As students go back to school this fall, Vice President Kamala Harris readies for a monthlong tour of American universities to win support from college-educated Gen Z voters.
During this “Fight for Our Freedoms College Tour,” where she will visit roughly a dozen campuses, mostly in battleground states, Harris is expected to talk about abortion, gun reform, climate action, gender and sexuality issues, and book bans. And her position on this range of “culture war” issues is the opposite of the “anti-woke” stance of her 2024 GOP challengers, including businessman Vivek Ramaswamy and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The long list of colleges she will visit includes at least three historically black colleges and universities — Hampton University, North Carolina A&T and Morehouse College, signifying a homecoming of sorts for Harris, who graduated from Howard University, another historically black college.
Starting Sept. 14, she will also visit community colleges, apprenticeship programs and state schools in swing states — including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, College of Southern Nevada and Northern Arizona University — to talk about issues the White House says “disproportionately impact young people.”
The youth voter bloc
College-educated Gen Z and millennial voters could be key to the Democratic Party’s future success. Together, the two generations will make up at least 48% of the population by 2024, according to expert predictions, which could explain why Harris is embarking on this tour.
Democrats have, election cycle after election cycle, touted the support they receive from younger voters — and that remains true to an extent.
In purple states like Arizona, Georgia, Michigan and Pennsylvania in the 2020 election, young voters preferred Biden by a 25 point margin. They also played a critical role in the 2022 midterms when they helped break voter turnout records in heavily contested states following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, as the Los Angeles Times reported.
But since then, President Joe Biden’s popularity among young adults has dropped.
“If your own activists, the people who are supposed to be convincing other people, are wondering, ‘Are we convinced at all whether he’s doing a great job or not?’ then how are we supposed to go out and convince other people?” Noah Lumbantobing, from the anti-gun violence group March for Our Lives, told CNN.
“Biden has done good things. He hasn’t done enough in terms of using his bully pulpit,” he said.
In the White House press release about the tour, Harris is quoted as saying, “My message to students is clear: We are counting on you, we need you, you are everything.”
“It is young leaders throughout America who know what the solutions look like and are organizing in their communities to make them a reality,” she says.
Harris, who is currently representing the U.S. at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Indonesia, is seeing her role in the Biden-Harris reelection campaign elevated. Biden’s reelection campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez wrote in an August memo that Harris is “uniquely popular among several groups of voters that are key to our victory in 2024.”
Still, Harris doesn’t enjoy a high approval rating and her net favorability is lower than that of the past four vice presidents, including Mike Pence, Dick Cheney, Al Gore and Biden, according to the Deseret News.
Harris vs. DeSantis
Regardless of her lack of popularity, Harris has shown she is willing to engage in partisan battles on behalf of the administration. After DeSantis defended his state’s African American studies curriculum, and said he is fighting “woke indoctrination” in schools, Harris flew to Orlando to make a statement.
“I’m here in Florida,” Harris said to an audience at the African Methodist Episcopal Church in August, per The Associated Press. “And I will tell you there is no roundtable, no lecture, no invitation we will accept to debate an undeniable fact: There were no redeeming qualities of slavery.”
Harris is the first African American and first South Asian, as well as the first woman, to occupy the office of vice president.
She also visited Jacksonville, Florida, where she denounced a new guideline in the state’s curriculum that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
DeSantis quickly responded: “Democrats like Kamala Harris have to lie about Florida’s educational standards to cover for their agenda of indoctrinating students and pushing sexual topics onto children. Florida stands in their way, and we will continue to expose their agenda and their lies,” he said.
Although Harris has recently been fighting battles on the president’s behalf, she has also had to defend herself against attacks, like when she earned criticism for her handling of challenges at the southern border.
In 2021, DeSantis criticized Harris for her delayed visit to the U.S.-Mexico border because her administration realized “it’s a disaster.”
“If she goes, it’s going to highlight it even more,” he told “Fox and Friends” at the time.
DeSantis isn’t the only one fighting “the woke mind virus,” which, he says, goes against truth.
Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy has written a book called “Woke Inc.,” and waged war against corporate diversity, equity and inclusion and environmental, social and corporate governance practices.
“We have obsessed so much over our diversity and our difference that we forgot all the ways we’re really just the same as Americans,” Ramaswamy, a businessman, said in his campaign launch.