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The abortion debate is giving Kamala Harris a moment. But voters still aren't sold

Noah Bierman, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Women

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 age 18-29, given the small sample sizes of subgroups. One poll conducted 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."

 

A senior advisor to the Trump campaign, Danielle Alvarez, called Harris irrelevant. "Political reality is that Biden's under water and he is a failed president," she said. "She is certainly probably equal to him in those failures, but he is the target."

Whit Ayres, a longtime Republican pollster, agrees that running mates do not generally impact votes but points to Sarah Palin in 2008 as an exception, in large part because polls showed dual concerns about John McCain's health and Palin's fitness for office. He argues that Harris, whom he characterizes as a walking gaffe, presents a similar problem.

"There may be plenty of time, but if you don't have the ability to be more articulate and look like you're ready to be leader of the free world, it's going to be difficult to accomplish that," Ayres said.

Harris is counting on that time. She is fairly busy with public events, but vice presidents, by design, don't tend to draw much attention compared with the president.

As the campaign heats up, and Trump picks a running mate, they are likely to see more of her, and, potentially, in a different light.

"For people who have misgivings about her, ultimately the question for them is going to be how does she look as opposed to X?" said Joel Goldstein, a historian who studies the vice presidency. "Now, she's measured against an ideal figure."

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©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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