Is Kamala the Democrats’ secret weapon of 2024?

At a Black outreach event packed with Democratic heavyweights on Wednesday, it was Kamala Harris who proved the unexpected star of the show.

The vice president has been pilloried in the past for her awkward and stilted delivery at events. But at Girard College in Philadelphia as the warm-up act for Biden, she seemed far more at ease, cracking jokes and responding to applause.

She also received some of the biggest reactions during a slick performance where she rattled off a list of the Biden administration’s accomplishments that specifically benefit the Black community - from a $35 cap on the cost of insulin and student debt forgiveness to record investments in historically-Black colleges.

She underlined how the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade disproportionately affected Black women. “And today, one in three women and more than half of Black women of reproductive age live in a state with an abortion ban - a Trump abortion ban,” she noted.

Vice President Kamala Harris introduces President Joe Biden during a campaign rally at Girard College on May 29, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Getty Images)
Vice President Kamala Harris introduces President Joe Biden during a campaign rally at Girard College on May 29, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Getty Images)

She also delivered a few pugnacious lines that landed well with the majority Black crowd. When she decried Trump’s Supreme Court picks, she described it as “the court of Thurgood,” referencing the first Black justice, Thurgood Marshall, which elicited a strong, positive response.

The star turn didn’t go unnoticed among those gathered in the boarding school’s gymnasium.

Aminah Shabazz, from Philadelphia, commented on Biden’s lack of “swag”, but noted how Harris had also visited Philadelphia only last week, making trip to Jim’s in West Philadelphia - a local favorite for cheesesteaks opposed to the more commercially popular Pat’s or Geno’s.

“I’m curious why it wasn’t tapped into earlier. Just something as simple as Kamala going to Jim’s Steaks was huge,” she told The Independent. “It’s little things going a long way to make it more relatable.”

Biden and Harris, along with prominent Black surrogates - Representative Barbara Lee of California, Representative Jasmine Crockett of Texas, and Maryland Governor Wes Moore - came to the City of Brotherly Love this week at a critical juncture for the campaign.

Recent polling shows that Biden continues to struggle with Black voters. A New York Times/Siena College poll earlier this month found that Biden only has a 53 per cent approval rating among Black voters, a dismal statistic for a Democratic incumbent president. Donald Trump’s campaign has made overtures to the voting bloc after he improved with Black male voters in 2020, and has been promoting Black surrogates like Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina and Representative Byron Donalds of Florida.

A number of those in attendance at the Philadelphia event dismissed concerns about Biden’s struggles with Black voters. Tony Pritchette, a pastor at Provision of Grace World Mission Church, told The Independent that he heard about concerns about Black turnout “only in the news, not in the community”.

“Not in the neighborhood, people are going to show up,” he told The Independent. “We understand the importance of this. This election, really, we know what would happen if Trump gets back.”

Shabazz said that Biden may lack the same “it” factor of his Democratic predecessors Barack Obama and Bill Clinton and wished that he had begun investing in the community sooner.

But this might be where Harris could be a secret weapon. An alumnus of Howard University, she has regularly toured the country visiting other historically Black colleges and universities. In the past, polling had shown many voters did not think Harris was ready to be president. But now, more voters feel confident in her ability to assume the job should Biden not be able to.

Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina, who has known Harris since she was an attorney general in California, told The Independent last month that the vice president was a powerful force this election cycle - particularly as it comes to the key issue of abortion rights.

“She can obviously relate to women and what they are going through” he said. “[S]he has been on the front lines of protecting women’s healthcare, both as attorney general, as a United States senator and now as vice president.”

Given that abortion rights will be a defining issue of the 2024 election, and Democrats likely will depend on it to hold the Senate, Harris might have found her calling card just in time.