WASHINGTON — Republicans have sharpened their attacks against Kamala Harris since Joe Biden announced his reelection bid Tuesday in a push to make the 2024 election as much about the vice president as the president.
The verbal barrage signals scrutiny to come for Harris, who Biden has made clear will be his running mate despite criticism Harris has gotten from members of both parties.
Republicans view Harris, whose approval ratings lag below Biden's lackluster marks, as a campaign liability – a characterization that Biden allies reject.
Although Republicans targeted Harris in 2020 and before the 2022 midterms, the criticism this time is more overt, even warning of a "likely" scenario that Biden can't finish a second term and Harris becomes president.
"I think we can be all clear and say, with a matter of fact, that if you vote for Joe Biden, you really are counting on a President Harris," Republican presidential contender Nikki Halley said on Fox News Wednesday. "Because the idea that he would make it until 86 years old is not something that I think is likely.”
'Don't get in our way': Kamala Harris opens 2024 campaign with fiery speech on abortion rights
Biden camp: Republicans resorting to 'same tired, failed attacks' on Harris
Biden, 80, is already the oldest-serving president in U.S. history and would be 86 when he finishes a second term if he's reelected.
Harris, the first Black woman and first Asian American vice president, has faced detractors during her first two and a half years as vice president who say she's failed to define an effective role in the administration. Some of her assignments have included the difficult tasks of solving Central American migration along the southern border and ensuring voting rights amid a barrage of new state election laws.
Harris supporters point to her advocacy for abortion rights, an issue that helped Democrats exceed expectations in last year's midterm elections and which remains at the center of Biden's reelection bid.
Kevin Munoz, spokesman for the Biden campaign, said Republicans are "resorting to the same tired, failed attacks on Vice President Harris" that they tried in past elections because they "can't argue on the merits" of Biden's record.
"Vice President Harris has been a tireless fighter for the American people, will continue to be a leading voice on the issues that matter most to American people, and hold MAGA Republicans accountable for their extreme positions on reproductive rights, health care, and our very democracy," Munoz said.
Yet Harris' job approval rating consistently registers lower than Biden's. The RealClearPolitics average of polls has 43% of Americans approving of Biden's job performance, compared to 38.5% for Harris, despite a recent CBS poll last week that found Biden and Harris both at 43%.
"Joe Biden is 142 years old," Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in an interview on Fox News, mocking Biden's age. "In a very release sense this election, the Democrats are suggesting Kamala Harris for president."
Cruz added: "Can you image Kamala sitting across from (Russian President Vladimir) Putin? Can you imagine Kamala sitting across from (Chinese President) Xi (Jinping)? And when they stand up and bully America, which is what they do, can you imagine her just cackling ineffectively and weirdly and creepily?"
Biden, Harris show united front during early campaign
The Biden campaign has presented a united Biden-Harris front. A video announcing Biden's reelection campaign included extensive footage of Harris. The campaign's web site features an image of the pair together.
And on the night of Biden's entry into the 2024 race, Harris spoke to Democratic activists and young voters at Howard University, a historically Black institution that is also her alma mater. She was met with chants of "four more years!"
"We are living, I do believe, in a moment in time where so many of our hard-won freedoms are under attack," Harris said, "and this is a moment for us to stand and fight."
Biden and Harris "at the top of the Democrat ticket is a gift to every Republican running for office, from school board to the top of the ticket," Emma Vaughn, national press secretary for the Republican National Committee, told USA TODAY.
But Biden allies argue criticism about Harris lives mainly in the Beltway and that she's been an effective messenger for the administration, even if it isn't recognized.
"I think Vice President Harris has done an excellent job," Ron Klain, Biden's former chief of staff, said in an interview with New York Magazine published this week. "I think she takes a lot of grief unjustifiably, and that being a vice president is a very, very tough job."
Klain blamed "racism and sexism" as part of the problem facing Harris and said she's not gotten credit for her achievements.
"I think hopefully during the campaign season, the American people will get more of a chance to see her on the stump and get to know her a little better," Klain said.
Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: VP Harris becomes go-to Republican target in Biden 2024 bid