Politics

Harris focuses on her personal story, not Biden questions, as she speaks to Black and Asian voters

DALLAS — (AP) — First, Vice President Kamala Harris went to Nevada to launch the reelection's outreach campaign to Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders and addressed the crowd as "longtime friends."

Then, she was in Dallas to speak at the annual gathering of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the Black sorority that she pledged as a student at Howard University, one of the most storied historically Black colleges in the country. She conveyed to her fellow “sorors” — sorority sisters — about the stakes of November's election.

Events she held on successive days this week illustrate how her racial identity and personal background could help President Joe Biden 's flagging reelection after his widely-panned June 27 debate performance, and make her a potentially formidable replacement if he withdraws.

Harris is the nation's first female vice president as well as the first Black woman and person of Asian descent to hold the role. The campaign swing allowed the vice president to exhort key elements of the Biden coalition by addressing her personal story more than squabbles among Democrats about whether Biden should bow out and let her be the party's presidential nominee.

The vice president's mix of identities can sometimes perplex her detractors, but supporters argue it is an embodiment of America’s rich nuances. Throughout her campaign events this week, Harris sought to use her multifaceted identities and life story as a vehicle to defend universal American values such as freedom, justice and democracy.

Andrea Rodriguez Campos, a teacher in Las Vegas, was moved to tears as Harris described her upbringing and the importance of immigrant communities.

“I find that everything they’re supporting is so important,” Rodriguez Campos said of the Biden administration. “Being an immigrant myself, I mean, that’s why we’re here. Being able to see somebody like her reminds me that because she can, we all can.”

Biden has insisted he will not drop out of the election after his disastrous debate performance even as he faces growing dissension from Democrats on Capitol Hill and many donors. Harris and other potential replacements have said they still support Biden.

Still, former President Donald Trump and Republican allies are increasingly focusing their attacks on Harris anyway, often in language with racist and misogynist undertones. Trump has referenced Harris' past relationship with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and labeled her "Laffin' Kamala," a reference to frequent Republican attacks on how she laughs.

Harris at both events stuck to promoting Biden, not herself.

“We always knew this election would be tough, and the past few days have been a reminder that running for president of the United States is never easy,” Harris said Tuesday in Las Vegas. “But the one thing we know about our president, Joe Biden, is that he is a fighter and he is the first to say, when you get knocked down, you get back up.”

Keeping the spotlight on Biden didn't stop some in the crowd from wondering, though. Attendee John Chang said he thought the vice president performed well during the Las Vegas rally, despite saying he’d been underwhelmed by her previously.

“I’m here to evaluate,” Chang said. “I lean very strongly against Trump. But if Biden were to step out or just get sick or whatever and she steps up then it’s like so and now what? Can it be her?”

Some of the attendees of Tuesday’s event wore traditional Central and Southeast Asian dresses, others had leis common to Hawaiian culture, while some sported traditional Pacific Islander jewelry. Harris made a point of not just praising a crowd as filled with “longtime friends” but also calling Las Vegas “Hawaii’s ninth island.”

Both days, Harris emphasized being raised in a multicultural, multiracial household in San Francisco's Bay Area to attending Howard.

“We stand for this beauty and diversity and the promise of America,” she said.

On Wednesday, addressing AKA's 71st Boulé in Dallas, Harris declared, “I will address the topic at hand.” But she was referring to the sorority's legacy of fighting for civil rights over the decades — not the raging debate over Biden's chances in November.

The vice president was met with a resounding “skee-wee” from the crowd, a traditional greeting and affirming cheer for those in the sorority, as she entered and exited the group's “boulé,” or regular gathering.

The crowd was composed entirely of Black women — many wearing dresses in the sorority's standard color of pink and green — who said they considered Harris a sister. Some had on tiaras, while others cheered with pom-poms as Harris spoke.

Wearing a pink blazer herself, Harris recounted her journey to the sorority and how she said it enabled her path to the vice presidency.

Attendees also responded in unison and sustained applause when Harris said, “Soros, this is a serious matter,” referencing both the election and an adage of the sisterhood.

“In this moment, once again,” Harris said, “our nation is counting on the leaders of this room to guide us forward to energize, organize and mobilize.”

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Weissert reported from Washington.

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