Column: Don't underestimate Kamala Harris.  She remains the Democrat most likely to succeed Biden

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 08: Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a meeting with state legislative leaders from Indiana, Florida, South Dakota, Nebraska and Montana to discuss abortion rights, after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v.  Wade, in the Vice President's Ceremonial Office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus on Friday, July 8, 2022 in Washington, DC.  WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 8: Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a meeting with state legislative leaders from Indiana, Florida, South Dakota, Nebraska and Montana in the Vice President's Ceremonial Office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the campus of the White House on Friday, July 8, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Vice President Kamala Harris, at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on July 8, enjoys advantages over other potential contenders for a post-Biden Democratic Party. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

As Democrats despair of President Biden’s unpopularity and search for an alternative, many overlook the obvious favorite to succeed him as party leader:

Vice President Kamala Harris.

Biden, of course, has said he plans to seek re-election in 2024, with Harris as his running mate.

But that hasn’t stopped rampant speculation about the leadership and direction of a post-Biden Democratic Party, and how soon it will take shape.

Some Democrats have gone from brooding to outright mutiny, urging the septuagenarian president to step aside for the perceived good of his party, as well as the country, and make way for someone younger and more vigorous.

Some of that may be age discrimination. (Although, at 79, Biden has clearly missed a few steps.) Most of the talk stems from panic among Democrats who fear a dire November and worry that something worse could happen if Biden tops the list again in 2024.

Therefore, the shortness of breath that surrounds a hypothetical Gavin Newsom candidacy for president and rumors of other potential Biden replacements: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren, former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Illinois Governor JB Pritzker, and more.

Clearly, the thinking goes, if Biden were to drop out, the 2024 nomination would not be Harris for asking, regardless of her role as deputy president. She is not heir apparent.

Which, despite Harris’ myriad of problems, shouldn’t necessarily be taken as a personal reflection on the vice president.

“Of course he’s not going to get it,” said Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster who made clear his belief that Biden should and would seek election for a second term. “It never is.”

Harris’ 2020 presidential bid ended in a pile of smoke and ash, and has been working to rehabilitate himself politically ever since.

The results have been decidedly mixed.

She served well as Biden’s running mate, doing her duty by attacking President Trump and standing firm in the debate with Vice President Mike Pence. However, his time in office has been much more difficult.

Some of it has nothing to do with Harris and everything to do with the vice presidency. The job is inherently subordinate, which tends to diminish those in the position: even a historical figure like Harris. If anything, her role as the first woman and the first woman of color to hold the office has widened the gap between reality and expectations.

But many of Harris’s difficulties have been his doing, including wobbly TV interviews, constant staff turnover and a penchant for verbal calamity when speaking off script. (Clips tagged “Kamala Harris word salad” have been viewed nearly 27 million times on TikTok.)

The result is a lousy approval rating that almost coincides with Biden’s bad reputation and the enthusiasm of some Democrats to scrap both Harris and the president and start fresh in 2024.

That thinking, however, diminishes his political prospects and ignores the advantages Harris enjoys over other potential contenders.

The office of vice president could shrink its occupants in the public eye. But behind the scenes it offers a formidable platform to build a national campaign. (In recent decades, Biden, Al Gore, George HW Bush, and Walter Mondale have held office before winning their party’s nomination.)

Harris, who publicly eschews overt political activity, has nonetheless taken steps that could benefit her, speaking at a major Democratic Party dinner on early voting in South Carolina and, as the administration’s point person on abortion rights, meeting with state legislators and Democrats around the world. country.

Last weekend he was in Pennsylvania, appearing on behalf of gubernatorial hopeful Josh Shapiro and rallying activists in a major battleground state.

It also helps a lot that Harris is a pioneering black woman in a party whose most loyal constituents are black voters. Her support for Harris remains strong.

In a Fox News poll released last month, the vice president’s overall approval rating was 41%. Among black respondents, it was 73%.

In a recent national survey of black women, Belcher posed the question differently, asking how warm they felt toward Harris. She rated a fairly favorable 71 on a scale of 100.

“Until Gavin, Pete, Kirsten and Liz prove they can win black voters, Kamala Harris is the favorite,” said Bakari Sellers, a former South Carolina lawmaker who co-chaired Harris’s presidential campaign and remains a friend and confidant. “That’s just pure objective analysis.”

South Carolina has been crucial in deciding the Democratic nomination since advancing in its primary in 2008.

The most powerful Democrat in the state, Representative James E. Clyburnhe was vital to Biden’s success in 2020, rescuing his faltering campaign with a timely endorsement, and has made his preference known for 2024.

“Right now, I’m for Biden, and secondly, I’m for Harris,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

“So I don’t care who goes to New Hampshire or who goes to Iowa,” Clyburn said of two other states that traditionally vote early. “I’m for Biden and then I’m for Harris, either together or in that order.”

All the political disadvantages will be moot if Biden runs again.

If he doesn’t, and Harris is banking on succeeding him, he will have to run a better and smarter campaign than the last one, which sank into a quagmire of mixed messaging and infighting. His ability to do so is by no means certain.

But any Democrat who thinks the vice president isn’t a factor or would be a pushover in a nomination fight risks failing as badly as Harris did in 2020.

Today’s face-to-face polls are pointless. In the fight to succeed Biden, his vice president is still the only one to beat.

This story originally appeared on Los Angeles Times.

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