HAMPTON, Va. — Facing mounting pressure over President Joe Biden’s age, his son’s business dealings and public perception of the economy, the Biden administration is launching a renewed effort to energize younger voters as the president’s campaign prepares for a potentially grueling general election fight.
On Thursday, Vice President Kamala Harris kicked off a monthlong college tour across eight states. On the “Fight for Our Freedoms” tour, Harris is focusing on issues that her office said disproportionally affect young people, including abortion rights, student loans, gun safety and climate change.
“The freedoms that are under attack right now in our country are very real,” Harris told a packed crowd of students at Hampton University in Virginia, a historically Black university that was founded in the 1860s.
In a moderated conversation with the actor Terrence J, Harris urged students to register to vote. She has been to 11 college campuses this year after having visited 14 schools last year.
Just 41% of registered voters ages 18-34 in a June NBC News poll had favorable views of Biden. Just 35% had positive views of Harris.
Biden also trails his former boss in approval ratings among young people. At this time in his presidency, former President Barack Obama had an approval rating of 56% among registered voters 18-34, while Biden sits at 51%.
Kendall Yancey, a student at Hampton University, said he related more to the Obamas because they had young children in the White House. As for Biden, Yancey said: “We see him like our grandfather.” Peyton Orr, another student, said: “It makes it hard for him to connect with the young people.”
While young voters do say they’d pick Biden over Republican front-runner Donald Trump by a wide margin — 60% to 35% — the larger concern for the Biden campaign is whether young people will stay home on Election Day.
According to a recent CBS News/YouGov poll, more than three-fourths of Americans think there should be a maximum age limit for elected officials.
“It’d be a great thing if both President Biden and former President Trump were to stand aside and let their respective party pick someone in the next generation,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, said Wednesday as he announced his plans not to seek re-election next year, citing his own advanced age as a crucial part of his decision.
At the Hampton University event, which was organized by the White House and not the campaign, some students gave the administration high marks while acknowledging concerns about age. Biden would be 86 years old at the end of a second term.
“I think it is a concern, because we don’t want to be voting for him and then he may not actually be able to serve his full term,” student Ahmere Harper said.
Harris, who went to school at rival Howard University, was well-received by the crowd. But in Washington, even among Democrats, there are mounting questions about her role on the ticket. In an interview Wednesday night, former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., twice declined to directly answer whether Harris is the best choice.
Biden “thinks so, and that’s what matters,” Pelosi told CNN’s Anderson Cooper.
A source familiar with the campaign pushed back against any criticism of Harris, highlighting that a Wednesday fundraising email she signed slamming the impeachment inquiry was the most successful so far and grew the campaign’s active email list by 700,000 addresses.
“I think President Biden is the face of the Biden administration for sure,” Hampton student Shavonne Hines-Foster said, “but I think a lot of people like to see Vice President Harris and her engagement with youth.”
Lauren Cyrus, another student, said, “He doesn’t have as many close relationships with people our age, and so I don’t think he’s able to have a full in-depth understanding of the struggles that we have.”