Kamala Harris is increasingly weaving her personal history into her campaign, including in a searing debate exchange last month with former Vice President Joe Biden over school busing.
Kamala Harris can’t forget the older black woman she met in Iowa while campaigning for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama before the state’s 2008 caucus. “I remember her saying to me, ‘They’re not going to let him win,'” Harris recalled. “She did not want to go to the caucuses. She didn’t want to be disappointed.” For Harris, it was a revealing moment, one she says illustrated the limitations many Americans, including black Americans, place on who is considered electable for the nation’s highest office.
Twelve years later, with American politics roiled by issues of race and gender, it’s Harris asking Americans to expand their definition of electability once again. “Sometimes it takes awhile to get people to see that this is possible,” Harris said in an interview with The Associated Press in which she discussed race and her standing as the most viable black woman to seek a major party’s presidential nomination.
The 54-year-old freshman senator from California is unabashedly and unapologetically embracing that role. She’s increasingly weaving her personal history into her campaign, including in a searing debate exchange last month with former Vice President Joe Biden over school busing. Her campaign was ready for the moment, quickly tweeting a photograph of Harris as a pig-tailed child, then selling T-shirts bearing the image.
As her place in the race has strengthened, Harris has found herself the target of smears about her citizenship and ethnicity, including by one of President Donald Trump’s sons, that echo the same lies and accusations Trump and others raised about Obama, the country’s first black president. To Harris, it’s the cost of trying to break through long-standing barriers.
“When you break things, you get hurt, you bleed, you get cut,” Harris said. “When I made the decision to run, I fully appreciated that it will not be easy. But I know if I’m not on the stage, there’s a certain voice that will not be present on that stage. Knowing that there is a perspective, there is a life experience, there is a vision that must be heard and seen and present on that stage, and that I have an ability to do that.” Harris, the daughter of an Indian American mother and Jamaican American father said.
Harris entered the 2020 race with seemingly boundless potential: a compelling personal story and polished political pedigree; a prosecutor’s skill at taking on Trump’s record; and the prospect of drawing significant voting support from black women, who are the backbone of the party. But the opening months of Harris’ campaign have been uneven. She’s faced questions from liberals about her record as a prosecutor in California and has been criticised for appearing cautious and guarded. Her fundraising in the second quarter significantly lagged Biden and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
Harris has gained ground recently due to her debate performance, particularly her exchange over race with Biden. She condemned Biden for his comments about working with segregationists in his early years as a Delaware senator and for opposing federally mandated school busing in the 1970s, powerfully explaining that she was bused as a child. Biden appeared taken aback, and later said he wasn’t prepared for Harris’ attack. Harris suggested he should have been.
“People want to ask what was going on on that stage. I was not going to stand there and let people rewrite history,” she said. “We can’t write the next chapter without remembering what was in the last chapter. This is not manufactured. It’s something that’s very much a part of my identity.” The moment was striking, and not just because it dented Biden’s standing as a front-runner.