Democrats have a Kamala problem — and it’s not going away any time soon 

Betting odds would give President Joe Biden maybe a 71 percent chance of being this year’s Democratic nominee. But a great many political analysts — and almost half of registered voters, according to a recent Monmouth University poll — don’t buy it.  

Democrats are panicking, aware that Joe Biden is not up to another four years in the Oval Office. Joe Rogan recently predicted that California Gov. Gavin Newsom could step in to replace Biden; others have suggested that Gretchen Whitmer, or possibly Michelle Obama.  

But nominating a candidate to replace him faces a massive speedbump: Kamala Harris. Far from bowing to widespread skepticism about her electability, the vice president looks like she’s geared up for the fight, and she’s not going anywhere. 

Whereas Biden appears to have a schedule suited to an 80-year-old retiree with limited stamina, Harris is a busy bee, crisscrossing the country to meet with donors and various interest groups, representing the U.S. recently at the Munich Security Conference, showing up in swing-state Pennsylvania to hand out $200 million for clean water projects, touring colleges to get students whooped up about abortion rights and threats to democracy and, generally, becoming the face of the Biden White House.  

At the same time, she has been quietly insinuating herself into top Democrat circles, listening to their concerns and acting as helpful messenger to the stand-offish Biden election team.  

CNN reported recently that Harris has been hosting “Saturday sessions” and dinners at the Naval Observatory with top funders and party politicians, hearing their complaints about the half-baked Biden campaign. “Multiple leading Democrats … say their conversations with Harris have been a surprising and welcome change, after months of feeling sloughed off by the White House and Biden campaign headquarters.” According to CNN, Harris’s canny overtures — especially to the black community — are well received, with many donors and colleagues giving her high marks.  

While Harris is careful to declare allegiance to President Biden, and to portray her outreach as in the service of the joint campaign, it’s clear she has an eye toward the future. 

CNN ran a favorable opinion piece about the former senator in recent days by Basil Smikle, a black former Democrat official, titled “Kamala Harris is not a liability. She may be Democrats’ best weapon.” Smikle argues that Harris is the future face of the Democratic Party and has been unfairly criticized by a “barrage of tropes” of the kind regularly encountered by women and minorities.  

Smikle dismisses the “nitpicky critiques” that have dragged down Harris’s standing, but never identifies what the complaints are. He writes of her accomplishments but doesn’t mention her endless word salads, her failure to address the catastrophe at the southern border, her inability to retain staff or a host of other criticisms that have been lodged against the vice president. Nor does he mention that her 2020 presidential campaign was a complete bust: voters did not warm to her. 

Smikle contends that it is her appeal within the black community, and especially with young people, that is most important for the Biden-Harris ticket. That would be more persuasive if her standing with young and minority voters exceeded Joe Biden’s, but it does not. A recent survey of 1,000 black voters showed Harris lagging behind Joe Biden with both black voters under the age of 35, and also those older than 35. Both candidates run way behind Barack Obama with both groups. 

Harris’s frenetic schedule hasn’t boosted her approval ratings overall, which remain mired in deeply negative territory; the Real Clear Politics average of polls show her job approval underwater by 22 points. That’s worse than Joe Biden, who’s down by 14.5 points. What’s more, Harris has steadily slid downhill over the past three years.  

Throughout most of 2021, voters were generally neutral on Harris; it was in the fall of that year when she took a sudden nosedive, never to recover.  

Her downfall has accelerated with the increased number of people entering the country illegally. Voters (and the White House) identified her as the “border czar”; as the migrant flood grew, voters were appalled by her inability to confront or stem the tide, summarized by her disastrous interview with NBC’s Lester Holt. In that sit-down, the NBC reporter challenged her, saying, “You haven’t been to the border.” Harris acted as though she didn’t understand the issue, responding, “And I haven’t been to Europe,” as though both were of equal consequence.  

The most recent read on her favorability shows her numbers worse than those of any other political leader, including both Joe Biden and Donald Trump. That’s a pretty deep hole to dig out of, and that is why she is rarely mentioned as a possible replacement from Biden. Democrats know she’d be a disastrous candidate — but that doesn’t mean Harris has come to the same conclusion. 

Just recently, Harris pushed back at critics who do not consider her to be presidential material, declaring, “I am ready to serve — there’s no question about that.”  

Writing in the New York Times recently, columnist Ross Duothat asserts that Joe Biden “should not be running for re-election” but recognizes that he is “trapped by his own terrible vice-presidential choice” who is even more “likely to lose to Donald Trump.” He suggests that if the president drops out but doesn’t endorse Kamala Harris, he will be accused of racism. 

His solution is that Biden should withdraw from the race at the Democratic National Convention, aware that the fight to replace him will be bloody but ultimately productive in allowing the party to choose someone other than Harris to be the Democratic nominee. He proposes that Harris and other “disappointed” contenders would “accept a behind-the-scenes proffer and fall in line if the convention battle doesn’t go their way.”  

Good luck with that. Such a “proffer” would have to be huge — a Supreme Court spot? — and even so, Kamala Harris is not likely to go quietly. 

Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. Follow her on Twitter @lizpeek.      

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