ABC News got rare access to VP Kamala Harris as she hits the road for the 2024 campaign

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As Republican presidential candidates jockeyed for votes during the nation’s first caucuses in Iowa on Monday, Vice President Kamala Harris was in South Carolina, drumming up support in the state that kicks off the Democratic primary season next month.

“It’s good to be back,” Harris, who was making her second trip to South Carolina since the start of the new year, said before riding in her motorcade.

ABC News was given exclusive access to the vice president during her trip, getting a rare behind-the-scenes look as the Biden-Harris 2024 campaign kicks into high gear. Mary Bruce, ABC News’ chief White House correspondent, followed Harris as she traveled on Air Force One, gave a speech outside the South Carolina statehouse and met with her supporters.

Harris has played an expanded role in the election campaign, traveling to at least 18 states over the past six months, where she has fought political battles over abortion access, race and voting rights.

This, as many voters say President Joe Biden’s age is a major concern. Biden, the oldest president ever, will turn 86 at the end of his second term. A new ABC News/Ipsos poll shows that only 28% of those polled say Biden has the mental acuity needed to govern for another four years, down from about 50% in May 2020.

Photo: Vice President Kamala Harris speaks outside the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina, on January 15, 2024.

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks outside the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia, South Carolina, on January 15, 2024.

Kevin Worm/Reuters

Bruce pressed Harris on how the campaign plans to change that perception.

“I’ll tell you, the truth is, I’ve spent a lot of time with Biden, whether it’s in the Oval Office or in the Situation Room or other places — he’s very smart. He has the ability to see around the corner in terms of challenges that we might face as a nation or globally. “

“Well, I mean, listen, you’re here with me in South Carolina. You’ve seen every room we’ve walked into. The amount of people that are there, clapping very loudly, clapping for me and doing that,” Harris added. “We applaud Joe Biden and what we’ve accomplished as an administration. They’re there because they believe in what we’re doing and they want to see us continue to do that work.”

Harris spoke Monday to a crowd of hundreds outside the state Capitol to mark Martin Luther King Jr. Day and laid out what she saw as at stake in the upcoming election.

“As Vice President of the United States, I would like to say that, at this moment, in America, freedom is under profound threat,” Harris said. “Today, in fact, we are witnessing an all-out assault on hard-won freedoms.”

Photo: Vice President Kamala Harris visits the currently No. 1-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks women's basketball team, in Columbia, South Carolina, on January 15, 2024.

Vice President Kamala Harris visits the currently No. 1-ranked South Carolina Gamecocks women’s basketball team, in Columbia, South Carolina, on January 15, 2024.

Kevin Worm/Reuters

South Carolina played a crucial role in Democratic primary politics. Most voters who participate in the state’s Democratic primaries are black, the party’s base. It also revived Biden’s campaign in 2020 after he came in fourth place in Iowa and fifth in New Hampshire.

In a nod to South Carolina’s role in Biden’s 2020 victory, the Democratic National Committee changed its 2024 presidential primary calendar to elevate South Carolina as the first state to vote while demoting Iowa and New Hampshire, which national Democrats say are not representative of their voters. base or country, despite the sharp protest from both countries.

“We’re not going to wait and parachute into these communities at the last minute and tell them to vote. We’re going to earn their votes,” Quentin Foulkes, deputy campaign manager, told reporters on a phone call earlier this month.

“Well, that’s why I’m here,” Harris told Bruce in an interview before leaving Columbia. “We’ve done a really good job, and our challenge is letting people know who brought it to them.”

PHOTO: Vice President Kamala Harris holds a ball signed by members of the current NCAA No. 1-ranked women's basketball team, the South Carolina Gamecocks, during a visit in Columbia, South Carolina, on January 15, 2024.

Vice President Kamala Harris holds a ball signed by members of the currently No. 1 ranked South Carolina Gamecocks women’s basketball team during a visit in Columbia, South Carolina, on January 15, 2024.

Kevin Worm/Reuters

She added: “We did the work that was aimed at reducing unemployment, unemployment among black people, to some of the lowest numbers we have ever seen… What we did on student loan debt, we have now erased student loan debt for over three and a half million people and There was still a lot to do, so we delivered on it.”

The area in which they have not achieved any progress, according to the ABC News/Ipsos poll, is immigration, a crucial issue for voters. Only 18% approve of Biden’s handling of the border.

Biden has tasked Harris with the responsibility of addressing the root causes of migration at the southern border.

Democrats and Republicans are negotiating on Capitol Hill as the country faces a record number of standoffs at the southern border. Some Democrats are pressing the administration to do more, including New York Mayor Eric Adams, who has criticized Washington for its lack of attention to the issue.

“Does your administration bear responsibility for this?” Bruce squeezed his cum.

“It’s no secret that we have a broken immigration system that needs to be fixed and it would be great if we could get bipartisan consensus to do that,” Harris echoed.

Harris has also played a leading role when it comes to abortion rights. The California native will embark on a nationwide “Reproductive Freedoms Tour” next week to highlight the administration’s fight for abortion access.

While the White House has said it wants to codify the rights previously guaranteed in Roe v. Wade, in the absence of Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, its ability to act is limited.

“What can you realistically promise the American people that you will do to protect these reproductive rights?” Bruce pressed.

“Well, we’ll continue to do what we’ve been doing, and that includes what we’re doing through the court system, what we’re doing to ensure emergency care and protection for all people in terms of access to contraception,” Harris said. Another big one of this.”

She added: “But this is the bottom line: From Kansas to California, from Ohio to Virginia. When this issue was put on the ballot, the American people voted for freedom.”

With a potential rematch between Biden and Trump looming, the Biden-Harris campaign says that in the coming months, voters will be presented with a stark choice that includes “democracy and freedom.” Harris told Bruce that the campaign is preparing for a tough fight.

“Well, I mean, we’re talking about elections for president of the United States, vice president of the United States, and we have to earn that re-election opportunity. I mean, these are difficult times,” she said. “I have been traveling to our country, and it is clear to me that there is an intent to attack these basic freedoms.”

Bruce asked Harris if a rematch with former President Donald Trump, who easily won the Iowa caucuses later Monday, was a foregone conclusion.

“I don’t know,” Harris said. “But look, if it’s Donald Trump, we’ve beaten him before and we’ll beat him again.”

This article originally appeared on abcnews.go.com

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