Updated as of 4/29/2023 at 8:00 a.m. ET
It’s an open secret in Washington that some Democrats would rather President Joe Biden have chosen another Vice President this go-around. And by open secret, we mean dozens of Democrats reportedly spilled about their skepticism of Vice President Kamala Harris to the New York Times in February. However, despite her detractors, Harris beamed as brightly as ever in the video announcing that the two leaders would be running for a second term. At this point, it should be clear to everyone that Biden is sticking by his Vice President, haters, and rough poll numbers be damned.
Mathematically, Biden will need Black voters, particularly Black women, to show-up up for him in 2024 if he hopes to defeat whichever candidate emerges from the blood-bath formally known as the Republican primary. So The Root spoke with the Black women Biden will need to back him, the ones knocking on doors, organizing voter drives, and advising key campaigns. And the consensus was clear. Not only does keeping Harris help Biden with Black women, it’s also key to his survival in 2024. But how can the White House ensure the Vice President shines in a sea of detractors? These Black women on the frontlines of politics may have the answer.
Nina Smith, a campaign strategist and former senior advisor to former Georgia Gubnetrorial candidate Stacey Abrams, says keeping Harris, the first Black and South Asian woman VP on the ticket, was a no-brainer. “I think it’s a really smart and shrewd move,” says Smith. “She’s been nothing but a partner to the President, and I think she’s been a real asset, and clearly the administration recognizes that.”
Tayhlor Coleman, a campaign strategist and voter advocate in Texas, says she highly doubts Biden ever seriously weighed replacing Harris. “On day one, Biden has been very clear that Black voters, Black women, in particular, were responsible for him getting him in the White House,” says Coleman. “I think that showing his commitment to the Vice President is something that we all expect and appreciate seeing. So I think absolutely it was a smart choice.”
But the White House will have to do more than keep Harris on the ticket to ensure their mutual success in the 2024 Presidential election.
Let’s face it; her poll numbers aren’t great. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, Harris had a net -7 favorability score, slightly trailing Biden, who has a net -5 favorability score. To Smith, Harris’s favorability issue is intimately connected to the media’s inability to cover powerful Black women fairly. “Black women could do many things right, but then there’s still this assessment of ‘oh’ she’s lacking something,” says Smith.
Tiffany Flowers, Campaign Director of the voter mobilization group Frontline, says a lot of this comes down to good old-fashioned misogynoir. “A Black woman is someone who can seemingly get the job done, someone who is willing to stand in the gap, take the hard hits, and do the dirty work,” says Flowers. “If she actually isn’t perfect and has a misstep, then she becomes a threat, and everybody coalesces around the idea that we no longer want or need this Black woman who’s done so much work and effort.”
Inadequate communication on the administration’s side could also be a factor in Harris’ low poll numbers, suggests Cynthia Wallace, Co-Founder and Executive Director of the New Rural Project.
“In general, the administration needs to talk a little more plainly about their accomplishments,” says Wallace. Instead of throwing out acronyms at people when talking about their successes, they need to break their policy accomplishments down for people.
“You’ve got to speak plainly about how this is impacting people’s day-to-day lives,” she says.
Wallace says giving voters more of her is an excellent place to start if they want to improve Harris’ standing in the polls. “The more folks have an opportunity to learn about what Vice President Harris is doing or has done,” says Wallace, “I think we’ll see those numbers pick up.”
Having her on the ground speaking about issues she’s passionate about like when she visited the two expelled lawmakers in Tennessee, is vital, says Wallace, adding that the Vice President also shined during the midterm election when she traveled the country stumping for candidates.
“We’ve had an opportunity to hear her a few times in North Carolina, and she energizes the crown when she talks about the accomplishments of the Biden-Harris administration,” says Wallace. “So I think the opportunity is for her to be a little more visible, and likely those numbers will change.”
Coleman agrees that when Harris is out of Washington in her element talking about issues like abortion or voting rights, she’s a massive asset to the administration. “She has shown how effective she is at talking and turning out key constituencies the President is going to need to win this election,” says Coleman. “She energizes the folks that she speaks with.”
Over the last year, Harris has had a much more public-facing role in the White House compared to her earlier tenure in office. Smith says that the administration needs to keep building on that. In particular, her showing-up in spaces where she is uniquely positioned to shine like at her alma mater Howard or on the Jennifer Hudson show, is key to her success.
“I think the more we see them together, the more we hear from Vice President Harris on the issues of our time, really communicating and translating what’s happening in Washington to the people outside of D.C,” says Smith, “and doing those sort of intangible outside of D.C. activities is gonna be the difference in this election.”