Why aren’t Democrats utilizing Vice President Kamala Harris more on the campaign trail?
OPINION: The VP's diminished role this election cycle makes zero sense when considering the issues facing women, and Black and brown voters.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
As we head into the last few weeks of the 2022 midterm election cycle, a question circulating among my circles and sorority sisters is where in the world is Vice President Kamala Harris?
The historic first Black female vice president of the United States was recently abroad in the Pacific Rim region for the state funeral of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe but has been fairly invisible. We all understand that campaigning with President Joe Biden for some Democrats in moderate districts or statewide races could prove problematic—for example, Rep. Tim Ryan in Ohio, who is in a tight U.S. Senate race. In his debate with Republican nominee J.D. Vance, Ryan went full rogue on his own party’s president and vice president.
When asked by the moderator if President Biden should run again, Ryan responded, “No. I’ve been very clear. I’d like to see a generational change—Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, the president, everybody. We need a new generation of leadership across the board.” And if that wasn’t bold enough, he turned his sights on Vice President Harris, saying, “Kamala Harris is absolutely wrong” in saying the border is secure. He added, more emphatically, “Kamala Harris is wrong on immigration. I’m not afraid to say that.”
Beyond Ryan’s strategy of throwing his own White House team under the bus—which will likely help him in Ohio—where is Vice President Harris on the campaign trail? CNN did a story in early September focusing on Harris and her campaign stops tied to the abortion issue. There was a great line in that piece from an anonymous Harris aide who said, “The positioning is not so much about the geography but about the demography.” There it is in a nutshell, folks. As always, it comes down to race and gender no matter how accomplished we are.
Yet in swing states like Ohio, Harris has not been invited to campaign, which is interesting considering Ohio has a pretty sizable Black population in cities like Cleveland and Akron, and Black residents account for 13% of the state’s population. I think it’s a risky move for Ryan to shun Harris, as he must get a heavy Black turnout to have a serious chance of winning come November. Or, perhaps, the calculus has changed for Democrats like Ryan—meaning, he sees the Black vote as fairly secure against a rabid Republican like Vance and sees the battleground as a fight to win over white, working-class voters or the all-powerful and much-pursued white female vote, which has decided the 2016 presidential race for Trump.
When you look at the VP’s schedule as of October and even since Harris took office in January 2021, you see that many of her appearances are in Washington, D.C., with official duties of state. She has traveled back to California several times to Los Angeles where she maintains a home with her husband. She was recently in Texas for a Democratic fundraiser and to discuss abortion rights earlier this month. And she has been sent to safe Democratically-run states such as Illinois. She now has far fewer public appearances with President Biden in 2022 than she did in their first year in office.
Sadly, it seems as if our historic vice president has a shrinking role. As the link to her schedule shows, her office gives little access to the media, and she is rarely seen on the campaign trail at large rallies for Democratic candidates, which makes zero sense when you consider the times we are living in and the issues facing women, and Black and brown voters in particular.
So what gives? I do not have any hard answers because only the vice president or the White House staff can honestly share why her role seems diminished and why she is not being used to rally legions of Black female voters through her sorority connections and the like. But here is what I do know—the media has not given VP Harris a break since day one.
I think it’s fair to say that going from being a powerful, lone Black woman in the Senate to a hidden and oft-disrespected vice president has to be hard. And everyone knows that from John Adams to Joe Biden and Mike Pence, nobody likes being vice president. As John Adams, our nation’s first vice president, once quipped, the role is “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” Or as Franklin Roosevelt’s first VP once said bluntly: “The vice presidency is not worth a bucket of warm piss.” I bet if you asked Vice President Harris, she just might agree.
Sophia A. Nelson is a contributing editor for theGrio. Nelson is a TV commentator and is the author of “The Woman Code: Powerful Keys to Unlock,” “Black Women Redefined.”
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