‘It’s Going to Be Her’: Momentum Builds for Kamala Harris to Run in Biden’s Place

Political analysts lay out the potential landscape if the president steps down.

Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks on abortion rights at Ritchie Coliseum on the campus of the University of Maryland on June 24, 2024 in College Park, Maryland.
Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks on abortion rights at Ritchie Coliseum on the campus of the University of Maryland on June 24, 2024 in College Park, Maryland. (photo: Kevin Dietsch / Getty )

Should President Joe Biden withdraw from the 2024 presidential race, numerous insiders across the political spectrum believe Vice President Kamala Harris would be the heavy favorite to secure the nomination despite rampant speculation otherwise. 

This development would have major implications on the substance and style of the presidential campaign, notably regarding abortion. As of Tuesday afternoon, however, Biden’s campaign has vowed to “keep fighting” and do more public-facing events to quell concern over the president’s mental fitness.

Following Biden’s alarming debate performance June 27, voter confidence in the president has dropped significantly. A CBS/YouGov poll following the debate found that a mere 27% of Americans now believe that Biden has the “mental and cognitive health" to serve as president, and only 28% believe he should even be running for reelection. 

On Monday, a poll released by Harvard/Harris has Biden trailing former President Donald Trump by an eye-opening 8 points. A CNN poll released Tuesday afternoon shows Biden trailing by 6.

So far, Biden has resisted a deluge of calls to withdraw from editorial boards across the country, including The New York Times, as well as from elected officials

On Tuesday afternoon, in a moment that has been described as potentially “dam-breaking,” former Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and current House Minority Whip Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., announced that it is “legitimate” to question Biden’s cognitive state. 


Obama Voices Concerns

And late Tuesday evening, former president Barack Obama voiced concerns over Biden’s electability to The Washington Post.

“There is really no other option, okay? It’s Kamala Harris,” NBC News Chief Political Analyst Chuck Todd said on Sunday’s edition of Meet the Press. “And I kind of think everybody needs to just realize this: It’s going to be her.”

Clyburn, long seen as a Democratic Party kingmaker, told MSNBC on Tuesday that he “will support” Harris if Biden steps aside. Clyburn’s endorsement of Biden before the 2020 primary in South Carolina played a decisive role in Biden securing the nomination and eventually the presidency.

Despite Harris’ political flaws — her approval ratings as vice president are historically poor, and memory still lingers of her mediocre showing in the 2020 Democratic primary — her potential rise to the top of the Democratic ticket may pose the least fraught path forward for the party. If Biden were to withdraw and endorse Harris, the party would likely coalesce around the vice president. 

Should he fail to name a successor, a chaotic dash for a majority of delegates would likely ensue. 

“It would be a Category 5 hurricane,” a top Democratic official recently told CNN. “People don’t understand the sheer destruction that would be unleashed.”

There is also the matter of Harris’ status as the first Black female vice president in the nation’s history. 

In recent days, allies of Harris have spoken out to the media about the perceived offense of other candidates being considered should Biden withdraw. Widely disseminated “short lists” of potential replacements often include California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg. Some, including a list produced by the influential editor of The New Yorker David Remnick, didn’t mention Harris at all. 


‘No Way Out’ for Democrats

“They still don’t get that the message you’re saying to people, to this Democratic Party, is, we prefer a white person,” said an unnamed Harris ally to Politico. “The fact that people keep coming back to this is so offensive to so many of us.”

Marc Short, former chief of staff to vice president Mike Pence, believes that all the speculation is moot because the notion of stepping over Harris is a nonstarter. And this is perhaps why there is any resistance in the party to Biden stepping down at all. 

“There’s no way out for Democrats right now,” he said recently on NBC. “If they go to Kamala Harris, she’s less popular than Joe Biden. And if the party of identity politics passes over the first African American female vice president to choose somebody else, there’s going to be all kinds of rifts.”

Among numerous other signs that Democrat leaders are beginning to embrace the idea of a Harris candidacy is a July 1 Newsweek column by former congressman and 2020 presidential contender Tim Ryan of Ohio. The Midwestern Union Democrat was characteristically blunt in his call to replace Biden with Harris.

“Those who say that a Harris candidacy is a greater risk than the Joe Biden we saw the other night and will continue to see are not living in reality,” he said. “It is not just utterly preposterous for the haters to say that, it is insulting.”


Heightened Abortion Focus

A hypothetical Harris ascendency to the top of the Democratic ticket would also stand to please key lobbies within Democratic Party politics, notably pro-abortion advocates. 

Harris has also been long considered the “Biden administration’s voice on abortion.” The only vice president to ever visit an abortion provider, Harris has earned plaudits from her constituency for her willingness to give a robust defense of the practice. This includes saying the word “abortion” itself, which is something Biden has long avoided.

Richard Dougherty, dean of the graduate politics program at the University of Dallas, believes that despite the galvanizing effect a Harris nomination could have on pro-abortion voters, this could come at the expense of a subset of the Catholic vote.

“It might affect voters who were willing to suspend judgment on where candidate Obama and then Biden stood on the question of abortion,” Dougherty told the Register. “Vice President Harris has been very clear in her career that she supports very broad abortion rights, which distinguishes her from what would be her successful predecessors.”

Harris was thought among Democrats to have her best moment as vice president during a speech commemorating the first anniversary of the Dobbs decision that overturned Roe v. Wade, when she memorably shouted, “How dare they?” 

In recent months, the Biden campaign has dispatched Harris on the campaign trail for a series of events called the “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms” tour, which featured stops in battleground states such as Pennsylvania and Arizona.

There is little doubt that a Harris-for-president campaign would do even more to emphasize abortion, given the Democratic Party’s polling advantage on the issue. 

Kristan Hawkins, president of the pro-life advocacy group Students for Life of America, views a potential Harris promotion as a clear threat to the cause for life. 

“Harris wants abortion without limits, paid for by taxpayers, without respect for the conscience rights of her fellow citizens,” Hawkins told the Register. “The abortion lobby would certainly get their millions of dollars of lobbying dollars’ worth in a Harris administration.”