Harris acknowledges Biden had a ‘slow start’ in debate and tries to calm Democratic fears

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Vice President Kamala Harris on Friday dismissed the “punditry” criticizing President Joe Biden’s halting and uneven debate performance, saying at a rally in Las Vegas that “this race will not be decided by one night in June.”

Speaking to an energetic crowd, Harris joined Biden’s push to quell Democratic anxiety by going on the attack against former President Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee. She framed the election as a binary choice “between someone who lies and someone who leads.”

“In a real leader, character matters more than style,” Harris said. “And Donald Trump simply does not have the character to be president of the United States.”

As she acknowledged Biden’s uneven performance, Harris emphasized the substance of Trump’s remarks during the 90-minute debate, including his refusal to condemn the rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as well as his unwillingness to emphatically commit to accepting the results of this November’s election.

“Last night clarified the stakes of this election,” Harris said.

Her event in Las Vegas and her television interviews after Biden’s debate were apparent efforts to calm Democratic panic. Hours earlier in Raleigh, North Carolina, Biden appeared to acknowledge the criticism of his performance, saying ”I don’t debate as well as I used to.”

Harris spoke for 11 minutes at a Las Vegas community center at an event geared toward Latino voters, a crucial voting bloc in the battleground state of Nevada.

A Biden campaign staffer followed a New York Times reporter as he interviewed voters and shut down interviews when they turned negative, the newspaper reported. Nobody from the campaign followed or interfered with an Associated Press reporter speaking to voters.

Harris said the contrast between Biden and Trump ultimately has to be on Biden’s performance in office, rather than in one debate.

“I see Joe Biden when the cameras are on and when the cameras are off,” Harris said. “I in the Oval Office negotiating bipartisan deals. I see him in the Situation Room keeping our country safe. On the world stage, meeting with world leaders who often ask for his advice.”

Polls from CNN and 538/Ipsos conducted soon after the debate found that most debate-watchers thought Trump outperformed Biden. But the two men’s favorability ratings remained largely unchanged, just as they did in the aftermath of Trump’s conviction.

Harris gave interviews Thursday night on CNN and MSNBC amid immediate Democratic panic over Biden’s performance, which fueled longstanding questions about whether the 81-year-old president should step aside.

“It was a slow start. That’s obvious to everyone. I’m not going to debate that point,” Harris said in an interview on CNN following the debate. “I’m talking about the choice for November. I’m talking about one of the most important elections in our collective lifetime.”

Before Harris arrived in Las Vegas, a group of women waiting to get inside agreed that Biden’s debate performance was lacking but believed he could recover.

“We had faux pas on either side, but Biden-Harris is clearly the way to go,” Tina Allen-Major, 50, a Las Vegas electrician said as a Mariachi band played nearby. “We have to continue to protect our democracy, we have to work for what’s best for our future.”

Biden wasn’t the first incumbent president to stumble in their first debate, and a “slow start” is no reason to cast him aside, said Sharon Tillis, 71, of Henderson, Nevada, a data collector for government policymakers.

“When you’re with someone, you stand with them solidly,” Tillis said.

Former President Barack Obama and Trump both received low marks for their first debates in 2012 and 2020, when they were running as incumbents. Neither candidate’s performance led to the type of panic that Biden’s performance triggered among some Democrats.

Brandon Colbert, a 42-year-old Teamsters convention worker in Las Vegas, said Biden’s performance was “concerning” but he believes Biden can do the job and doesn’t think it’s realistic to talk about replacing Biden as the Democratic nominee.

“Who’s going to step in at this point?” Colbert said. “I mean, the train is running. We got who we got. This is what we’re going with. I still pick him over Trump.”


Associated Press writer Seung Min Kim reported from Washington.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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