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As primary voting begins, VP Harris sets sights on November, likely Trump rematch

Harris’ East Las Vegas rally mostly focused on admonishing former President Donald Trump and touting the Biden administration’s achievements.
Naoka Foreman
Naoka Foreman
Gabby Birenbaum
Gabby Birenbaum
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
Election 2024Elections

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Las Vegas on Saturday, ostensibly to mark the first day of early voting in the presidential primary. 

But with both major parties’ presidential nominating contests all but decided, Harris instead focused on the general election — painting President Joe Biden’s upcoming rematch with former President Donald Trump as an existential battle for American democracy. 

“T​he former president has told us who he is,” Harris said. “And we must recognize the profound threat he poses to our freedoms and our democracy.”

In a roughly 15-minute speech that reflected the Biden campaign’s focus on the general election, Harris was forceful and direct in her criticism of Trump, the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination who held his own Las Vegas rally fewer than two miles away on Saturday. She cast Trump as someone who doesn't care about protecting people’s freedoms and only looking out for his own self-interest.

Referencing his interest in using federal law enforcement agencies to indict political opponents and December comment that he would be a dictator “only on day one,” Harris admonished the former president as anti-freedom.

“In his comments today, as always, he made clear his fight is not for the people. It is for himself,” Harris said.

In speeches preceding the vice president, Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV) and Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) also framed Republicans as a threat to the progress Democrats have made. 

“Don’t let [Republicans] sell you the same old shit and call it sugar,” Titus said. 

The campaign rally — held in front of hundreds at a branch of the International Brotherhood of Electoral Workers — was one of two events that Harris held Saturday. Earlier in the day and in her White House capacity, she joined Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV) at a forum focused on the administration’s efforts to help small businesses. 

On an afternoon where Trump, from his rally in East Las Vegas where a majority of residents are Hispanic, deliberately pitched himself to Hispanic voters, Harris — noting the Latina small business owner she met at the forum — discussed the administration’s efforts to boost small business lending to Latinos. While Trump’s speech focused largely on border security, Harris did not mention the topic.

“President Biden and I have lowered costs, created opportunity and are building a future where every person has the security, the opportunity and the dignity that all people deserve,” Harris said.

Titus and Cortez Masto also listed several accomplishments of the Biden administration, including the passage of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, clean energy investments, lowering prescription drug costs for seniors and bolstering funding for the high-speed rail project between Las Vegas and Southern California. Cortez Masto and Harris dedicated significant time in their speeches to abortion, eliciting cheers from the crowd when they declared that Democrats support the right to choose.

Bolstered by a crowd of enthusiastic Democrats, Harris laid out Nevada’s importance to the Biden campaign’s presidential strategy. She credited Democratic organizers for winning the state in 2020 and urged them to repeat their performance in 2024.

“As the late great Harry Reid reminded us, if you can win in Nevada, you can win anywhere,” she said. “Harry, President Biden and I are going to prove you right once again.”

To win, the Biden-Harris ticket will need to rely on the political machine Reid built — a machine that has outlived him on the strength of the Culinary Workers Union Local 226, the powerful labor group whose famed door-knocking operation delivered Nevada to Democrats in 2020 and 2022. 

Long a battleground, Nevada clearly factors in the Biden campaign’s plans; Harris visited the Culinary Union earlier this month, while the president is planning a visit in early February. 

Voter enthusiasm, apathy

Attendees of both of Harris’ events had different enthusiasm levels about this year’s elections.

Attendees said before Saturday’s rally that the election was the most important one of their lifetimes, casting Biden as a smart leader who has delivered on campaign promises, and Trump as someone who did not care about democracy and would do whatever it takes to punish his opponents.

Erin Youngberg waits for Vice President Kamala Harris to speak during a get out to vote rally at IBEW Local 365 on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Erin Youngberg, 49, works at a Las Vegas bank and previously volunteered with former President Barack Obama’s campaigns. But since the 2012 race, she has mostly stayed away from political campaigns — until now. She admitted that she does not support all of Biden’s policies — especially his response to the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict — but said the election is too important to sit on the sidelines.

“I'm not going to lose democracy because I don't support 100 percent of some of the candidate’s policies,” Youngberg said.

Brittany Bowling, 40, said she was skeptical of a Biden presidency four years ago, but today she is as strong of a Biden supporter as she has ever been.

“I was surprised to get as excited as I am about Biden,” Bowling said. “I didn't think he would be as progressive in the way of women’s rights and numerous different things.”

Brittany Bowling waits for Vice President Kamala Harris to speak during a get out to vote rally at IBEW Local 357 on Saturday, Jan. 27, 2024. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

However, at Harris’ small business event, where she met with youth participating in the Chef Jeff Project —  a North Las Vegas program focused on helping disadvantaged people overcome barriers — some of the young people were generally apathetic about modern politics.

Kam Winslow, 25, a culinary assistant at the Chef Jeff Project, said he often steers clear of politics and thought elected officials could do more to engage and support young people.

“I wouldn’t say I’m engaged — like at all,” Winslow said about politics.

Anya, 19, who only shared her first name, said she will not vote this election cycle, adding that there needs to be more youth outreach. 

“I feel like [leaders] should put more support behind programs that are already here,” she said, “because there are a lot [of opportunities] that nobody knows about.”

The apathy reflects a challenge that Biden and Harris must confront this election cycle. A Harvard Institute of Politics survey from last month found that just 49 percent of people aged 18-29 definitely plan to vote in the 2024 election, down from 57 percent in the same survey four years ago. Young voters helped carry Biden to victory in 2020.

Devin Womack, 18, was the only young person interviewed at Harris’ official event who was enthusiastic about this year’s election. He said he is particularly passionate about ending the Israel-Palestine conflict, combating global warming and upholding democracy. 

“The only thing that is going to keep us together as a country is our ability to vote and advocate for the things we believe in,” he said.

This story was updated on 1/29 at 7 a.m. to correct the IBEW chapter the Vice President visited.


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