Harris focuses on beating Trump, not Biden concerns, as she tries to appeal to Black voters

New Orleans

Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday focused on the dangers of a second Trump administration, rather than on growing concerns about President Joe Biden’s candidacy, as she sought to convince Black voters to give Biden-Harris another win.

“This is probably the most important election of our lifetime,” Harris said during a moderated conversation at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, claiming that former President Donald Trump has “openly stated” his “intention to be a dictator on Day 1” if he is re-elected.

Harris visits the annual festival of Black music and culture as Biden’s campaign works to revive a corner of the coalition that helped the president come to power in 2020.

Biden defeated Trump 87% to 12% among black voters in 2020, according to CNN exit polls. But Trump has recently made inroads with the critical voting bloc. A New York Times/Siena College study of swing states released in May found that Trump won more than 20% of black voters in a two-way matchup with Biden, which would represent a historic high if it translated into votes in November.

Harris tried to convince festival-goers that “we can keep this up” if they voted in record numbers again.

“People have voted record numbers in 2020. This is what could happen, and if everyone votes in those numbers again in 122 days, we can sustain it,” Harris said.

The White House has struggled in recent days to ease concerns about the president’s mental health and the viability of his campaign after his poor performance in last week’s CNN presidential debate. Some Democrats have called for the president to closely examine his re-election bid, while others have gone so far as to call him aside. Biden has remained stubborn, telling reporters in Madison, Wisconsin, on Friday that he “completely rules out” dropping out of the race.

Many see Harris as the obvious successor if Biden steps aside, with a recent CNN post-debate poll showing the vice president would outpolling Biden in a hypothetical race against Trump. Some Republicans, meanwhile, are hoping to avoid a Harris presidential bid, believing Trump’s path back to the White House would likely be easier against Biden.

But Harris has repeatedly defended Biden, with CNN reporting earlier this week that the vice president and her staff have been deliberately ignoring most of the calls and texts they have received. She reiterated that she plans to remain by his side.

The vice president was able to avoid talking about concerns within her own party on Saturday, as the moderator did not specifically ask about concerns about Biden’s re-election bid. Meanwhile, other Biden surrogates at the event tackled the issue head-on, throwing their support behind the president and telling voters he’s not going anywhere.

Congresswoman Joyce Beatty argued that Biden should not withdraw from the race just because of one debate.

“We’ve all had bad days,” the Ohio Democrat said, adding later: “Don’t go out there with your back to this president.”

California Congresswoman Maxine Waters stressed, “Biden is not going anywhere.”

When asked if she would support Harris — a fellow Californian — if the president dropped out, Waters said, “We’re focused on Biden. We’re focused on the fact that he’s not only done a good job, but we expect him to stay.”

Many festivalgoers who spoke to CNN said they believe Harris would be willing to step in if Biden drops out of the race. But ultimately, voters said they will cast their ballots for whoever the Democratic nominee is in November.

“Keep the ticket as it is. Her time is coming. … Stick to the game plan. You had a plan; stick to the plan. The plan worked before; it will work again,” said Jeri Peris, a New Orleans resident.

Peris said Biden’s poor debate performance was “a one-off,” adding: “Everybody gets sick. He’s a good president. He’s a good person. He’s done great things. Everybody has an off day.”

Laura Morgan Roberts of Washington, D.C., said it’s a “no-brainer” that she will vote for Biden in November, but added: “I have 100% confidence in Vice President Kamala Harris’ ability, commitment and desire to lead the country and do what’s best for our people.”

Meanwhile, Michelle Buxton of Chattanooga, Tennessee, told CNN, “It looks like they’re not giving (Biden) a chance.”

“We’re all working together here and I think it almost seems personal,” Buxton said. “I just don’t think they should take him down.”

CNN’s Eric Bradner, Ali Main and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.

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