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Harris:Midterms a Fight for the Best   10/21 10:39

   HOPKINS, S.C. (AP) -- Declaring this midterm election year an "inflection 
point" in American history, Kamala Harris came Friday to South Carolina to tell 
Democrats that the way out of Donald Trump's America is through the ballot box.

   The California senator may have been referring to Nov. 6 elections, but her 
surroundings --- the state that hosts the first Southern presidential primary 
--- also carried the air of another election year: 2020.

   Harris demurred when asked about her looming decision on a White House bid. 
Still, she brought a message that could transition easily should she join what 
is expected to be a crowded Democratic presidential field.

   "This is a moment that is really requiring us as a country, as individuals 
to look in the mirror and to collectively answer a question: Who are we?" she 
said, later adding, "This is a moment in time that is requiring us to fight for 
the best of who we are."

   She bemoaned GOP efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, blasted the 
Republican tax law as a giveaway to the rich and skewered unnamed interests 
trying to sow "hatred and division" in America. But the former prosecutor 
invoked the language of the legal profession to "reject the premise" that the 
U.S. is as divided as it often appears.

   "The vast majority of us have so much more in common than what separates us. 
... Let's speak that truth," she told party activists who later serenaded her 
with "Happy Birthday." Harris turns 54 on Saturday.

   It delighted the Democratic partisans Harris greeted at get-out-the-vote 
rallies and a campaign phone bank, particularly women who said they were 
looking for a younger nominee to do what Hillary Clinton could not in 2016.

   "She's fresh, she's new --- and she has the optimism, the youth, the vigor," 
said Denise Scotti-Smith, a Democratic precinct captain in the upstate town of 
Simpsonville.

   Harris is among several potential Democratic presidential contenders in the 
state this week. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker on Friday finished a two-day swing 
that included stops around Columbia and in Charleston. Vermont Sen. Bernie 
Sanders, who sought the Democratic nomination in 2016, is scheduled to be in 
the state Saturday. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was here Thursday. 
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigned for South Carolina Democrats last 
weekend.

   South Carolina has proven critical in Democratic politics, offering the 
first opportunity for would-be president to face a significant number of black 
voters. Harris and Booker are the only two black Democratic senators. (South 
Carolina's Tim Scott is the Senate's lone black Republican.) .

   The state helped propel both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to the 2008 
and 2016 nominations, respectively.

   Harris acknowledged the importance of black voters in South Carolina and 
Democratic politics generally. The senator compared current national tensions 
to the civil rights era, describing her parents as active in that movement. She 
quipped that voters "can honor the ancestors with absentee ballots," rather 
than waiting until Election Day.

   Yet she seemed to carefully calibrate her message to a wide audience.

   "Leaders should be able to see all of the people who we represent and see 
them equally," she told reporters, later adding regardless of race or 
geography, "some of the issues are the same issues, because frankly the values 
are the same, and the challenges are the same for families, especially working 
families."

   That offered some contrast to Booker, who at multiple stops Thursday 
emphasized his personal and political ties within the black community.

   Harris did not bring up her recent appearances --- and Booker's --- on the 
national stage during the Senate Judiciary Committee's consideration of Supreme 
Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation.

   But several women thanked her for how she handled Christine Blasey Ford's 
allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh. Harris said from the outset 
she believed Ford's account that Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were in high 
school. Kavanaugh vehemently denied the accusation.

   Bridgette Watson, 33, shed tears as she met with Harris. "I just appreciate 
so much that she treated Dr. Ford with respect," Watson told The Associated 
Press afterward, describing herself as a sexual assault survivor. "The way she 
addressed her was empowering for women who have never told their stories. ... I 
didn't tell mine until this year."

   Harris said she has experienced many such encounters since the 
Ford-Kavanaugh hearings, despite Kavanaugh's eventual confirmation. "People who 
might have said hello (to me) are now telling (me) their story," she said. 
Other don't share details, Harris added, "but they are communicating 1,000 
words without explicitly saying it."

   At a black church in Columbia, two white Harris backers, Susan Riordan, 54, 
and Katy Beverly, 46, noted the racial mix of the crowd, arguing that it shows 
Harris can build a wide coalition.

   Riordan noted an obvious comparison to the last time Democrats nominated a 
first-term senator that drew similar crowds. "There's a reason that Barack 
Obama ran only two years into office," she said. "Once you get into Washington, 
you get twisted by Washington."

   So, Riordan said: "It's time. This is her time."


(KA)

 
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