CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- The room was buzzing as College of Charleston students filled seats in the Sottile Theater hours before Vice President Kamala Harris took the stage for the seventh stop of her nationwide college tour.
Harris embarked on the “Fight For Our Freedoms” tour last month, making stops at colleges and universities across the country as part of an effort to connect with young people ahead of the 2024 election.
Young voters were a critical coalition for Biden in 2020 — he won 61% of voters between the ages of 18 and 29, according to AP VoteCast — and it’s one that he hopes to secure again as he seeks a second term as the oldest president in American history.
But, lining up support among that demographic won’t come without its challenges. Biden’s approval rating within that age group stands at 36%, slipping five points since spring 2022, according to a recent Harvard Youth Poll.
“I’m hoping to hear more about her and Joe Biden’s re-election campaign…I really want to know what they’re running off,” president of the political science club at the College of Charleston, Caroline Gill said ahead of the event. “I would like to see her reiterate what they’ve accomplished so far during the presidency to hopefully get voters riled up.”
Throughout the discussion, Harris repeatedly tried to reinforce that she and Biden understood the challenges facing young people. The country, she said, is in the midst of “in many ways, an intentional, full-on attack on freedoms and liberties.”
“You have been confronted with issues that many of generations before you haven’t seen,” she said. “You all have only known a climate crisis. You all have only known active shooter drills. You all became aware of injustices when you witnessed what happened to George Floyd. You all, in your lifetime, just witnessed the highest court in our land take a constitutional right that had been recognized such that many of you will know fewer rights than your mother or grandmother.”
At one point, Harris asked how many students in the audience had participated in an active shooter drill and almost every hand shot up in the air.
“It just does not have to be this way,” she said, calling for an assault weapons ban, universal background checks, and red flag laws.
Senior Peyton Raybon, an exercise science major, said she appreciated that Harris spoke about gun violence given the proximity of the college’s campus to Mother Emanuel church.
“It’s just something that I worried about all the time,” she said. “It’s just nice to see that they’re actively working toward [gun control]…it needs to keep being brought up, keep being talked about.”
Harris’ visit also came the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a challenge to South Carolina’s newly redrawn first congressional district.
“Right now, in South Carolina we are looking at a situation where state legislators basically passed a law that would try to dilute the Black vote in the state,” Harris said. “It is wrong that any elected official would try to choose who can vote for them, when it should be the voter who chooses who represents them.”
The vice president touched on several other topics during the roughly 40-minute conversation, moderated by Tennessee state Rep. Justin Jones (D-Nashville) and actress/activist Amelie Zilber, including LGBTQ rights, voting rights, climate change, and reproductive health.
Several people gathered outside the theater prior to the event, chanting and waving signs in protest of Harris’ appearance.
“The big problem with Kamala Harris is that she’s not taken seriously by the American people because she’s not a serious person” South Carolina Republican Party Chairman Drew McKissick wrote in a statement. “Otherwise, she wouldn’t be coming here to talk about climate change and gun control while Americans are suffering with inflation and higher interest rates and are desperate to get our borders secured – especially given the chance that terrorists could use our open borders to commit atrocities here in America like they have done in Israel.”
This was Harris’ first visit to the Palmetto State since February when she spoke at Benedict College to promote the Biden administration’s achievements on broadband internet access.