For Harris, it’s a question that fundamentally misunderstands the point. In her mind, she’s the same person she was when the prevailing narrative of her was that of a star prosecutor, ascendant political talent and even the future of the Democratic Party.
“You could have followed me around in Iowa [ahead of 2020],” Harris told POLITICO in one of two exclusive interviews. “You would have seen the same thing four years ago. It’s always who I’ve been. So I can’t get into people’s heads about why they characterize things as being one way or another. It’s not as though I’ve just found myself. I’ve always been here and never went away.”
But privately, former and current aides acknowledge that her focus at the beginning was on making sure it was clear she was on Team Biden. She spoke in legalese, often seemed cautious and struggled to find issues that highlighted her talents, allies say. They privately, and sometimes publicly, admit the first year and a half was rocky.
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Now, there’s a hope the rockiness may finally be behind them. And there is a concerted effort underway to ensure that she not only has the support she needs from the White House but that the broader public can see the side of her that — they believe — has been overshadowed by the toxic elements of D.C. To that end, her aides are trying to remind the public of that person, in part by inviting reporters to witness her behind the scenes.
“It’s always been true that there’s a delta between how people in D.C. view her versus when she’s out doing her thing in the country with the American people. I think D.C. is starting to catch up,” said White House chief of staff Jeff Zients. “I would argue she’s been great throughout, but as she’s really mastered the demands of the job and been through so much already, that experience enables her to perform at an even higher level.”
Harris’ defenders point to a slightly more positive tone in media coverage over the last year or so. To them, coverage was largely about style over substance until Harris took on the issue of abortion. That put her front and center on an issue that not just suited the vice president’s skillset but also one DC was actually talking about.
And now, Harris world feels like there’s a chance to continue resetting her public image heading into 2024.