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

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. annual convention during the 71st Biennial Boule at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, Wednesday, July 10, 2024. Vice President Harris has been a member of the sorority since joining while attending Howard University.
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc. annual convention during the 71st Biennial Boule at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, Wednesday, July 10, 2024. Vice President Harris has been a member of the sorority since joining while attending Howard University.LM Otero/AP

DALLAS (AP) — First, Vice President Kamala Harris went to Nevada to launch her re-election campaign among Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. She addressed the crowd as “old friends.”

She was in Dallas at the time, speaking at the annual meeting of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, the black sorority she joined as a student at Howard University, one of the most storied historically black colleges in the country. She was telling her fellow sorors — sorority sisters — about the stakes of the November election.

The events she hosted on consecutive days this week illustrate how her racial identity and personal background could help President Joe Biden’s faltering re-election bid after his much-vaunted June 27 debate performance — and make her a potentially formidable replacement if he withdraws.

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Harris is the nation’s first female vice president and the first Black woman and person of Asian descent to hold the role. The campaign swing has allowed the vice president to tap into key elements of the Biden coalition by discussing her personal story rather than bickering among Democrats over whether Biden should withdraw and let her be the party’s presidential nominee.

The vice president’s mix of identities can sometimes bewilder her opponents, but proponents argue that it embodies America’s rich nuances. At her campaign events this week, Harris sought to use her multifaceted identities and life story as a vehicle to defend universal American values ​​like freedom, justice and democracy.

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

“I think everything that 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. When I can see someone like her, it reminds me that we can do it all, because she can.”

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

Yet former President Donald Trump and Republican allies have increasingly focused their attacks on Harris, often using language with racist and misogynistic undertones. Trump referenced Harris’ previous relationship with former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and called her “Laffin’ Kamala,” a reference to frequent Republican attacks on the way she laughs.

At both events, Harris continued to promote Biden, not herself.

“We always knew this election was going to be tough, and the last few days have reminded us 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’s a fighter, and he’s the first to say, when you get knocked down, get back up.”

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Biden’s continued spotlight didn’t stop some in the audience from wondering, however. John Chang, who was in attendance, said he thought the vice president did a good job at the Las Vegas rally, despite having previously said he wasn’t impressed with her.

“I’m here to evaluate,” Chang said. “I’m very much Trump-leaning. But if Biden were to resign or just get sick or whatever and she steps up, it’s like, what now? Could it be her?”

Some attendees at Tuesday’s event wore traditional dresses from Central and Southeast Asia, others wore leis common to Hawaiian culture, while a few wore traditional jewelry from Pacific Islanders. Harris made a point of not only praising a crowd filled with “old friends,” but also calling Las Vegas “Hawaii’s ninth island.”

Both days, Harris emphasized that he grew up in a multicultural, multiracial family in the San Francisco Bay Area and that he had attended Howard.

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

On Wednesday, during a speech at AKA’s 71st Boulé in Dallas, Harris declared, “I will bring up the subject.” But she was referring to the fraternity’s legacy in the fight for civil rights through the decades — not the furious debate over Biden’s chances in November.

The vice-president was greeted by the crowd with a loud “skee-wee,” a traditional greeting and affirmative cheer for members of the fraternity, as she entered and left the group’s “boulé,” or regular meeting place.

The crowd was made up entirely of black women — many wearing dresses in the sorority’s signature colors of pink and green — who said they considered Harris a sister. Some wore tiaras, while others cheered with pompoms as Harris spoke.

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Harris herself wore a pink jacket and talked about her journey to the sorority and how it paved her way to the vice presidency.

The crowd responded unanimously, breaking into prolonged applause when Harris said, “Soros, this is serious business,” referring to both the election and a sisterhood adage.

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

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Weissert reported from Washington.

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