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In Las Vegas, Kamala Harris defends Biden, vies for Asian American support

Harris reiterated some of the campaign’s defiant messaging since Biden’s faltering debate performance and drew a contrast with Trump’s view of America.
Isabella Aldrete
Isabella Aldrete
Eric Neugeboren
Eric Neugeboren
Election 2024Elections

In an event launching an effort to court Asian American voters, Vice President Kamala Harris in Las Vegas on Tuesday once again defended President Joe Biden by contrasting him with former President Donald Trump’s “chaos, fear and hate.”

The appearance marked Harris’ sixth trip to Nevada this year and second in the 11 days since Biden’s faltering debate performance spurred calls from members of his own party to step down as the presidential nominee, with Harris seen as the most likely alternative. Her roughly 15-minute speech was a typical campaign address, focusing on abortion rights and Trump’s rhetoric, but it also relied on some of the campaign’s messaging strategies since the debate.

Harris reiterated the phrase that has become a sort of rallying cry for Biden’s supporters: “When you get knocked down, you get back up.” She also said the press had insufficiently covered the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that grants immunity to presidents for official actions, another common message from Biden’s defenders that the media had focused too much on Biden’s age in recent weeks.

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

The context of this appearance differed from Harris’ visit 10 days ago, which was the day after the debate and there was widespread uncertainty about Biden’s ability to beat Trump. By Tuesday, the tides appeared to be shifting in the president’s favor, with the top Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate publicly backing Biden. He also received key backing from members of the Congressional Black Caucus, which is chaired by Rep. Steven Horsford (D-NV).

Horsford publicly declared his support for Biden as the nominee Monday, and he was soon followed by Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto. Hours later, Rep. Susie Lee (D-NV) wouldn’t go that far, saying she had “serious concerns” about Biden, but that it was his decision whether to run.

Aside from the debate-inspired remarks, Harris sought the support of voters who are Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI). The voting bloc is growing in Nevada and overwhelmingly supported Biden four years ago, according to exit polls.

Harris, whose mother was born in India, is the first woman of South Asian descent to serve as vice president as well as the first black woman to hold the position. 

Harris heralded the passage of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, a law inspired by the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans during the pandemic, that makes it easier for people to report hate crimes on the state and local levels. 

She said Trump “consistently incites hate, including toward the AANHPI community” but refused to use the language that Trump used. As president, he called the coronavirus the “China virus” and the “kung flu.”

“Someone who vilifies immigrants, who promotes xenophobia, someone who stokes hate should never again have the chance to stand behind a microphone and the seal of the president of the United States,” she said.

She also took aim at Project 2025, an agenda for a future Republican administration by The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. The plan calls for giving the president more power over the federal civil service and the Department of Justice, dismantling the Department of Education, implementing sweeping tax cuts, restricting abortion and reducing efforts to limit the effects of climate change. Trump recently has tried to separate himself from the plan, but many of his allies and aides have ties to it.

“Donald Trump wants to turn our democracy into a dictatorship, and the Supreme Court basically just declared he can get away with it,” she said referencing the high court’s immunity ruling.

What do attendees think?

Erika Marquez, a 36-year-old organizer, has been an active proponent of the Biden-Harris campaign, even though she’s ineligible to vote due to her Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. Last year, she almost died battling diabetes, becoming comatose. She says if Trump were in office, she’s doubtful she would have had the same level of health care access crucial to her survival. 

“As undocumented mother of four, I feel that it's important to have people in office who are actually seeing us for who we are,” she said.

During the event, Marquez spoke to Harris and called the experience “empowering.” If Harris stepped in to replace Biden, Marquez says she would welcome her candidacy. 

“Why not just push her a little more and have her as president?” she said. “There comes a point where a woman needs to hold the position.” 

For Carlo Miciano, 26, the rally was comforting, full of faces that he said resembled his own. To Moreno, Harris provides crucial representation for the AANHPI community, which he thinks lacks broad political representation.

“She puts a face to what the community looks like,” he said. “Many people when they think of Asians, they think of East Asians, not Southeast Asians. She helps represent the totality of what the Asian community is.”

Not everyone was as hopeful as Marquez or Miciano. Tina Olsen, 66, a retired Las Vegas resident, called the event “kind of sad.” Given recent doubts about Biden’s campaign, she said she expected the room to be packed and bustling.

Still, Olsen’s backing of his campaign remains steadfast. 

“I have not doubted [Biden’s] performance. He’s aging like the rest of us,” she said.

Whether Biden or Harris, attendees reiterated that a vote for either candidate goes beyond support for them as individuals. For many, they said it is part of a larger ideological struggle. 

“I’d vote for Kamala. I’d vote for Biden,” said Noah Kern, a Vegas resident. “I don’t have a preference.” 


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