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In Her Crisp Defense of Biden, Harris Builds a Case for Herself

Less than 24 hours after President Biden’s faltering performance at a debate in Atlanta, Vice President Kamala Harris was standing before a crowd of supporters in a crucial battleground state on Friday, defending his record and his fitness for office.

But with Democrats openly discussing replacing Mr. Biden on the ticket, Ms. Harris was also effectively making a case for herself.

She spoke clearly about Mr. Biden’s record, in ways that the president did not the night before. She tried to draw a contrast between Mr. Biden and his opponent, former President Donald J. Trump, whose lies and falsehoods were on full display at the debate.

But another striking contrast — between Ms. Harris and her boss — was on the minds of Democrats as well. Although the prospect of removing Mr. Biden from the ticket remains far-fetched, Ms. Harris would most likely be one of a half-dozen candidates vying for the presidential nomination if Mr. Biden pulled out.

“You have to ask, how did we get here?” former Senator Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, said on Thursday evening, after Ms. Harris gave a strong post-debate interview on CNN. “How do we get to the point that we’re spending a whole lot of time talking about the vice president tonight, instead of talking about the president?”

Ms. Harris, 59, has spent much of her time as vice president struggling to distinguish herself in a role that is by definition a supporting one. Her polling has remained stubbornly low, tracking with Mr. Biden’s. And as recently as last year, some Democrats were privately fretting that she was a liability for the campaign.

Read more on nytimes.com