Under an intense spotlight, Harris backs Biden and slams Trump in Nevada

Against that extraordinary backdrop, Harris kept the focus on the race as it stood, framing the choice between President Joe Biden, 81, and former President Donald Trump, 78, as a decision between a country of 'freedom, compassion and rule of law' and one of 'chaos, fear and hate'.
Last Updated : 10 July 2024, 03:32 IST

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United States Vice President Kamala Harris returned to Nevada on Tuesday for her sixth visit to the battleground state this year, her 14th since taking office and her first since some prominent Democrats began openly discussing whether she should replace her running mate at the top of the ticket.

Against that extraordinary backdrop, Harris kept the focus on the race as it stood, framing the choice between President Joe Biden, 81, and former President Donald Trump, 78, as a decision between a country of "freedom, compassion and rule of law" and one of "chaos, fear and hate".

Speaking in the ballroom of a Las Vegas casino, Harris ran through a list of policies proposed in Project 2025, a blueprint developed by Republicans, including some of Trump's advisers, who hope he will incorporate ideas like curtailing the Education Department and limiting access to abortion in his second-term agenda.

"If implemented, this plan would be the latest attack in Donald Trump's full-on assault on reproductive freedom," she told a crowd of hundreds.

As some Democrats -- horrified by Biden's disastrous debate performance last month -- urge him not to seek reelection or question his ability to serve a second term, the spotlight on Harris is perhaps at its most intense since she became vice president.

"It's going to be a microscope or magnifying glass," former Gov. Steve Sisolak of Nevada, a Democrat who supports Biden's reelection, said in an interview before the event, which he attended. "People are looking for some indication from her, some signal, if there were one, that something might change."

They did not get one. Harris stuck to the script, only briefly alluding to Biden's woes.

"We always knew this election would be tough, and the past few days have been a reminder that running for president of the United States is never easy," she said. "But the one thing we know about our president, Joe Biden, is that he is a fighter."

Biden, who trailed in polling in swing states even before the debate, has been increasingly adamant that he is not leaving the race, and some key Democrats have highlighted their support for him this week. Harris has backed him at every turn, making a crisp case for his candidacy and relentlessly promoting the administration's record at events and in media appearances.

But that has not stopped intraparty wrangling over the future of the ticket less than four months before Election Day.

A number of Democrats, including members of the Democratic National Committee, have already said that if Biden were to step aside, there should be an open and competitive process to determine the party's nominee. Others have said that, in that scenario, the party should rapidly unite behind Harris.

"I don't want to see an open convention; that drags it out longer, puts the Democrats in disarray," said Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., whose district includes parts of Las Vegas. "Let's get it resolved. And having her step up would be the easiest way to go. But for now, I'm hoping that the ticket remains Biden-Harris."

Harris promoted that ticket Tuesday while seeking to turn the nation's focus back to Trump at an event aimed at Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities.

As the first woman and the first woman of color to hold the vice presidency, she is playing a vital role in trying to shore up support among key Democratic constituencies, including young people, women and Black voters, that have lagged in enthusiasm.

"Someone who vilifies immigrants, who promotes xenophobia, someone who stokes hate should never again have the chance to stand behind a microphone and the seal of the president of the United States," she said.

As she began her three-state tour to energize voters in Nevada, Texas and North Carolina, Harris was in a peculiar position.

An increasing number of Democrats have come around to backing her as a potential leader of the party if Biden were to step down. They believe she is crucial to energizing their base. But each time she delivers a speech contrasting Biden with Trump, she in effect contrasts her messaging ability with the president's.

Stefanie Brown James, a founder of The Collective PAC, an organization dedicated to electing Black officials, said Harris should not be concerned with whether her performance this week would spotlight Biden's limitations.

"We need her to shine her light. She should not dim her light because people feel it will overshadow his. She is who she is," James said. "Quite frankly, it is a woman thing. It's a Black woman thing. We are often asked to dim our light because it will diminish someone else."

Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., who has called for Biden to step down as the party's presidential nominee, acknowledged Harris' awkward position. But he said she should continue to be aggressive in her messaging.

"She's doing exactly the right thing," Moulton said. "She's out campaigning as she should. This is an incredibly difficult position for the vice president. But guess what? You're the vice president of the United States. You signed up for difficult positions. She'll be fine."

In Harris' many visits to Nevada this spring, she has spoken to local union members and appeared alongside prominent Black women to talk about protecting abortion rights.

Before the campaign event Tuesday, she made a surprise visit to the Team USA basketball camp in Las Vegas, where star NBA players are preparing for this summer's Olympics.

"You need to go to Paris and bring back that gold," Harris told the players, including Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers and Jrue Holiday of the Boston Celtics.

The Biden campaign faces an uphill battle in Nevada, where Trump has generally had a polling advantage in recent surveys.

Harris' short but assertive speech energized the crowd, which occasionally broke into chants of "Four more years." Some attendees said they remained excited about a Biden-Harris ticket.

Pete Rayner, 51, praised Harris for going on offense against Trump and Project 2025.

(The former president claimed no knowledge of the project last week.)

"I like that attack style, because this is what they do to us," said Rayner, a hotel bellman, referring to Republicans. He acknowledged that Harris might be more effective at countering political opponents on the fly than Biden was.

Others, more quietly, were less sure about the Democratic ticket.

Elyse Davis, 65, a retired lawyer, said she and other Nevadans she knew were still sorting through their concerns about Biden and deciding whether they wanted him to leave the race.

"A lot of people are very concerned about Biden's mental status," Davis said. "For that reason, I think the undecided voters may opt not to vote for him."

Published 10 July 2024, 03:32 IST

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