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Politics

For Democrats eager to defeat Trump, Kamala Harris promises she knows how to fight

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Sen. Kamala Harris visits a clothing store Saturday in Columbia, S.C.
(Logan Cyrus / For The Times)

Jenny and Robert Brooks are ready to get the 2020 election season started. Sitting in the audience waiting to see Kamala Harris address her first South Carolina town hall, they spoke of how very ready they are to beat President Trump.

Only problem is they’re not sure what kind of candidate it will take to do it.

“I’m conflicted. I pretty much support more liberal people like Kamala Harris, but we’ve got to get someone elected,” Jenny, a speech therapist, said Friday at Harris’ town hall in Charleston. She and Robert, who live in a nearby suburb, supported Bernie Sanders in 2016.

But now, Robert explained, “I hope it’s someone in the middle.”

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Such was the test Harris faced as she embarked on a two-day jaunt through South Carolina, visiting barbecue joints and minority-owned boutiques in addition to hosting two widely attended town halls. While Harris is considered in the top tier of a crowded Democratic field, voters in this key state are still weighing whether she — or one of her many competitors — will be the best to take on Trump.

“We’re desperate,” one audience member in Columbia said about the desire to find a candidate who could beat Trump. The crowd at the Saturday town hall laughed, cheered and stood in agreement, as the questioner pressed Harris on what would set her apart from other contenders.

“Here’s what I offer,” Harris replied. “I think this is a moment in time for us to have people with the courage to speak truth and have a demonstrated ability to fight for justice. I believe this is a moment in time where we need fighters on the stage who know how to fight — I do.”

South Carolina holds the nation’s third presidential nominating contest, and its voters will be pivotal to Harris’ White House ambitions. While sticking largely to the broad themes she has laid out in her first month as a candidate, Harris tailored her message to include local issues.

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Sen. Kamala Harris addresses the crowd during a town hall Saturday in Columbia, S.C.
(Logan Cyrus / For The Times)

Advocating for “smart gun laws,” for example, she immediately called for the closing of the “Charleston loophole,” which enabled white supremacist Dylann Roof to buy a gun after a three-day waiting period even though a FBI background check had not been completed. He went on to kill nine people at Charleston’s Mother Emanuel AME church in 2015. A bill to extend the waiting period to 10 days advanced in the U.S. House of Representatives this week.

Her emphasis on climate change as an “existential threat” included a reference to the debate over off-shore oil drilling, which many of the state’s coastal communities oppose in defiance of the Trump administration, which has sought to expand the practice.

“You guys are going to see so much of me here, you’re going to be sick of me by the end of it,” Harris promised her audience in Columbia, as the crowd clapped in approval.

Old, young, liberal, centrist: Democrats will have no end of choices for president in 2020 »

Some South Carolinians, such as Ezzell Pittman, a travel agent from Columbia, were drawn in after watching her performance at a town hall televised by CNN last month, where the California senator touted her support for a Medicare for All healthcare system.

Pittman said the concept of universal system appealed to him, but he wanted Harris to explain her plan further. “How is she going to implement it?” he asked.

Harris did not offer many details, although she did speak of the benefit of having a national health plan to negotiate prescription drug prices with insurers. Rather, she framed her support for sweeping government initiatives, such as Medicare for All and the climate change-focused Green New Deal, as holding great potential for return on investment of federal dollars.

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Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California, has been endorsed by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), labor organizer Dolores Huerta and Gov. Gavin Newsom.
(Logan Cyrus / For The Times)

“Some people will have you believe, in particular our opponents will have you believe, it’s all about doling out the money. Just doling it out,” Harris said. “No — it’s about an investment.”

She made some smaller investments of her own in the local economy, dining at a famed Charleston barbecue restaurant and purchasing a sequined multicolor jacket at a Columbia clothing shop, explaining it could be a good choice for upcoming gay pride celebrations.

While Harris barnstormed South Carolina, her campaign was touting a trio of high-profile California endorsements. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland), labor organizer Dolores Huerta and California Gov. Gavin Newsom all announced their support for Harris’ candidacy at the close of the week.


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