Kamala Harris visit to Georgia lays down a 2024 marker for Biden

Vice President Kamala Harris addressed a Democratic Party of Georgia gala in Atlanta on May 12, 2023. AJC/Natrice Miller.

Credit: Natrice Miller

Credit: Natrice Miller

Vice President Kamala Harris addressed a Democratic Party of Georgia gala in Atlanta on May 12, 2023. AJC/Natrice Miller.

Vice President Kamala Harris visited Atlanta on Friday to boost President Joe Biden’s reelection campaign, a trip meant to reassure state Democrats about the White House’s focus on Georgia despite recent political setbacks.

The visit is Harris’ first out-of-state campaign stop since Biden announced his second term bid with a video that prominently featured the vice president, who played a key role in energizing the party’s base three years ago and will be expected to repeat that in 2024.

“This is what happens when people step up,” Harris said at a fundraiser in southwest Atlanta attended by dozens of high-dollar Democratic donors. “We’ve seen the evidence when people believe in our democracy, they will participate.”

And at a Democratic Party gala in Buckhead, Harris said the federal climate change and tax measure has already spurred investment in Georgia, including a Hyundai plant that’s under construction near Savannah and will soon begin manufacturing electric vehicles.

“They will now hire 8,000 workers because of our investment,” said Harris.

The trip to Georgia comes as state Democrats are still smarting from a pair of decisions that could have further magnified the state’s role in the 2024 election.

Party leaders were stunned when Biden picked Chicago over Atlanta to host next year’s Democratic National Convention, despite an all-out effort to persuade him to hold the bash in the heart of one of the nation’s most competitive battlegrounds.

And Republican officials last week denied Biden’s attempt to make Georgia one of the first states to vote in next year’s nominating process. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger instead set the vote for March 12, a week after the “Super Tuesday” headlined by California and Texas.

Harris used the stop to remind Georgians of their role in Biden’s 2020 victory, when he became the first Democratic presidential nominee to capture the state since 1992. He bested then-President Donald Trump by fewer than 12,000 votes, a defeat that still rankles the Republican.

Since that narrow win, Georgia’s split political personality has been shaped by a bloc of swing voters. In last year’s midterm, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock’s reelection sealed the party’s continued control of the chamber, even as Gov. Brian Kemp and other Republicans carried the rest of the statewide ticket.

And GOP leaders redrew political maps during the once-a-decade redistricting process designed to give them majorities in the state Legislature for the rest of the decade.

Kemp, meanwhile, has become a national figure in his own right — and hasn’t shut the door on a presidential bid himself.

‘It’s over if you don’t win Georgia’

The state’s close political dynamics give Georgia a key spot on the 2024 electoral battleground map. Both parties expect only a handful of states to be truly competitive regardless of whether the GOP nominee is Trump or someone else.

While another Democratic victory in Georgia would be icing on the cake for Biden, Kemp and other GOP leaders say it will be difficult for a GOP nominee to win if Georgia stays in the Democratic column.

“It’s over if you don’t win Georgia,” former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, recently told the Ruthless podcast.

Democrats are only stepping up their efforts to block Republicans from flipping the state back. Harris’ visit marks her second trip to Georgia in about a month, after an April visit to Dalton to announce a $2.5 billion expansion of the Qcells solar panel plant. In February, she also spoke to Georgia Tech students about federal efforts to curb climate change.

Just as he did in 2020, Biden is relying on Harris to help mobilize Black voters who form the backbone of the Democratic Party in Georgia and other Southern states — while also showing that she can ably step in for a president who would be 86 at the end of a second term.

Harris’ visit is only the latest marker of Georgia’s role in the race for the White House. Biden’s launch video included several references to the state, and his campaign has already been airing ads in Atlanta.

DNC chair Jaime Harrison celebrates Chicago’s winning bid for the Democratic National Convention on April 12, 2023. Special.

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A senior party official also recently told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that Georgia will be the first battleground state that the Democratic National Convention plans to invest in for the 2024 election.

Polls in Georgia and in other competitive states show Biden’s approval rating well below 50%, with many voters citing the 80-year-old’s age as a concern.

He and his allies have tried to dispel those concerns by pointing to an agenda that includes massive federal infrastructure, health care and climate change initiatives — and a call to unify against Trump and his allies that Harris invoked at the party gala.

“These extremists have a plan to take their agenda national through the courts and blocking access at the ballot box,” Harris told hundreds of activists. “These extremists have a national plan to silence the voices of the people and to roll back our progress.”

Then, to rising applause: “But here’s the thing, the people will not be silenced … We will not be divided, we will stand united. We will stand on the shoulders of the giants like those from Georgia.”

Despite middling support in polls, senior Democrats and activists have rallied behind Biden as the party’s best hope of preventing a Trump comeback. DeKalb County CEO Michael Thurmond labeled the president “Trump kryptonite.”

Kemp, meanwhile, has tried to fashion a vision for Republicans that goes beyond Trump’s obsession with his election defeat – and focuses instead on Biden’s “failed” economic agenda and foreign policy.

“While I haven’t written a book and I haven’t been to Iowa, I still believe it’s incumbent upon every Republican in this country to realize what’s at stake for our nation this year and in 2024,” Kemp told a Connecticut GOP dinner on Thursday.

Gov. Brian Kemp speaks during a ceremony unveiling the first ever Rivian electric vehicle chargers at Tallulah Gorge State Park on Thursday, April 20, 2023. (Natrice Miller/ natrice.miller@ajc.com)

Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC

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Credit: Natrice Miller/AJC