Harris puts focus on beating Trump, not concerns over Biden, as she tries to appeal to Black voters

By Ebony Davis, Kaanita Iyer and Eva McKend, CNN

New Orleans CNN  — 

Vice President Kamala Harris on Saturday put the focus on the dangers of a second Trump administration, rather than the growing concerns over President Joe Biden’s candidacy, as she attempted to convince Black voters to once again deliver a win for the Biden-Harris ticket.

“This is probably the most significant election of our lifetime,” Harris said during a moderated conversation at the Essence Festival in New Orleans, claiming that former President Donald Trump has “openly” expressed “his intention to be a dictator on Day 1” if reelected.

Harris’ stop at the annual Black music and cultural festival comes as the Biden campaign works to revive a corner of the coalition that helped propel the president to the White House in 2020.

Biden beat Trump 87 percent to 12 percent among Black voters in 2020, according to CNN exit polls. But Trump has made inroads with the critical voting bloc recently. A New York Times/Siena College survey of battleground states released in May found Trump winning more than 20 percent of Black voters in a two-way matchup with Biden, which would amount to a historic high if it translates to votes in November.

Harris attempted to convince festival attendees that “we can see it through” if they once again vote in record numbers.

“People voted in record numbers in 2020. This is what was able to happen, and when everyone votes in those numbers again in 122 days, we can see it through,” Harris said.

The White House in recent days has struggled to quell concerns over the president’s mental fitness and the viability of his campaign following his poor performance in CNN’s presidential debate last week. Some Democrats have called on the president to closely examine his reelection bid, while others have gone as far as calling for him to step aside. Biden has remained defiant, telling reporters in Madison, Wisconsin, on Friday that he’s “completely ruling out” exiting the race.

Many look to Harris as the obvious successor if Biden steps aside, with a recent CNN poll conducted after the debate showing the vice president outpacing Biden in a hypothetical race against Trump. Some Republicans, meanwhile, are hoping to avoid a Harris presidential candidacy as they believe Trump’s path back to the White House would likely be easier against Biden.

But Harris has repeatedly come to Biden’s defense, and CNN reported earlier this week that the vice president and her staff have purposely snubbed most of the calls and texts coming their way, reiterating that she intends to stick by his side.

The vice president was able to avoid talking about worries within her own party Saturday as the moderator did not specifically ask about concerns over Biden’s reelection bid. Meanwhile, other Biden surrogates at the event tackled the issue head-on, throwing their support behind the president and telling voters that he’s not going anywhere.

Rep. Joyce Beatty argued that Biden shouldn’t withdraw from the race just because of one debate.

“We’ve all had a bad day,” the Ohio Democrat said, later adding: “Don’t go out there turning your back on this president.”

California Rep. Maxine Waters emphasized, “Biden is not going anywhere.”

When asked whether she would support Harris — a fellow Californian — if the president were to drop out, Waters said, “We’re focused on Biden. We’re focused on the fact that not only has he done a good job, that we anticipate that he’s going to continue.”

Many festival attendees who spoke to CNN said they think Harris is prepared to step in should Biden bow out of the race. But ultimately, voters said they will cast their ballot for whoever the Democratic nominee is in November.

“Keep the ticket the way it is. Her time will come. … Stick with the game plan. You had a plan; stick with the plan. The plan worked before; it will work again,” said Jeri Peris, a New Orleans resident.

Peris said Biden’s poor debate performance was “a one-off,” adding, “Everybody gets sick. He’s a good president. He’s a good man. He’s done great things. Everyone has an off day.”

Laura Morgan Roberts of Washington, DC, said it’s a “no-brainer” that she will vote for Biden in November, but added, “I am 100 percent confident in Vice President Kamala Harris’ ability, commitment, desire to lead the country and do what’s best for our people.”

Meanwhile, Michelle Buxton from Chattanooga, Tennessee, told CNN, “It just seems like they aren’t giving (Biden) a chance.”

“We’re here all working together and I think it almost seems personal,” Buxton said. “I just don’t think that they should bring him down.”

CNN’s Eric Bradner, Ali Main and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.

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