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Kamala Harris enters intense 2024 spotlight as the on-deck president

Vice President Kamala is leaning into issues that animate crucial planks of the Democratic base — namely young voters and female voters — as 2024 jockeying gets underway and Ms. Harris is thrust into the spotlight, given President Biden’s advanced age and doubts about his fitness and longevity in office.

She went out West on Friday and detailed the Biden administration’s effort to combat climate change in a speech from Denver. Next Saturday, she will deliver what’s billed as a major speech on abortion to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade.

In Colorado, Ms. Harris specifically hailed young people at the vanguard of climate activism, including Denver Public School students who prodded their district to enact a climate-action plan.

“It is our young leaders who understand, clearly, the clock is not just ticking, it is banging,” Ms. Harris said at Northfield High School.

This month’s speeches are official White House events but Ms. Harris is tapping into core Democratic issues. She will face outsized scrutiny in 2024 because she is next in the presidential line of succession and Mr. Biden, already the oldest sitting president in history, would be 82 years old if he is sworn in for a second term.

A Suffolk University/USA Today poll this month found that 86% of Democratic Biden voters are very or somewhat comfortable with Ms. Harris becoming president if Mr. Biden cannot complete his term.

However, Ms. Harris has struggled to rise above a 40% approval rating with all Americans after an uneven start to her tenure that featured verbal slips, staff turnover in her office and failure to complete a long to-do list handed to her by Mr. Biden, including fixing the immigration system and getting Congress to pass major election reforms.

GOP hopefuls see Ms. Harris as a prime target. One of them, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, says Ms. Harris is the Democrats’ actual presidential candidate.

“Joe Biden’s obvious mental and physical challenges make a vote for him really a vote for Kamala Harris,” Haley spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik said. “A Harris administration would set a record for incompetence — on the border, on foreign policy, on the economy. It’s no wonder she needs a radical group to rescue her with a $10 million PR campaign.”

She was referring to a report that Emily’s List — a group that supports Democratic pro-choice women — plans to spend millions bolstering Ms. Harris’ vice presidential reelection effort by highlighting her accomplishments, combatting bogus information about Ms. Harris and reaching out to voters who get their information from places like YouTube or TikTok.

Ms. Harris has begun to step into commander-in-chief roles. Last month, she delivered the commencement address at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York.

“That appearance should be the model. She needs to be seen on occasions that would ordinarily feature the president. It’s not the number of exposures, it’s the quality of the exposures,” said Ross Baker, a politics professor at Rutgers University.

Climate change and abortion often rank below issues such as the economy, crime of the federal debt in most surveys. The climate and abortion issues could, however, motivate the type of voters that Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris will need to overcome a GOP challenge in 2024.

The USA Today/Suffolk University poll found climate change ranked ninth out of 13 issues presented to voters, drawing 4% of respondents versus 22% for the top issue of inflation. But among voters ages 18 to 34, climate change ranked fifth out of 13 issues, drawing 7%.

Abortion ranked seventh in the list of 13 topics presented to all respondents. Among the Biden voters who said they were “very comfortable” with Ms. Harris taking over as president if Mr. Biden could not complete a second term, abortion was the sixth-most important issue, at 8%.

Ms. Harris, the first female vice president, is expected to attack new restrictions on abortion in Republican-led states during her speech from Charlotte on June 24 — one year after the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization reversed the court’s 1973 ruling that created a national right to abortion.

“We are looking at a moment in time when there is a full-on attack against hard-won freedoms and rights,” Ms. Harris said later Friday at a campaign fundraiser in Cherry Hills Village, Colorado.

The abortion issue rallied Democratic voters during the 2022 midterms, so the party is hoping for a repeat in the presidential cycle.
The Biden-Harris ticket is also trying to recapture young voters who fueled their last win, with nearly six in 10 voters aged 18 to 29 opting for them in 2020, according to Pew Research Center.

Ms. Harris on Friday called on young people to help the administration, which championed a major tax-and-climate bill to passage last year, achieve new climate goals in the near term.

“We need you to organize, and guess what? Summer break is a great time to organize,” Ms. Harris said. “Our nation is counting on you.”
IGNITE, an organization that trains young women to run for office, said its polling showed that climate change was a top-five issue for young women voters as recently as 2019, though it dropped out in 2020 and hasn’t returned.

The top five in 2022 were health care, jobs, mass shootings, race inequity and abortion. IGNITE expects abortion to remain in the next round of polling.

“It was a key motivator for many young women to vote in the 2022 midterms, and women across the country are telling us they see this as a defining issue,” IGNITE CEO Sara Guillermo said. “However, this doesn’t mean climate change isn’t incredibly important to young voters. Gen Z is a generation that is inheriting enormous challenges, especially when it comes to climate change, and this is not lost on young voters, even as they grapple with other pressing issues.”

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