When Kamala Harris assumed the role of Vice President of the United States in January 2020, she made history as the first woman vice president and the first woman of colour to hold this office.
Garnering attention for her multiracial identity as a Black and Indian American, her presence in the Biden administration generated excitement and positive press. Harris appeared to be the ideal complement to President Biden, infusing the leadership team with much-needed diversity.
However, as the upcoming US Presidential election approaches with less than a year to go, Kamala Harris finds herself grappling with a substantial perception problem, ironically overshadowed by the larger challenges faced by her boss, Joe Biden.
An NBC News poll conducted in the summer of 2023 revealed that 49 per cent of voters held an unfavourable view of Harris, marking the lowest net-negative rating for a vice president since the poll’s inception in 1989.
A stronger running mate
Fast forward to November 2023, a New York Times/Siena poll of voters in battleground states demonstrated Harris performing slightly better than Biden in a hypothetical matchup against Donald Trump, particularly resonating with young and nonwhite voters.
Despite these nuances, the label of being a “problem” for the Biden ticket in 2024 persists. Harris has struggled to convey to voters that she possesses the presidential qualities necessary for the role, leading to growing questions about her suitability as Joe Biden’s running mate.
Republican presidential contenders, including Donald Trump and Nikki Haley, have taken shots at Harris, while internal voices within the Democratic Party have suggested the need for a stronger running mate for Biden.
The situation has reached a point where the White House reportedly requested Democratic leaders to refrain from publicly criticising Harris to prevent further harm to both her and Biden.
Harris’s reputational challenges
Harris’s reputational challenges began within the first year of the Biden presidency, marked by resignations in her office, public statement gaffes, and reported tensions with the White House.
The negative media coverage reached a point where ‘The Los Angeles Times’ ran a piece on “the incredible disappearing vice president.”
While Harris is attempting to change this narrative, recent articles such as ‘The Atlantic’s “The Kamala Harris Problem” and ‘New York Magazine’s piece advocating for Biden to drop Harris as a running mate persist in casting shadows over her political standing.
How did Harris arrive at this juncture? Sexism, racism, and internal sabotage are cited by former White House chief of staff Ron Klain as contributing factors.
Klain suggests that Harris does not receive due credit for her work, despite consistently advocating for issues such as reproductive and abortion rights for women, which her office hopes will resonate with the core Democratic voter base.
Yet, concerns about Biden’s age and the prospect of Harris assuming the presidency if Biden is unable to complete his term loom large in the minds of American voters.
These concerns may ultimately shape the outcome of the 2024 election.