close
close
Vice President Kamala Harris is a familiar face in Arizona as speculation swirls about Biden

Vice President Kamala Harris is a familiar face in Arizona as speculation swirls about Biden

Vice President Kamala Harris is a familiar face in Arizona as speculation swirls about Biden

play

As speculation swirls around President Joe Biden’s campaign, his running mate and potential front-row replacement is no stranger to Arizona, a battleground state. But many party officials in the state say they are still “supporting Biden” or have chosen not to say anything at all.

Vice President Kamala Harris has visited Arizona a half-dozen times during her tenure in the Biden administration, including three campaign stops in recent months. The frequent visits underscore how crucial this battleground state is to Biden’s reelection campaign.

Harris is a familiar face in government as the party weighs what to do with its aging nominee. Democrats remain divided after the president’s shaky performance in last week’s debate. Some, including Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, have urged Biden to step aside.

“What she needs to do is take responsibility for keeping that job, and part of that responsibility is getting out of this race,” Grijalva told the New York Times, singling out Harris as a possible replacement.

Harris is often mentioned as a potential candidate who could easily inherit Biden’s reelection campaign and its bulging war chest. But as the Democratic Party worries about how best to take on Republican former President Donald Trump, many Democrats in Arizona said they backed Biden and appreciated the job Harris has done as vice president.

“People always talk about the grass being greener. I live in the desert,” said Mark Robert Gordon, a member of the Democratic National Committee who spoke to The Republic in a personal capacity. “(Biden) is the only person, to date, who has beaten Donald Trump. I’m betting on the guy who has delivered.”

Any Democrat who enters the presidential race will have an uphill climb this fall. Trump leads Biden by 5 percentage points among Arizona registered voters, according to a Fox News poll conducted in June. Biden won Arizona by fewer than 11,000 votes in 2020.

With that narrow margin in mind, Biden has made Arizona a focus of his presidential campaign. He has visited the state four times since his inauguration, three of them in the past 10 months. The president is planning another trip to Arizona this month as part of a campaign tour of battleground states. Trump has been to Arizona once in 2024.

The president insists he will not drop out of the race, telling a crowd in Wisconsin on Friday that “I will run and I will win again.” Harris has also defended Biden.

“Joe Biden is our nominee. We beat Trump once and we’re going to beat him. Period,” Harris said in an interview with CBS News. “I’m proud to be Joe Biden’s running mate.”

Brian Fallon, Harris’s campaign communications director, reiterated that point in a statement: “The President is and will remain our party’s nominee, and Vice President Harris is proud to be his running mate and looks forward to serving at his side for four more years.”

The campaign also shared a statement from state Democratic Party Chair Yolanda Bejarano.

“The most important thing we could be doing right now is reminding Arizonans of Trump’s dangerous plans for our communities, from Project 2025 to Trump’s plan to ban abortion nationwide, dismantle Social Security and Medicare, and Trump’s repeated promises of bloodshed and retaliation,” Bejarano said. “Joe Biden is our nominee and we will support him because he has defeated Trump before, he will defeat him again, and he has delivered results for our working families.”

But that hasn’t stopped some political observers from wondering whether a Barry Goldwater moment is coming. Fifty years ago this summer, the U.S. senator from Arizona went with others to the White House to warn then-President Richard Nixon that the Watergate scandal would doom him.

Biden on Friday ruled out dropping out of the race, despite reports that Virginia Democratic Sen. Mark Warner is assembling a group to urge the president to end his campaign. “He’s the only one,” Biden told reporters, referring to Warner.

Harris, Whitmer or… an open convention?

Harris is not the only Democrat with presidential aspirations to visit Arizona in recent months. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer campaigned for Biden in Phoenix in April, while Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker is spending money to push an abortion rights referendum initiative here.

The vice president has an advantage as Biden’s second-in-command, coming to Arizona to represent the White House on reproductive rights, clean energy, democracy and other issues. But shifting from being the president’s advocate to the nominee would pose challenges.

“She suffers, like all vice presidents, from the shadow of the presidency, and she hasn’t been able to stand out on her own,” said Chuck Coughlin, a longtime Republican consultant in Phoenix who left the party during Trump’s tenure.

“She would have to wage a very aggressive campaign to convince Arizona voters that she is capable of leading the country. I don’t think most Arizona voters feel that way right now, that she can lead as well as Biden.”

5 key takeaways: Kamala Harris speaks out on abortion during her campaign in Phoenix

Arizona Democrats were reluctant to speculate on what would happen if Biden stepped aside, but some supported an open convention process rather than handing the nomination directly to Harris. The Democratic National Convention begins Aug. 19 in Chicago.

Patti Serrano, a member of the Arizona Democratic State Committee who has been critical of the Biden administration, stressed that the decision to step aside was up to the president.

“If that decision is made, I would promote, in the name of democracy, an open convention. That is what I would like to see happen so that there is a certain sense of democracy,” Serrano said.

Gordon said that with Biden at the top of the ticket, Harris could “make a difference” for voters with her message on abortion. A ballot initiative to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution is likely to be on the Arizona ballot this fall.

Harris’ message on reproductive rights is particularly effective, he said, calling her an “incredibly talented and forceful” and “heartfelt” voice for the administration.

“She will be the vice presidential candidate and she will be re-elected as vice president,” Gordon said. “I think in a big way she will make a difference for a lot of people.”

The vice president has made frequent visits to Arizona

Harris made her first official visit to Arizona as vice president in January 2023, when she celebrated the groundbreaking of a clean energy project in Tonopah. The vice president visited a water treatment project in the Gila River Indian Community in July of that year. Months later, in October, she made a trip to Flagstaff for a college visit to Northern Arizona University.

As Election Day approaches, Harris has picked up the pace. The vice president hosted three abortion rights events in Phoenix and Tucson in recent months. Second gentleman Doug Emhoff was here, too, coming to Arizona in April for the NCAA Final Four tournament and an event focused on “lowering costs for Americans.”

At an event in Phoenix in June, Harris praised Ruben Gallego, the Democratic congressman running for U.S. Senate against Republican Kari Lake. The two have a political relationship that dates back to Harris’ own presidential bid.

Gallego endorsed Harris over Biden during the 2020 Democratic primary cycle, praising her as a “bold, compassionate and capable commander in chief” and joining her campaign as homeland security director. Harris dropped out in December 2019, ahead of the Iowa primary. Gallego then endorsed Biden after his Super Tuesday comeback and is supporting Biden for reelection this cycle.

Concluding her remarks at the Phoenix event, Harris described the 2024 presidential race as existential for the nation and Arizona.

“This election will determine the trajectory of our country for generations,” Harris told supporters in Phoenix last month. “Our work right now will directly and absolutely impact the people of Arizona, the people of our country.”

Interview with Joe Biden: Will “not as bad as they expected” be enough to save his candidacy?