

“She’s had some messaging errors, unforced errors,” one Democratic consultant said. “The Republican attacks are desperate, sure, but there is some course-correcting that needs to be done.”

Tags Andy Barr Joe Biden kamala harris vice president on the trail gop foil target midterms border immigration Michelle Obama
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