When Vice President Harris has appeared before audiences around the country in recent days, she has posed a question asked by would-be voters: “Why should I vote?”
Harris has told the crowds publicly — and has reiterated to aides privately — that Democrats have to give them a good answer that will lure them to the polls.
During addresses in Texas and Massachusetts this week, she ticked off a string of reasons, from democracy being at stake to abortion rights. And in some speeches this summer, she has also directly taken on policies by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).
“There are, as there have always been, forces that stand in our way. Forces that oppose … even the most commonsense gun safety proposals,” Harris said during a July speech at the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority convention in Orlando. “Forces that include extremist, so-called leaders, who instead of expanding rights work to restrict rights.”
President Biden and Harris have both struggled with low approval ratings, raising real questions about how much help they can provide to Democratic candidates in the House and Senate. So far, the two have not appeared alongside candidates in key races in Georgia, Pennsylvania and Arizona.
Republicans, for their part, have gone on the attack against the president and the vice president.
Georgia GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker this week used Harris to go after Democrats on the issue of race, saying in a new ad that she and others were seeking to use “race to divide us.” Harris and Biden were featured prominently in the ad.
But other Democrats say they believe Harris can be an effective voice in getting Democrats to the polls by touring the country and giving the grassroots a sense of the stakes at play.
One source who has advised Harris questioned her effectiveness in certain states.
“I doubt she’ll be the messenger deployed to win over swing states,” the source said.
But the source and others in her orbit said Harris can be very effective in broader get-out-the-vote events and in helping to keep abortion rights front and center — as well as in fundraising efforts.
Harris has been crisscrossing the country and appearing at events to appeal to various voting blocs.
She traveled to Houston on Thursday to deliver remarks at the National Baptist Convention. In August, she traveled to Boston for a conversation on reproductive rights with Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and to Las Vegas for remarks at a steelworkers union convention.
On Saturday, Harris will speak at the Democratic National Committee’s summer meeting in Maryland, and on Sunday, she’ll appear on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in an interview she recorded on Friday.
A source close to Harris said her appearances are about “rallying not just the base, but about bringing other people in.”
Her appearances, the source said, are “not just the big speeches” — like the one she delivered to steelworkers in Nevada last month — but the more personal “touches,” the source added, pointing to the vice president’s meetings with Hispanic lawmakers on the heels of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.
Harris has consistently tied in meetings about reproductive rights in her political travels.
In Las Vegas, she tacked on a meeting with state legislators on abortion issues while visiting the city for the steelworkers union speech.
Harris has been a leading voice from the administration on reproductive rights following the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, and she’s met with local leaders and advocates to discuss the issue in Florida, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana and Massachusetts, among other states.
Democrats this cycle are hopeful that abortion is an issue that will bring voters out in November and maybe attract additional votes from independents or moderate Republicans, especially in states where leaders are passing restrictive abortion laws.
Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist, sees Harris as the right person to lean into that strategy on the trail.
“She is really giving a real voice to some of the issues that women are facing in this country, whether they supported the ticket or not,” he said. “I think her voice is so magnetic that it’s going to attract a wide range of followers, amplifiers and supporters.”
Since the start of her tenure as vice president, some Democrats said they had been underwhelmed by Harris’s lack of a policy portfolio and her presence on the national stage overall. Her approval ratings have hovered below 40 percent, and she has been plagued by a constant revolving door of staffers.
There continue to be questions about whether she could successfully run for president should Biden choose against a second term. Biden has insisted he intends to run for office again, and Harris has said she will work for his reelection.
An August poll from her home state of California found voters would prefer their governor, Gavin Newsom (D), in the 2024 Democratic presidential primary over Harris. In another poll last month, Harris trailed former President Trump by 7 percentage points in a hypothetical 2024 presidential match-up.
Still, Democratic strategists argue that she is an asset on the campaign trail for this midterm cycle, and she is focused on helping Democrats hold onto Congress and expand their majority.
Democratic strategist Eddie Vale said Harris can serve as a “closer” of sorts who will appeal to women.
“I think that there’s not an issue that she cannot take on or talk about. What she is doing now, I think, is very intentional. She is out updating and educating people on one, the things we have done and two, how high the stakes are,” Seawright said.
He added that she’s a team player and said she is doing what makes sense for Democrats this cycle, “and is not necessarily playing a selfish role in terms of what she can do to be helpful.”