Harries rallies for Biden in Las Vegas as some Democrats expect him to intervene

Officially, Vice President Kamala Harris appeared in Las Vegas on Tuesday to launch a Biden campaign initiative to reach out to Asian American, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian voters.

But the quiet underpinning of the resort ballroom event was the vice president’s steadfast support for President Biden, even as some Democratic officials — and some supporters in the room — expressed hope that he would step down and that Harris would emerge as the party’s new leader.

Harris' visit to Las Vegas coincides with the president's defiant insistence that he will remain in the race despite some calls to step aside after his disastrous debate performance against former President Trump last month.

Biden, who appeared listless and confused during the debate, has been trying to drum up support among his fellow Democrats, even as cracks in a once-solid foundation appeared over the weekend. Democratic members of Congress returned to Washington, D.C., this week after a holiday break, and a central topic of discussion was Biden’s viability as a presidential candidate.

The stakes are high in Nevada, which Biden narrowly won in 2020 but which now leans Republican, according to the Cook Political Report. But inside the Las Vegas ballroom on Tuesday, the mood was joyous, as a crowd of a few hundred people repeatedly chanted “Four more years!”

In her roughly 15-minute speech, Harris briefly touched on the debate debacle and questions about Biden's suitability for reelection.

“The last few days have been a reminder that running for president of the United States is never easy,” she said. “But the one thing we know about our president, Joe Biden, is that he is a fighter.”

The crowd roared in response, but in conversations before and after the rally, even some supporters expressed doubts about the president's ability to continue.

“He should probably resign,” said Alyse Sobosan, a college counselor at a Las Vegas charter school. Talk of Biden’s health is detracting from the campaign’s effectiveness, she said: “We can’t even talk about the issues or his stances on things because the whole conversation is about him and his health.”

The 36-year-old said she would support Harris as “a strong candidate” to replace Biden if he drops out of the race, but that the vice president should do more to amplify her national profile.

“I have a neutral or positive opinion of her,” Sobosan said. “I just don’t know much about her.”

Abraham Camejo, 41, brought his four children to the event. They ate rice cake and sausage skewers, a traditional Korean dish, as he explained why he was still supporting Biden, saying it was “too late in the game” to switch candidates.

Proud “father of a baby girl” Abraham Camejo, 41, with son Sebastian and daughters Athena, Azalea and Aurora, from left, wanted them to see the first female vice president. He believes Biden is still up to the task.

(Faith E. Pinho / Los Angeles Times)

“Can we have a younger Biden? That would be great. But unfortunately, we tend to get older,” Camejo said, joking that perhaps the 81-year-old president could regain some energy with “a little bit of Red Bull.”

“We have to understand that he’s not a young man anymore,” he said. “But can he do the job? And I honestly believe he can.”

The Las Vegas event was billed as the kickoff for the campaign to reach out to Asian American, Pacific Islander and Native Hawaiian voters. The Nevada for Biden-Harris campaign group announced it was launching an advertising offensive in the state to coincide with the rally, including ads in several Asian-language publications.

Padma Lakshmi, a cookbook author and host and executive producer of the Hulu show “Taste the Nation,” helped introduce Harris as the first Asian-American woman to become U.S. vice president.

“I thought about how much it would have meant to me, as a child, to see an Asian-American woman helping lead our country,” Lakshmi said.

Vivienne Bailey-Reid, 61, a consultant in Las Vegas, said she came away from Harris' speech feeling inspired and reinvigorated to support the Democratic administration.

“We need to focus and stop getting upset about President Biden’s age,” Bailey-Reid said. “I think it gave us hope that, ‘Wait a minute, we’re still in charge.’”

Her friend Linn Hummel, 62, agreed, though she added that Harris had failed to deliver a concise message on Tuesday and had instead piled on statistics and facts. Democrats need to have an easy message to deliver to undecided voters, Hummel said, adding that while Harris may appeal to some voters, such as women, “she needs to focus that message a little bit more.”

“As Democrats … we need to have the same kind of zeal that Republicans have,” he continued. “In our political system, it used to be that way, when you picked the candidate, for better or worse, you supported that candidate. And the fact that he performed poorly in a debate is that moment in time. It’s not who he is in his entirety.”

Hummel said that while he understood why the media and Democratic pundits remained focused on Biden's debate performance, he wished they would move on from his posturing.

“It's a vicious circle. Once you ask yourself that question, 'Is it viable?', that's all you can think about,” he said, adding: “I don't need to know what time [Biden] “Goes to bed.”

The two friends agreed that the most coherent message Harris conveyed was the importance of defeating Trump.

Harris devoted part of her speech to condemning the Supreme Court’s recent decision to allow presidents immunity from prosecution for official acts, saying: “Trump wants to turn our democracy into a dictatorship. And the Supreme Court basically just declared that he can get away with it.”

She described Project 2025, a plan created by close Trump allies to reform the federal government, should he be elected in November.

The goal of defeating Trump motivated Arlene and Joel Williams, a couple who moved to Las Vegas two years ago from San Jose, to begin writing letters in support of the Democratic Party a couple of months ago.

The two, both 74, say they will support any Democrat, including Harris, whom they have known since her days as a San Francisco politician.

“We don’t want Trump. He’s scary,” Arlene Williams said.

Her husband added: “We are in the ‘anyone but Trump’ camp.”

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