Harris rallies in Las Vegas for Biden. Many Democrats agree, but some want her to face Trump

Officially, Vice President Kamala Harris appeared in Las Vegas on Tuesday to launch a Biden campaign initiative to reach for Asian American, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian voters.

But the quiet underpinning of the event at a resort ballroom was the vice president’s firm support of President Biden, even as some Democratic officials — and some supporters in the room — expressed hope that he will step down and that Harris will emerge as the new leader of the party.

Harris’ visit to Las Vegas coincides with the president’s defiant insistence that he will remain in the race despite some calls to step aside after his disastrous debate performance against former President Trump last month.

Biden, who appeared listless and confused during the debate, has been attempting to corral support among his fellow Democratic officeholders, even as some cracks appeared over the weekend in a once-solid base. Democratic members of Congress returned to Washington, D.C., this week after a holiday break, and a central topic of discussion was Biden’s viability as a presidential candidate.

The stakes are high in Nevada, where Biden won narrowly in 2020 but which now leans Republican, according to the Cook Political Report. But inside the Las Vegas ballroom Tuesday, the mood was cheerful, as a crowd of a few hundred people repeatedly erupted into chants of “Four more years!”

In her roughly 15-minute speech, Harris gave fleeting mention of the debate debacle and the swirling questions about Biden‘s suitability for reelection.

“The past few days have been a reminder that running for president of the United States is never easy,” she said. “But the one thing we know about our president, Joe Biden, is that he is a fighter.”

The crowd roared in response. But in conversations before and after the rally, even some supporters expressed doubt about the president’s ability to continue.

“He probably should step down,” said Alyse Sobosan, a college advisor for a Las Vegas charter school. Conversations about Biden’s health are taking away from the effectiveness of the campaign, she said: “We can’t even talk about the issues or his stances on things, because all the conversation is just about him and his health.”

The 36-year-old said she would support Harris as “a strong candidate” to replace Biden should he leave the race, but that the vice president should do more to amplify her national profile.

“I feel neutral to positive about her,” Sobosan said. “I just don’t know a lot about her.”

Abraham Camejo, 41, brought his four children to the event. They munched on rice cake and sausage skewers, a traditional Korean dish, while he explained why he was sticking with Biden, saying that it was “too late in the game” to switch candidates.

“Can we have a younger Biden? That would be very nice. But unfortunately, we tend to get old,” said Camejo, joking that perhaps the 81-year-old president could get some energy with “a little Red Bull.”

“We just got to understand that he’s not a young man,” he said. “But can he get the job done? And I honestly believe that he can.”

The Las Vegas event was headlined as a kickoff for the campaign to target Asian American, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian voters. The campaign group Nevada for Biden-Harris announced that it was launching a blitz of paid media in the state to coincide with the rally, including ads in several Asian-language publications.

Padma Lakshmi, the cookbook author and host and executive producer of the Hulu show “Taste the Nation,” helped introduce Harris as the first Asian American and woman to become U.S. vice president.

“I thought of how much it would’ve meant to me as a young girl to see an Asian American woman helping lead our country,” Lakshmi said.

Vivienne Bailey-Reid, 61, a consultant in Las Vegas, said she left Harris’ speech feeling inspired and reinvigorated to support the Democratic administration.

“We need to focus and just stop getting bent out of shape about President Biden’s age,” Bailey-Reid said. “I think she gave us the hope that, ‘Wait a minute, we’re still in charge.’”

Her friend Linn Hummel, 62, agreed, though she added that Harris had failed to deliver a succinct takeaway message Tuesday, and had instead piled on statistics and facts. Democrats need to have an easy message to carry to undecided voters, Hummel said, adding that while Harris may attract some voters, such as women, “she needs to focus that message just a little bit more.”

“As Democrats … we need to have the same sort of zeal that Republicans have,” she continued. “It used to be, in our political system, good or bad, when the candidate was chosen, that’s who you stood behind. And the fact that he may have had a poor showing in a debate is that moment in time. It is not who he is altogether.”

Hummel said that although she understood why the media and Democratic pundits remained focused on Biden’s debate performance, she wished they would move on.

“It’s that vicious cycle. Once you ask that question — ‘Is he viable?’ — now that’s all you can think about,” she said, adding: “I don’t need to know what time [Biden] is going to bed.”

The most cohesive message Harris delivered, the two friends agreed, was the importance of defeating Trump.

Harris spent a portion of her speech condemning the Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow presidents immunity from prosecution for official acts, saying, “Trump wants to turn our democracy into a dictatorship. And the Supreme Court basically just declared he can get away with it.”

She outlined Project 2025, a plan created by close Trump allies for overhauling the federal government, should he be elected in November.

The goal of defeating Trump motivated Arlene and Joel Williams, a couple who moved to Las Vegas two years ago from San Jose, to begin writing letters in support of the Democratic Party a couple of months ago.

The two, both 74, say they will support any Democrat — including Harris, whom they’ve known since her days as a San Francisco politician.

“We don’t want Trump. It’s scary,” Arlene Williams said.

Her husband added: “We’re in the anybody-but-Trump camp.”

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