RALEIGH, N.C. – Standing before Sen. Kamala Harris at a campaign event near a Raleigh barbershop, Marcus Bass asked the Democratic vice presidential nominee a pointed question: How would she and Joe Biden convince young Black voters their ticket isn't simply the lesser of two evils?
“I appreciate your question and the point," Harris replied. “Nobody is supposed to vote for us — we need to earn it."
That's what Harris, the first Black woman to appear on a major party's presidential ticket, is trying to do in swing states like North Carolina, as the presidential contest enters its final weeks. In conversations at barbershops and historically Black colleges and universities, through ads on popular websites and live Instagram interviews, Harris is pitching herself and Biden as a team that can make meaningful progress on issues that matter to Black Americans, like police reform, ending the new coronavirus pandemic and creating a more equitable economy.
She'll have the chance to pitch to her biggest audience yet on Wednesday, when she is expected to debate Vice President Mike Pence. Harris is likely to deliver a message that's particularly resonant for Black Americans, including the disproportionate toll the coronavirus has taken on their communities and the vital need for access to health care.
The theme takes on a new significance after President Donald Trump was hospitalized with the virus, reviving criticism of the administration's handling of the pandemic.
The intensifying focus on the vice presidential debate offers Harris an important chance to address doubts about the Democratic ticket.
Biden's history-making selection of Harris as his running mate has energized and excited many Black voters, particularly women, who are among the Democratic Party's most reliable voters. Harris attended Howard University, an HBCU, and was a member of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. Members donning the sorority's green and pink colors can often be spotted outside her events.
But she's still facing skepticism about her past as a prosecutor, and some young Black voters say they're looking for something more than a politician who looks like them. They're not yet convinced Biden and Harris are committed or able to execute meaningful change.