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The Kamala Harris moment has arrived

With the issue of abortion rights, the vice president has achieved her goal.

Vice President Kamala Harris arrives to deliver remarks on the Affordable Care Act at the John Chavis Community Center in Raleigh, NC, on Tuesday, March 26, 2024. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

One of Kamala Harris’ most memorable moments during the 2020 presidential election was when, during a Democratic primary debate, she sharply criticized Joe Biden for working with segregationists in the Senate in their shared opposition to busing.

She personalized her criticism by saying, “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”

The power of the attack was not just the point being made, but also that she – an affected person from an affected group – made it. While some of Biden’s defenders saw her comment as an unnecessary aside, there was an authenticity to the way she addressed the issue.

The verbal jab also tapped into the national zeitgeist at a time when calls for racial justice and the Black Lives Matter movement were on the rise.

She scored well in the polls and donations poured in. Ultimately, her candidacy failed to catch fire, but the following summer, Biden, the eventual nominee, made a historic offer to Harris to join his ticket, making her the first. woman, first black person and first Asian American to become vice president.

Fast forward to now, when Vice President Harris has served almost a full term alongside President Biden, and she is heading into a new moment when the political stars are aligning for her as the perfect messenger on a topic that has captured American attention and is central to the 2024 presidential campaign: reproductive rights.

This time her target is Donald Trump. And the fact that he is in a position to go on the offensive is something of a reversal of fortune for a vice president who has endured withering — often unfair — attacks and who has struggled to cast himself in that role to define.

In October, The Atlantic’s Elaina Plott Calabro profiled Harris under the headline “The Kamala Harris Problem,” writing that “Harris’ reputation has never fully recovered” from some early blunders during her tenure. The article includes a particularly blunt quote from former Obama administration adviser David Axelrod about a perceived risk aversion born of uncertainty: “It seemed like she didn’t know where to plant her feet. That she wasn’t under house arrest, that she didn’t know exactly who she was.

The criticism of Harris was relentless, ranging from legitimate challenges to her policy statements to ridiculous commentary on her laugh. Much of it seemed tinged with gender bias.

All this has meant that Harris is struggling in the polls. Her approval rating, like Biden’s, has remained below 50% for most of her term.

And she remains a source of concern, a perceived vulnerability for Biden’s re-election. In March, Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker wrote that Harris should stand down for the sake of the country, absurdly comparing her to Sarah Palin in 2008.

During her failed bid to win this year’s Republican nomination, Nikki Haley repeatedly pointed to the possibility of a future Harris presidency as a scare tactic, saying in an August interview on “Good Morning America”: there is no way that Joe Biden is going to complete his term. I think Kamala Harris will be the next president, and that should send a chill down the spine of every American.”

But the Supreme Court’s rejection of Roe v. Wade and Republicans’ desire to push increasingly regressive policies to restrict reproductive rights in states across the country have made Harris a vital voice in the campaign .

In December, Harris announced her nationwide Fight for Reproductive Freedoms tour.

In March, she became what is believed to be the first vice president to make an official visit to an abortion clinic (no president has done so), when she visited a Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Paul, Minnesota.

No matter how sensitive and informed men try to be about the issue of reproductive rights, there are still things we can’t fully identify with. Harris transcends that barrier not only because she is a woman, but also because of her background as a prosecutor.

Speaking in February in Savannah, Georgia, she said she decided to specialize in prosecuting violent crimes against women and children because in high school she learned that one of her best friends was being abused by her stepfather. Harris told that story as a way to underscore the repressive nature of abortion laws, which have no exceptions for rape or incest.

She told the crowd: “The idea that someone who survives a violent crime, a violation of their body, is then told they don’t have the power to decide what happens next to their body, that’s immoral.”

Harris may never get enough recognition for her contributions to government on a wide range of issues, but ultimately that may not be her calling.

According to her office, since Roe was impeached, the vice president has “held more than 80 rallies in 20 states.” Being a trusted voice for reproductive rights and against Republicans determined to limit or eliminate them could be the greatest contribution she can make to Biden’s re-election bid and to maintaining national stability.

She took her step with this problem. This has silenced talk of her as a liability for some with the clear realization of what she brings to the campaign. With this, Harris is on a mission, and she is on it.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.