Despite Harris’ moment, voters still are not sold

PHOENIX — When a group of crossover voters was asked during a focus group about Vice President Kamala Harris, their assessments were brutal: If she is helping Biden, you don’t see it. She rubs me the wrong way. She was picked because she is a demographic. The big things she had, she failed.

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The comments, fair or not, represent a problem for President Biden and for Harris, echoed in interviews with voters here in Arizona, a key swing state where Harris spoke on Friday. More than three years into the oldest president in history’s first term, his understudy has failed to win over a majority of voters or convince them that she is ready to step in if Biden falters, according to polls.

“Swing voters don’t like her,” said Gunner Ramer, political director for a group called Republican Voters Against Trump, which allowed The Times to view videos from three focus groups, including the crossover group that featured people who voted for former President Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020.

It wasn’t just former Trump voters who were negative about Harris. In a focus group of Black voters who were disappointed with Biden, none raised their hand in support of Harris, with one participant calling her “the bad news bear.” A focus group of California Democrats, while they liked Harris, had to be prompted to discuss her and said she needed more influence and exposure.

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Many of Harris’ allies and supporters say the judgments are influenced by racism and sexism, pointing out that other vice presidents stayed in the background with less scrutiny and saw their popularity tied to the top of the ticket. Some people in focus groups criticized her clothes or compared her to Hillary Clinton in comments that seemed to validate those concerns.

But her low popularity could pose a political problem that her predecessors have not faced, given the focus on Trump’s and Biden’s ages, 77 and 81, respectively. More than half of voters, 54%, said she is not qualified to serve as president in a March USA Today/Suffolk poll, compared with 38% who said she is.

“If there was a health event for either nominee, the VP is front and center in terms of people who may be on the fence, people who may dislike both candidates,” said David Paleologos, who conducted a USA Today/Suffolk poll that asked voters their assessment of Harris. “And there are a lot whose decision may hinge on a comfort level with the vice presidential choice.”

Harris has heard the criticism since she entered the White House to historic triumph in 2021. While she seldom responds directly, she has stepped up her appearances with core Democratic groups, often keeping a more robust campaign and travel schedule than Biden. Many allies believe her role as the administration’s leading voice on abortion rights will boost her and the Democratic ticket on an issue that helped carry the party to unexpected success in the 2022 midterm elections.

She spoke Friday in Tucson, three days after Arizona’s Supreme Court ruled that an 1864 ban on abortion can be enforced in the coming weeks. She framed the Democrats’ case against Trump, who has claimed credit for shifting the Supreme Court against abortion rights and last week said each state should decide on the issue.

“Just like he did in Arizona, he basically wants to take America back to the 1800s,” Harris said.

Several voters said in interviews in Phoenix on Monday that they were not aware Harris was in their state just a few days ago, underscoring the challenge of getting attention as a vice president in an era of information overload.

“If she is coming for us, she doesn’t show it,” said Tracey Sayles, a 52-year-old Black Democrat.

Sayles voted in prior elections for Democrats Hillary Clinton and Biden but now says her choice is 50-50 in the coming election, despite calling Trump “vulgar,” because Biden “looks like he’s ill.” She would have driven to see Harris in Tucson if she’d known she was in the state, she said, but feels the vice president has been hiding.

Another voter who dislikes both Trump and Biden, Jeff Garland, said he has not seen much of Harris either.

“But from what I have seen of her, she doesn’t look like someone I want running my country,” said Garland, a 57-year-old retired member of the military who said he voted for Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020 and planned to sit out 2024.

Kellie Hoverson, a 31-year-old Democrat, said she “was not thrilled about Biden” but was more bullish on Harris, despite hearing concerns from younger friends and relatives about her history as a prosecutor in California.

“I just want a woman president,” she said. “I just want to see it in my lifetime.”

Studies by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which works to advance women’s equality in politics, suggest women face an “imagination barrier” when they run for the highest executive offices, because voters have a harder time picturing them in the job than they do white men, who have historically held the posts.

“Men can tell and women have to show,” said Amanda Hunter, the foundation’s executive director.

Polls suggest Harris, who dropped out early in the 2020 presidential primary, has made strides with the Democratic base. Three-quarters of Democrats had a favorable view of her in the USA Today/Suffolk poll, which showed a little more than a quarter of independents view her favorably.

Brian Fallon, who serves as her campaign communications director, said she “has proven to be a highly effective messenger on issues from reproductive freedom to gun violence prevention” and said she is “uniquely positioned to mobilize critical groups across the Biden-Harris coalition, including both progressives and independents.”

The fact that many voters say they remain unfamiliar with Harris is something her allies and advisors see as an opening, because it leaves room for persuasion when more voters focus in on the race in the early fall.

“This is not a one-speech or two-speech thing, this is four or five months of just putting in the work,” said Cornell Belcher, who served as one of former President Obama’s pollsters.

Belcher argued that the small slice of persuadable voters who give Harris her lowest marks won’t decide the race; it will instead be a question of whether Democrats can rebuild their coalition of young voters, women and people of color that delivered Obama his 2012 reelection and formed the backbone of Biden’s 2020 victory.

“I’m more worried about these younger voters taking the off-ramp, like they did in 2016,” he said, crediting Harris with her work reaching them in college campus tours and other outreach.

But there are questions there too with inconsistencies in polls of voters ages 18-29, given the small sample sizes of subgroups. One poll in early April by Emerson College showed Harris with pretty high favorable marks among those younger voters, nearly 49%, while another poll by the Economist taken a few days later showed only 34% of that age group viewed her favorably.

It’s unclear whether Trump, who has not targeted the vice president often, will pick up his attacks on Harris, who is unsurprisingly toxic among Republican base voters. “If they cheat on the election, it might be Kamala,” Trump said during a March rally in North Carolina, echoing his false claims of widespread election fraud.

He fairly quickly pivoted back to Biden: “We got enough problems with this guy.”

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Comments

  1. Women have proven they don’t care about anything, anyway. Look at all the men (trans) who are invading women’s sports and upsetting their established goals and record……and most women don’t give a crap (’cause MOST are commie fascist racist biggoted satanic woke democrats). They’re more interested in promoting the lies of the immoral LGBTQRSTUVW+++ and homos than their own gender (which by the way there are only 2). Also women have proven beyond a doubt that they could care less about the country when they supported their female master, Hilary Rotten clinton, and support their FemiNazi movement. MOST are so emersed in ‘feelings’, moronic ‘karen’ behaviors, and SELF, to really care about anything else!!!

  2. Treva Bennett says

    The idea of Kamala becoming President if something happens to Biden should stop everyone in their tracks of voting for Biden. People need to do more due diligence when it comes to voting. These People that were interviewed don’t seem to have a clue.”i just want a woman president in my lifetime”is pure ignorance in my opinion. Personally being a senior woman I prefer a man for the job. I do have valid reasons. Kamala is an absolute disaster. Calling her unqualified is a pleasantry. Can you imagine “giggles” as Commander in Chief of our military? With the codes to our nuclear arsenal? I think we’d have mass retirements and a Duce of a time recruiting. Kamala and her husband are both strong leftists. Why the voters don’t see much of her Biden keeps her under wraps. I think she is Vice Prez because Obama wanted her. Oh well, we have to get rid of both of them. The cheating has already started. How are we going to prevent the illegals from voting?

  3. Rottweiler says

    An inept, cackling, unintelligent race baiter. How she accomplishes dressing herself defies logic. By the way, her mother is from India, father from the Carribean, NOT BLACK. The progressive leftists mold you into any narrative that is needed. She should have been a backup for Bozo, the clown.

  4. Otis R. Needleman says

    Harris is not just incompetent, she is clueless. Nobody can take her seriously. My three-year-old granddaughter would to the VP job better than Harris; at least she would make more of an effort than Harris ever has so far. In farming terms, Harris is as useless as teats on a boar.

  5. Harris is a great example of identity politics, moving someone up the political ladder to fit a racial-equity need. Like Newsom, she was groomed for this job by Pelosi and her ilk. But she does _not_ represent all women; she represents ignorant, uncreative, leftist women who do not use their brains, preferring to parrot what others say and practice an Orwellian groupthink. Trump may not end up as the candidate – I heard one assassination plot was recently foiled, but there will probably be others. Democrats are desperate and yes there will be massive cheating. $500 million has been funneled to various NGOs and nonprofits to “get out the vote” of Hispanics and other persons of color–to vote for Democrats. They will pay them, bribe them to vote. Democrat operatives will do absolutely anything to cancel conservative votes, as the law is no barrier to them. Expect to see more targeting of right-wing talk show hosts and others who have a public presence with made-up crimes and suits.

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