Essential Politics: A glimpse into VP Kamala Harris on the 2022 campaign trail
I just spent the last week traveling with Vice President Kamala Harris, and it was anything but boring.
For six days, I followed Harris as she zipped across the country to attend fundraisers hosted by Silicon Valley executives, to meet firefighters who battled wildfires and to speak at a Black magazine festival in New Orleans. She also addressed a teachers union convention in Chicago and visited the scene of a mass shooting during a Fourth of July parade.
A major question swirling in Washington has centered on how Democrats can best deploy Harris on the campaign trail ahead of what is expected to be rough midterms. This last trip provided me with a glimpse into how Harris is likely to approach the 2022 campaign, in terms of courting donors and seeking to boost turnout.
Hello besties, I’m Erin B. Logan, a reporter with the L.A. Times. I cover the Biden-Harris administration. Today, we will talk about Harris and campaigning.
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Talking to voters and donors
The first stop on Harris’ tour came on Thursday, when the vice president visited the home of Kevin Scott, chief technology officer of Microsoft. The swanky home in Santa Clara County looked just like you would imagine — it had a lot of windows, a modern design and sat behind a gate and on a hill, overlooking Los Gatos. I was the only reporter allowed into the private event because I was the official press pool representative. The fundraiser was attended by 100 people and took place on Scott’s back deck.
After being introduced by Scott’s wife Shannon, Harris strode onto the deck to spirited applause. Harris touted the administration’s accomplishments, including her work on addressing maternal mortality and President Biden’s rallying of allies to confront Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. Harris trumpeted the confirmation of the first Black woman to the Supreme Court — Ketanji Brown Jackson — but grew somber when she spoke of the moment she learned the conservative justices had overturned Roe vs. Wade.
She framed the midterms as an effort to protect personal liberties and democracy, saying that “elections matter,” which reminded me of the “Black Lives Matter” slogan.
“I know every year, every election we say this is the biggest one,” Harris said. “But, man, I mean, this court just took a constitutional right from the women of America.”
The speech was very similar to one Harris gave a few hours later in the living room of her longtime friend and fundraiser Carol Bonnie. That event in San Francisco was attended by 24 people, including California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, according to a Harris aide, and co-hosted by Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn. There, Harris again emphasized the importance of the looming midterm elections and how a Republican takeover of Congress would further stall the administration’s agenda.
A few days later, she was in New Orleans at the Essence Festival of Culture. There, speaking with actress Keke Palmer to an overwhelmingly Black crowd of about 400 people, Harris gave the same general spiel about elections and the importance of Democrats showing up at the polls in November.
In contrast to the speeches she gave at the fundraisers, this chat was a bit more tailored to problems facing the working class. Harris noted that the administration was looking at what can be done domestically to bring down the cost of gas, and she highlighted the work of social justice movements, including Black Lives Matter. Harris urged young people to use their voices within their communities to effect change and to vote.
She spoke at length about her work with reproductive rights and states banning access to abortion after the Supreme Court decision.
“We also know that we’ve had a history in this country of government trying to claim ownership over human bodies,” she said. “And we had supposedly evolved from that time and that way of thinking. So this is very problematic on so many levels.”
Harris seemed at ease in connecting with an audience that is her core constituency and one that she will be expected to rally to hit the polls in November. Democrats will need to energize those voters if they hope to keep either chamber of Congress or, more likely, mitigate expected losses.
History is against them — the president’s party often loses seats in Congress during midterms. Three other issues loom as voters head to the polls — record inflation, high gas prices and Biden‘s low approval ratings.
Harris isn’t polling particularly well either. As of late June, just 41% of Americans viewed her favorably. Democrats believe she can raise money and help rally the base. Her talk at the Essence Festival provided a preview of how she will reach out to such voters.
Back in Los Angeles, Harris met with firefighters at the Santa Monica Fire Station No. 2 on July 4. She praised their efforts in battling wildfires and touted how the administration had gotten federal support for local firefighters.
All of these events and remarks were planned well in advance. But after a gunman fired more than 70 rounds into a crowd attending a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Ill., Harris’ plans changed.
Harris was already scheduled to be in Chicago to speak at the annual National Education Assn. convention on Tuesday. But at the last minute, she decided to accept the invitation of Highland Park’s mayor, Nancy Rotering, to visit the scene and meet with local officials and residents. I watched as her team scrambled to update her planned remarks to the NEA to address the shooting and coordinate a quick visit to the city of 30,000 residents.
After meeting with local officials, residents and first responders, Harris spoke from the heart, more so than during any other event I have covered.
“There’s no question that this experience is going to linger with trauma,” Harris said, standing near the crime scene, which contained scattered chairs, water coolers and a baby stroller. “I’d like to urge all the families and all the individuals to seek the support that you so rightly deserve.
“We are here for you and to stand with you,” she added.
Harris’ performance in Highland Park was quite different from what I saw on the campaign trail, where she seemed to be very scripted.
What does all of these mean for Harris ahead of the midterms? It’s tough to say. Political analyst David Axelrod said Harris’ performance in the 2020 primaries did not suggest she was a particularly good candidate. Perhaps she was so nervous about making a mistake that she seemed to struggle fully connecting with voters.
“The candidates who present most authentically and are the most organic in their approach to the media, to voters and debates are the ones who tend to advance,” he said. “Harris was a cautious candidate.”
Has she shed that caution? Will she help rally Democrats in the midterms? The last week shows that Democrats have a game plan — raising money, investing in voter registration and connecting with the base to get them to the polls.
Will it work? Only time will tell.
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The view from Washington
—Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as the newest Supreme Court justice Thursday, becoming the first Black woman on the nation’s highest court, the Associated Press reported. The 51-year-old Jackson is the court’s 116th justice, and she took the place of Justice Stephen G. Breyer, for whom she once had worked.
—The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld Biden’s power to enforce immigration laws, ruling he may repeal the Trump-era “Remain in Mexico” policy, which barred most Central American migrants from entering the United States to seek asylum, Times writer David G. Savage reported. The 5-4 decision reversed lower court rulings that held the Democratic administration must continue Trump’s strict border enforcement policy.
—The Biden administration on Friday proposed up to 10 oil and gas lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico and one off the Alaska coast over the next five years, scaling back a Trump-era plan that called for dozens of offshore drilling opportunities, including in undeveloped areas, the Associated Press reported. Administration officials said fewer lease sales — or even no sales at all — could occur, with a final decision not due for months. The Interior Department had suspended lease sales in late January because of climate concerns but was forced to resume them by a U.S. district judge in Louisiana. The Biden administration cited conflicting court rulings about that decision when it canceled the last three sales of the previous offshore leasing cycle, which expired Thursday.
The view from the fight for abortion rights
—Actor and former talk show host Busy Philipps — a vocal advocate of abortion rights — was arrested Thursday in Washington for protesting the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic reversal of Roe vs. Wade, the landmark ruling protecting reproductive decisions, Times writer Nardine Saad reported. The “Girls5eva” star documented herself demonstrating with throngs of people in front of the court before she was “arrested, processed” and released Thursday afternoon, sharing much of the ordeal on Instagram and Instagram Stories.
—Suspension of most abortions in Arizona is already putting significant pressure on medical clinics in San Diego, Imperial and Riverside counties, San Diego Union-Tribune writer Paul Sisson reported. Planned Parenthood of the Pacific Southwest, which operates 19 health centers in those three counties, said Wednesday that Arizona women have scheduled 175 appointments at its various locations since Roe vs. Wade was overturned. It’s a massive increase, given that just 13 abortions were scheduled by Arizona women during the corresponding four-day period one week earlier.
—A Florida judge said Thursday that he will temporarily block a ban on abortions in his state after 15 weeks of pregnancy, but his bench ruling won’t take effect before the ban becomes law Friday — an issue that could cause confusion for patients as well as abortion providers, the Associated Press reported. Meanwhile, a Kentucky judge temporarily blocked that state’s near-total ban on abortions, allowing the procedures to resume after they were abruptly stopped following the U.S. Supreme Court decision.
The view from California
—Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday launched his first television ad of the general election, but not in California, Times writer Seema Mehta reported. The ad is airing thousands of miles away, in Florida, further fueling speculation that he wants to run for president — or, at a minimum, to troll the Sunshine State’s Republican leaders. In the ad, Newsom contrasts the policies in California and Florida while images flash of former President Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis, potential 2024 presidential candidates. Newsom’s gubernatorial campaign is spending about $105,000 to air the ad on Fox News around the state.
—Newsom on Thursday signed into law key elements of a new $307.9-billion state budget, a spending plan centered on gas refunds for 17.5 million taxpayers to soften the sting of high fuel prices and the cost of living, Times writer Taryn Luna reported.
—Striking a blow against a pernicious form of pollution, Newsom signed into law Thursday the nation’s most far-reaching restrictions on single-use plastics and packaging, Times writers Susanne Rust and Anabel Sosa reported. The legislation headed off a November ballot measure that many lawmakers and the plastics industry hoped to avoid, and it puts California at the forefront of national efforts to eliminate polystyrene and other plastics that litter the environment, degrade into toxic particles and increasingly inhabit human blood, tissue and organs.
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