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Nikki Haley turns her attention to VP Kamala Harris on the campaign trail


Concerns about President Biden's age are putting pressure on Vice President Kamala Harris as they run for reelection. Republican presidential hopeful Nikki Haley has been highlighting those worries on the campaign trail. Here she is in South Carolina over the weekend.


NIKKI HALEY: It's either going to be me, or it's going to be Kamala Harris.


KELLY: As Haley campaigns ahead of her home state's primary, the former South Carolina governor has been stepping up attacks on the vice president, as NPR's Sarah McCammon reports.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: A major piece of Nikki Haley's pitch to voters is the idea that she represents a new generation of leadership.


HALEY: Do we really want to have a country in disarray and a world on fire and have two 80-year-olds as our candidates?

MCCAMMON: That was Haley campaigning last weekend in Orangeburg, S.C. Her presidential campaign's biggest obstacle right now is former President Donald Trump, who appears poised to defeat her on her home turf when South Carolina Republicans vote later this month. But Haley has been focusing many of her attacks on both Trump and Biden, pointing out their age and recent lapses. Haley told the crowd that last week's special council report, which questioned Biden's memory, highlighted that concern.


HALEY: I wish him well. I do. But this is serious, and we need to be very cautious of what's happening because Russia, China and Iran are paying attention to every bit of this.

MCCAMMON: And then Haley made a bold and unsubstantiated claim.


HALEY: My bet is 30 days from now, I don't think Joe Biden's going to be the nominee. You're going to have a female president of the United States.

MCCAMMON: To be clear, Biden is almost certain to be the Democratic nominee. Haley provided no evidence for her speculation that he will step aside nor for the suggestion that Vice President Kamala Harris is poised to step in anytime soon. Asked about Haley's prediction by NPR's Tamara Keith during a White House press briefing on Thursday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre suggested she had to be cautious about commenting on the campaign as a federal employee but responded this way.


KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: The president is obviously - you know his intentions for 2024.

MCCAMMON: As for Haley, Jean-Pierre said...


JEAN-PIERRE: I'm not sure what crystal ball she's looking at, but it's not the one we have.

MCCAMMON: It wasn't the first time Haley had warned Republican audiences about the prospect of Harris stepping in.


HALEY: And you know what should send a chill up every person's spine? The thought of a President Kamala Harris.

MCCAMMON: That was Haley in January. By raising the specter of a Harris presidency in this way, Haley is highlighting Biden's age and Harris' high disapproval ratings among Republican primary voters, says Ange-Marie Hancock, a political scientist at Ohio State University.

ANGE-MARIE HANCOCK: So Republican primary voters are primed with negative views of Kamala Harris.

MCCAMMON: Hancock is curator of the Kamala Harris Project, a group of scholars who are studying Harris' vice presidency. She points to what she calls a drumbeat of attacks on Harris in right-wing circles, including former President Trump's use of racist birther theories to falsely suggest Harris may not be eligible to be vice president. Trump has directed similar false attacks at Haley. Hancock says Haley appears to be drawing on those themes as she campaigns for Republican primary votes.

HANCOCK: She's using some dog whistles to actually counteract dog whistles that could be levied against her.

MCCAMMON: That strategy appears unlikely to work for Haley, who's polling far behind Trump in her home state. But Hancock says it may offer a preview of the kinds of general election messages that Republicans, most of all Trump, will be using against Biden and Harris in the months to come. Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington.


NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.