Standing shoulder to shoulder in Pennsylvania, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris gave a preview of their 2024 re-election bid.
Speaking in the battleground state, the US President and Vice President highlighted their accomplishments in office, from creating jobs to stimulating domestic manufacturing.
It was an issue that will no doubt form the centerpiece of Biden’s re-election bid, which is expected to arrive in a few weeks.
But there was another unspoken issue: Harris’s status as Biden’s heir.
The rare image of the president sharing the stage with his deputy on Friday was a warning shot to the Democratic whisperers who have been reporting against him of late.
Halfway through its term, the Biden-Harris administration finds itself at a critical moment.
If Biden runs for re-election as expected, his 58-year-old running mate will be an integral part of the campaign for an 80-year-old president whose age is seen as a major liability.
But many Democrats are unconvinced by the vice president’s performance, let alone her ability to take the top job, and have raised concerns about her.
Elizabeth Warren, the influential senator from Massachusetts, gave Biden a full endorsement to run in 2024 in a recent interview, but pointedly avoided doing the same for her deputy.
Asked if Ms Harris should be Mr Biden’s running mate, Ms Warren said: “I really want to give in to what makes Biden comfortable on his team… But they have to be a equipment”.
He quickly added that he didn’t mean to suggest there was “any problem,” but his evasive response was seized upon nonetheless.
At the same time, Democratic strategists took to the media to anonymously express their doubts about Ms. Harris’s political abilities.
Harris’ tenure has been disappointing, marked by difficulties as a communicator and, at times, nearly invisible, more than a dozen Democratic leaders in battleground states told the Washington Post in an article published this week.
That has left many rank-and-file Democrats unconvinced that she has the strength, charisma and skill to mount a winning presidential campaign, the article added.
In response, the White House launched an operation to boost Ms Harris’s profile and solidify her position by appearing in public more regularly with Mr Biden.
This week, it was Harris, not Biden, who delivered an impassioned speech at the funeral of Tire Nichols, the black motorist brutally beaten by police in Memphis, Tennessee.
And later this month, the vice president will be sent to the Munich Security Conference to be the face of the US response to Russian aggression in Ukraine.
Ms. Harris’s team sees this as an opportunity to reinstate her and position her as president-in-waiting for the longest-serving commander-in-chief in history.
Her horizons have been broadened by the fact that she is no longer required to cast tie-breaking votes in the Senate and is therefore no longer chained to Washington.
The president’s team is understood to be grooming his deputy to undertake an intensive travel program on behalf of Biden, who will be 82 when the next election is held.
Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist close to Ms Harris, said she had shown “what a tremendous asset she is to [Biden’s] ticket” playing a “critical role” in the match’s midterm success.
She credited the vice president’s “extensive travel” on behalf of Democratic candidates for “boosting enthusiasm and turnout” in several critical races.
Biden’s age will sharpen the spotlight on his vice president, who supporters say represents a younger voice for Democrats.
But concerns remain about Ms Harris, whose tenure has been blighted by a staff exodus and a spate of unflattering leaks describing turmoil within her office.
Harris’ frequent verbal missteps have also led to mockery, most notably in a Julia Louis-Dreyfus parody on The Daily Show.
Gil Duran, who worked for Harris for five months in 2013 when she was California attorney general, said many Democrats had lost faith in Harris “because she was prone to failure.”
Duran said that Harris’s popularity has been badly damaged by her difficulties in communicating outside of the script.
“One of my criticisms has been that she has tended not to prepare for things, not to read a report,” he said.
That portfolio comprises a series of challenging tasks given to her by Biden, which Harris’s allies say has left her paralyzed at times.
Her status as Biden’s heir apparent is in jeopardy amid a growing list of potential challengers.
They include Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, who appeared to take aim at Ms. Harris by criticizing the administration’s handling of the US border, a key part of his report.
Pete Buttigieg, Biden’s transportation secretary, also appears to be preparing a presidential campaign with the help of wealthy advisers and donors.
As long as Biden steps aside, “no one will cede ground to Harris,” Duran predicted.
Garry South, a longtime Democratic strategist in his home state of California, said the vice president’s historically low popularity presented a major obstacle.
South said: “Basically, he has less public approval than any of the previous three vice presidents, including Dick Cheney, who wasn’t exactly a warm and fuzzy guy. That’s saying something.
Ms. Harris’s approval rating was just 40 percent in mid-January, about two years into her term, according to a Los Angeles Times aggregator.
That puts her roughly 14 points behind her predecessor Mike Pence; 17 points behind Biden; and 44 points behind Cheney in the same period.
Biden has repeatedly pledged to have Harris as his running mate; not to do so would be politically tense and a tacit acknowledgment of the administration’s shortcomings.
There aren’t many historical precedents for removing a vice president from the candidacy. The most notable example is Franklin Roosevelt, who had a record of three different vice presidents during his time in office.
Supporters are quick to point out that the vice president’s approval has been closely tied to Biden’s polls, which have remained stubbornly low amid persistent inflation.
They also responded to many of the criticisms leveled at her, suggesting that there was an element of sexism to the unflattering stories.
Ms. Finney noted that the turnover of staff for Dick Cheney and Mike Pence was not reported, despite claiming that it occurred at similar rates.
A former staffer said Ms Harris had one main goal for the next two years: to be seen “as a good partner for Joe Biden.”
“Any of Biden’s failures will be blamed on her and the president, but so will any success,” the staffer said.