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Harris hops past Biden in early race for Black Caucus support

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) moved past former Vice President Joe Biden in the early race for 2020 endorsements from Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) members after her strong performance in the first primary debate earned her the support of two new lawmakers.

CBC endorsements, a vital commodity in a Democratic primary, have taken on special significance this presidential cycle, as President Trump has injected issues of race into the election in unprecedented fashion and as a crowded Democratic field fights to nail down the support of black voters, who will be crucial in early primary states such as South Carolina.

{mosads}Most lawmakers in the 55-member CBC have opted to stay on the sidelines in the early stages of the primary.

But Harris, herself a member of the group, unveiled two new CBC endorsements Monday, when Reps. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) rallied to her side. The additions bring Harris’s CBC endorsements to a total of six, compared to Biden’s five.

Both lawmakers alluded to Harris’s debate showing in praising her presidential chops. 

“Before the debate, Kamala Harris’s viability as a candidate had been extremely underestimated, in part because voters are still getting to know her,” Wilson told The Hill.

Wilson also praised Harris for the manner in which she challenged Biden when she directly confronted the former Delaware senator over his opposition to federal efforts to bus students across school districts in the 1970s.

In a poignant moment, Harris said that she had been one of the children to benefit from the busing policies intended to racially integrate schools.

“At last week’s debate, the rest of the world saw the formidable candidate that I’ve always known her to be. In her handling of Vice President Biden, she was respectful but commanding, and her recollection of being bused to school as a child also made her extremely relatable,” Wilson said. “I was glad that Sen. Harris challenged the former vice president on busing because that whole saga was a cathartic period in the history of separate but equal schools.”

Wilson said that she had gotten to know Harris during CBC meetings, adding that the California senator “reminded me of a female Barack Obama.”

Rush also cited Harris’s debate skills in his endorsement.

“Last week, 18 million Americans got to see what I have known about Kamala for some time. She is a once-in-a-lifetime leader. She exemplifies what global leadership is all about,” Rush said in a statement released by the Harris campaign, referring to the number of viewers who tuned in to the debates.

Harris is now trying to build momentum after her debate performance last week, with multiple recent polls showing a spike in support among Democratic primary voters.

A new Hill-HarrisX poll released Monday found Harris surging past Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) to rank third in the Democratic field behind Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — a 6-point jump from an identical poll two weeks ago.

The new CBC endorsements mark an early shift in what is sure to be a long and hard-fought race among the presidential hopefuls for the support of prominent black figures on and off Capitol Hill.

Biden had taken the early lead in that contest, securing the backing of Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), who is now a national co-chairman of his campaign, on top of four other CBC members.

But no CBC members have endorsed Biden since last week’s debate; the most recent was Rep. Al Lawson (D-Fla.) on May 30, while Reps. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), Dwight Evans (D-Pa.) and Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.) announced their support weeks earlier. 

And Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), the only other top-tier African American presidential candidate in the field, has just two CBC endorsements. But both of those lawmakers hail from his New Jersey delegation: Reps. Donald Payne Jr. (D) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D). 

Some CBC members warned that Biden came up short in his exchange on busing with Harris at last week’s debate. 

Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) told “CNN Newsroom” that the attacks on Biden from Harris over busing were “absolutely” fair, noting that he, like Harris, was bused in an effort to integrate schools. 

“He has to say that I have evolved, as many people on other issues, that I now understand that, and how hurtful and harmful it was,” Meeks, who has not endorsed anyone, said of Biden. “It is very hurtful to African Americans, what took place. It’s deep and systemic and still in this society.”

After the debate, Biden sought to clarify his position on busing, saying he believed the issue should have been decided at the local level and that courts, rather than the Education Department, should set the rules. 

Before the exchange with Harris, Biden had already come under fire for remarks at a fundraiser in which he offered two segregationist senators as examples of people he could work with despite their disagreements.

Biden’s comments were defended by some lawmakers, including civil rights veteran Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), who said he did not find the comments to be offensive.

{mossecondads}But Rush told Politico last month that Biden’s remarks about the senators were “wholly out of touch and woefully ignorant of the nuances of the black American experience.”   

Three CBC members endorsed Harris in the days following Biden’s remarks invoking the segregationist senators: Reps. Al Green (D-Texas), Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) and Wm. Lacy Clay (D-Mo.), though none cited the controversy in the timing of their endorsements.

The first CBC member to endorse Harris, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), did so back in February.

The early split among CBC members is reminiscent of the political dynamics surrounding the 2008 Democratic primary.

Then, the front-runner was Hillary Clinton, a white candidate with a national brand, as Biden is today.

A number of CBC members, long affiliated with the Clinton dynasty, flocked to her side even as Barack Obama was making strides in what would eventually lead to his history-making election as the country’s first African American president.

But the changing tides over the course of that hard-fought contest led to highly unusual cases of lawmakers shifting allegiances midstream.

One prominent example was Lewis, who endorsed Obama in February 2008 after siding with Clinton months earlier. Rep. David Scott (D-Ga.) also switched his endorsement after Obama won 80 percent of the primary vote in his district.

Neither Lewis nor Scott has made an endorsement so far this year, and no lawmakers have switched endorsements at this point.

And there’s still a chance that Biden could regain ground from the CBC.

“Clearly the first round has gone to Kamala Harris,” Meeks said. “The second round is going to become tremendously important.” 

Tags Al Green Al Lawson Alcee Hastings Barack Obama Barbara Lee Bernie Sanders Bobby Rush Bonnie Watson Coleman Cedric Richmond Cory Booker David Scott Donald McEachin Donald Payne Jr. Donald Trump Dwight Evans Elizabeth Warren Frederica Wilson Gregory Meeks Harris Hillary Clinton Joe Biden John Lewis Lacy Clay
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