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How the Democratic Party is deploying VP Harris before the midterms

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Vice President Harris is in Michigan today campaigning with Governor Gretchen Whitmer, who, of course, is up for reelection. The vice president then heads to California for more campaign events ahead of the midterms. It is a busy time for Vice President Harris. Last weekend, she was in Austin to raise money for the party. Here's what she said to Democrats there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VICE PRESIDENT KAMALA HARRIS: We just need two more seats in the United States Senate. OK? The stakes are high. We need two more seats. Because - here's the thing. With two more seats, we can codify Roe v. Wade - two more seats, two more seats.

SIMON: NPR political reporter Deepa Shivaram joins us now. Deepa, thanks so much for being with us.

DEEPA SHIVARAM, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.

SIMON: And how critical have abortion rights become to Vice President Harris' strategy around the midterms?

SHIVARAM: Yeah, Harris is really focusing on abortion as the key issue in her travels. She's held more than 20 events about reproductive rights since May. I spoke with Adrienne Elrod, a Democratic strategist, about what Harris has been doing, and she said it's a smart strategy for the VP to focus on this topic around the country.

ADRIENNE ELROD: It drives not just national news, but it really drives some of those really important local headlines. So when the vice president is traveling to various states, I mean, her visit to those states will likely lead most of the daily papers in that state, or at least in that specific area.

SHIVARAM: And Scott, I traveled with Harris to Connecticut last week for one of these abortion events that she did. It's a blue state, but there is a really close congressional race there. And there was local coverage of that event throughout Hartford. And even when she's not traveling, she's been doing local radio interviews in different states as well. So the strategy here is really to keep abortion rights in the headlines in these last few weeks of the election.

SIMON: And, Deepa, what indications are there as to how voters might be responding?

SHIVARAM: Yeah. Well, polling shows that topics like abortion are high motivating factors for both Democrats and independents. And the idea is to get them out to vote in elections that sometimes have lower turnout, like midterms. But abortion isn't the only thing. A majority of voters right now say inflation is the biggest concern for them. And issues around immigration are important, too. And that's one topic that some people think Harris hasn't spoken out on enough.

Domingo Garcia, the president of a Latino advocacy group called LULAC, said that among people in his community in Texas, the enthusiasm to vote in the midterms is lukewarm. He feels that even though one of Harris' jobs in the administration is to focus on migration, it's been on a back burner for Democrats this election cycle.

DOMINGO GARCIA: The silence has been deafening. And that's allowed the Republicans to take the lead and use immigration as a wedge issue in the midterms.

SHIVARAM: And you'll recall, Scott, this is an issue that has quite literally come to the vice president's doorstep with the Republican governors like Greg Abbott from Texas bussing migrants to her home in Washington, D.C. Republicans often use the topic of immigration to get Republican voters out to the polls. So there is some concern that Democrats' response here, including Harris', hasn't been strong enough.

SIMON: Well, what else are people expecting to see from the vice president in these final weeks?

SHIVARAM: I think one thing to keep an eye on is her fundraising for the party. She was a top fundraiser for Democrats in the presidential election, so you can definitely expect more of that from her. And she'll be holding more events - especially ones that target women and young voters - that focus on the work the administration has been doing. But don't expect too many traditional events where she's standing next to candidates rallying on stage. Her political popularity, as well as the president's, are not very high. So there's some distance between the administration and Democratic candidates in tight races on the campaign trail.

SIMON: NPR political reporter Deepa Shivaram - thanks so much for being with us.

SHIVARAM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Deepa Shivaram
Deepa Shivaram is a multi-platform political reporter on NPR's Washington Desk.
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