Vice President Kamala Harris smiled, laughed and showered compliments on her Democrats as she campaigned in Detroit on Saturday with Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who remains a favorite for re-election even as her race with Republican Tudor Dixon tightens seems to be
But the politicians watching Harris and Whitmer’s joint performance were interested in more than the governor’s chances in next month’s midterm election. The vice president and governor, now allies, are seen as possible future rivals and could well face each other in a 2024 or 2028 presidential primary, depending on whether President Biden seeks another term as promised.
Harris greeted Whitmer with a hug at a Michigan Democratic Party fundraiser at a facility that trains young people for engineering and construction jobs. She opened her speech by thanking and praising the governor, whom she called an “extraordinary leader” who “always talks about real conversations” and has kept her campaign promise to “fix the damn roads.”
But at the highest levels of American politics, lasting allies can be hard to find.
Harris and Whitmer “played well and supported each other,” said John Sellek, a Lansing, Michigan-based Republican adviser who led Utah Senator Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign in the state. “But I think Republicans can say with certainty that if Biden does not run for re-election, or even if Biden does run for a second term, that friendship will be secondary to the pursuit of the presidency.”
The future of the Democratic Party is a subplot that has surfaced during this mid-term campaign season for Harris, who ran for the 2020 nomination but failed to position herself as the prohibitive favorite to succeed Biden. Her encounters with Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg have sparked similar interest given his role as a former candidate and rising star in the party.
Both Whitmer and Harris rose to prominence during Donald Trump’s presidency, when Democrats sought a counterbalance and Republicans viewed both women as targets. Trump repeatedly went after Whitmer in his public comments, raising her national profile. He showed little remorse when state and federal officials accused 13 extremists of kidnapping her in October 2020.
“She’s just badass,” said Jill Alper, a Democratic adviser from Michigan.
Whitmer’s position as the favorite for re-election in a state that helped Trump secure the 2016 election has only increased her national appeal among Democrats, who have lost their ties to the group of Midwestern states that once were the center of their “blue wall”.
“I don’t think Michigan will stop being a swing state going forward. I think every Democrat who wants to be president has to wear Michigan,” said Mark Brewer, chairman of the state Democratic Party from 1995 to 2013. “What better way to wear Michigan than to have a Michigan nominee?”
Noting that Buttigieg moved his official residence from Indiana to Michigan this summer, Brewer added that Whitmer might as well seek a Senate seat or cabinet nomination.
But Whitmer’s flirtation with higher office, while tempting, has become a political drag in her re-election bid. She raised eyebrows in June when she declined to say in an NBC interview whether Biden should seek re-election, calling the interest in her own potential candidacy “flattering.”
In an interview with the Detroit News on Tuesday, she vowed to serve her full second term if re-elected, calling national speculation that she might be running for higher office in the near future “bold.”
Harris’ allies have also tried to keep quiet about their ambitions to run for president, especially as Biden insists he will stand for election in 2024.
“It’s still six years away,” said Bakari Sellers, co-chair of Harris’ 2020 campaign, who is now a commentator at CNN. “Kamala Harris is trying to win races in the midterms. She’s not out here running for President. There is no rivalry between Kamala and Gretchen and anyone else.”
Biden and Harris’ low poll numbers have made it difficult for them to campaign for fellow Democrats, some of whom have reason to avoid appearing with their party’s top leaders. Biden has said he will do whatever will help his allies most, even if it means staying away. Neither Biden nor Harris have appeared at many campaign events.
Harris remains in demand as a fundraiser and, in many places, a promoter of the administration’s accomplishments. People close to her say her campaign strategy has more to do with her appeal to key demographics — including women, people of color and young voters — than to regions of the country. Her role is somewhat similar to that of former Republican Vice President Mike Pence, who courted Evangelical voters and members of the Republican establishment who were uncomfortable with Trump.
Harris, in particular, has spoken more extensively and forcefully about abortion rights than Biden, emerging as the administration’s main spokesman on the issue after the Supreme Court vacated Roe v. Wade in June. Democrats hope a ballot initiative that adds abortion rights to Michigan’s constitution will help boost voter turnout in the state, where several house races remain competitive.
Harris appeared in a series of interviews with black-oriented radio stations in Atlanta, Las Vegas and Milwaukee this week and also spoke at the Essence Festival, a black-oriented gathering in New Orleans in July. She also spoke to news radio stations in Philadelphia, Detroit and Minneapolis this week.
After the state party’s fundraiser at the training campus on Saturday, Harris and Whitmer toured the facility together.
Later that afternoon, Harris was speaking at an organizing event for first-time voters in suburban Detroit. In a crowded gym at Southfield High School, Harris — at 57, the youngest of the current Democratic national leaders — addressed a boisterous crowd of students and parents.
“I want to say to the young leaders here: I know you’ve been through a lot in the last two years,” she said. “People who’ve been through the most … are usually some of the most generous people you’ve ever met.” Voting, she added, is one of the best ways young people can serve their communities: “Our nation needs you.”
After the high school event, Harris drove to the airport. She had to catch a flight home to California, where Gov. Gavin Newsom has emerged as another potential rival.
https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2022-10-15/kamala-harris-gretchen-whitmer-2028 Kamala Harris campaigns with Gretchen Whitmer in potential 2028 preview