Kamala Harris continues to travel to unconventional places. Here’s why.


Bynum had first connected with Harris last year when, on the phone for 30 minutes, the two men discussed how the administration could play a role in increasing investment in underserved communities. His response was simple, “Well, Madam Vice President, if you really want to see what’s going on, you come to the Mississippi Delta.”

Sure enough, months later, she arrived.

The move to Greenville is part of an under-noticed strategy for the vice president’s office, one in which she has focused on how administration policy intersects with neglected communities. This has taken her to other remote and non-traditional locations, including a recent stint in Sunset, Louisiana, a rural town of fewer than 3,000 people, to tout the administration’s work to extend broadband in rural areas. And it showed in the way she handled some of the White House’s most expensive items.

Weeks after the bipartisan infrastructure bill passed, Harris called a briefing with administration officials to review the electric vehicle charging station portion of the bill — a interest that had animated her since her time in Californian politics. As the staff flipped through the pages of the briefing document, she peppered them with questions. How would 500,000 charging stations be built and distributed? Who would build them? What would this mean for neglected communities?

“[She said] “Tell me about a community that has been left behind, a rural community. Where are they going to go? How are they going to be put there? Mitch Landrieu, senior adviser to the president, told POLITICO. “Now tell me about an urban neighborhood that has been abandoned where people are renting.”

A month later, she was in Brandywine, Md., a majority-black town — but not exactly a locality on the forefront of electoral politics — to talk about EV stations and announce the administration’s plan. to ensure its charging network reaches communities like theirs.

The electoral benefits of going to remote communities in sluggish states look decidedly limited for those on the Beltway, especially at a time when the White House is trying to turn the polls around and praise the state of the labor market. But administration officials argue that the symbolism of a vice-presidential trip is important, and when tied to a larger announcement, it has a clear downstream benefit.

“It’s not necessarily that we’re going to win Mississippi or Louisiana, but it makes a difference that people know they’re seen and they’re heard,” senior adviser to the president Cedric Richmond told POLITICO. . “And what we hope is that communities across the country that look like those communities will see that we see them even if we don’t go to their particular community.”

For much of the past year, Harris’ strategy has largely taken place behind closed doors in conversations that have often taken place in the vice president’s ceremonial offices in the executive office building. Eisenhower. But as Covid restrictions eased, she pushed her team to take to the road more, adding those unconventional swings alongside high-profile trips to places like Poland and Philadelphia.

“We’re obviously as a team working on the places she hasn’t been, what places are we going to highlight?” said Harris’ domestic policy adviser and one of his most senior aides, Rohini Kosoglu. “But some of our recent stops have been because she said, we have to go South.”

Administration officials say Harris has been known to return from trips with stories or ideas that she believes could influence White House policy. Landrieu, for his part, said his staff received material from Harris’s team which he then brought “to meetings of the Cabinet Secretaries, and then we start over and we keep going.”

For Harris, the travels have the added benefit of finding her footing in the second year of her vice presidency. Although she is second to Biden, she remains somewhat unknown to voters nationwide after her rapid rise to the vice presidency. She voted regularly in her 1940s and 1930s and there have been discussions among Democrats that she is not currently well-placed to succeed the president if he chooses not to run again in 2024.

But allies say the pandemic has made it difficult for the administration to really get out there, see voters and sell their accomplishments so far. “I have the impression that the administration has sea legs. She reaches out more. She doesn’t go out anymore. She’s really stepped up to make sure she’s there,” said former DNC chairwoman Donna Brazile, a White House ally who is part of a loose, unofficial network of confidants of Harris. “Apart from bringing a handful of people to Washington, she’s able to go out and really, really get people excited about the job.”

Vice-presidential historian Joel K. Goldstein says Harris’s approach could help her change the way she is perceived in the press and across the country. “It’s part of kind of a perception boost so that in six months people are writing stories about how well it works internally rather than why its staff are leaving,” Goldstein told POLITICO.

“You put yourself in a position if it’s good to be someone who helps other people in administration, not someone who competes with them,” Goldstein added. “And that puts you in a position where people will then come to you with things and respond to your requests.”

In addition to an increase in travel, Harris’ media strategy has also expanded. She has spoken to a number of national media over the past six months, and her team has also increased the number of interviews with local press and journalists who don’t usually sit with a vice president. The goal is two-fold: to continue to find ways to speak to people who have been overlooked and to circumvent what they perceive to be part of the emphasis on process reporting in the DC press.

“It’s not the natural inclination [in D.C.] focus on those things. It’s a long way from the Beltway,” said Herbie Ziskend, Harris’ senior communications adviser. “And when the vice president goes to Poland and Romania and meets with world leaders and refugees, then leaves, and then the next morning she gets on a plane and flies to Selma. Much of this might go unnoticed in Beltway’s press.

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