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Kamala Harris makes the case against inequality in Democratic convention speech

Kamala Harris says 'ladder of opportunity is broken and needs repair'

Addressing the state Democratic Party convention Saturday, California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris laid out a sweeping case for an overhaul of federal policies that she said foster inequity.

For Harris, whose juggernaut campaign to succeed Barbara Boxer in the U.S. Senate has so far been light on policy specifics, the afternoon speech gave the fullest glimpse yet of what the career prosecutor's priorities would be in Washington.

Harris voiced support for a federal minimum wage, universal preschool and changes in the criminal justice system to thin the U.S. prison population, among other things.

As she has done repeatedly in stump speeches since she announced her candidacy this year, Harris sought to link her decades of experience as a prosecutor to the fight against economic inequality, a theme at the forefront of Democratic politics this year.

"The people most likely to be preyed upon are our society's most vulnerable," Harris said, recalling her years of going after accused criminals as a prosecutor, then as elected district attorney of San Francisco and state attorney general. "A crime against any one of us is a crime against all of us."

In a line that drew raucous cheers, Harris drew attention to her office's high-profile lawsuit against the for-profit Corinthian Colleges, saying that "diploma mills" can saddle unwitting students with "useless degrees and a lifetime of debt."

But Harris also suggested that government zeal to combat some types of crime has gone too far, saying she supports "challenging the policy of mass incarceration by realizing that the war on drugs was a failure."

Though she lacked the fiery delivery of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who spoke to convention delegates in the morning, Harris showed fluency in laying out a wide-ranging policy wish-list. She successfully carried off a few laugh lines, such as when she joked that climate-change skeptics believe in the "Loch Ness monster."

She also worked in a few barbs that were probably aimed at Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Garden Grove, who announced this week that she would challenge Harris. Harris' campaign is expected to criticize Sanchez as a creature of Washington.

"I believe we can disrupt the dysfunction in D.C.," Harris said.

Like Warren, Harris consistently returned to the idea that Democratic politicians' top priority should be legislation that restores economic opportunity to the lower and middle classes.

"The ladder of opportunity is broken and needs repair," Harris said.

Twitter: @petejamison

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