Harris faces crucial challenge with biggest speech of career

Kamala Harris faces a crucial challenge this week at the Democratic convention in convincing parts of the party to enthusiastically support a Biden-Harris ticket despite a record on crime and justice that many associate with mass incarceration and racial inequality.

Harris’s elevation is intended to bolster Biden with young voters and people of color. The California senator, 55, is the first woman of color on a major party’s presidential ticket, and her background, age and gender all contrast with the top of the Democratic ticket.

The nod was also welcomed warmly by large parts of the Democratic Party, including the leading progressive presidential candidates, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Yet among the young progressives who have been the most difficult group on the left for Biden to win over, doubts are still audible about whether a Biden-Harris ticket will come through.

This is especially true given the fact that Black voters put Biden over the top in the Democratic primary race.

“From a power perspective for Black people, if Black people are going to put Biden in the White House, then we also have to demand that our agenda be front and center in the first 100 days of the administration,” Color of Change PAC executive director Arisha Hatch told The Hill.

Data from the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape project back in May revealed that young Black voters were considerably less on board about voting for Biden than older Black voters.

While 91 percent of Black voters 65 and up said they plan to vote for Biden, just 68 percent of Black voters ages 18 to 29 said that same thing.

Robert Griffin, research director of Democracy Fund’s Voter Study Group, told The Hill that while Biden’s numbers have improved since then, the presumptive Democratic nominee “is still showing signs of relatively low support among younger Black Americans.”

“According to data … collected between July 16 and August 12th, senior Black registered voters are nearly universal in their support for Biden (95 percent),” Griffin wrote in an email. “By contrast, those 45 to 64 (84 percent), 30 to 44 (77 percent) and 18 to 29 (77 percent) are currently less committed.”

Griffin continued: “We certainly may see this change as the race kicks into full gear campaigns generally tend to win back voting groups already predisposed towards them but still represents a weakness at this point.”

Harris will begin working to change this dynamic with her Wednesday address at the virtual Democratic National Convention, in what will easily be the biggest political speech of her career. Her speech offers a prime opportunity to try to sway the minds of young liberal voters with doubts about Biden.

There are also some doubts among such voters with Harris, a former San Francisco prosecutor and California attorney general whose record has sometimes engendered criticism from the left. The New York Times in a story earlier this month noted the criticism Harris came under for not prosecuting police in the Golden State accused of killing people.

Harris has thrown herself into the issue of police reform since ending her presidential campaign late last year and returning to the Senate, sponsoring legislation to end police choke holds and visiting the Black Lives Matter mural in Washington, D.C.

Unifying the party and winning over younger generations of voters for Biden is a key objective at this convention, something on display already in former first lady Michelle Obama’s speech Monday night.

“I know that regardless of our race, age, religion or politics, when we close out the noise and the fear and truly open our hearts, we know that what’s going on in this country is just not right. This is not who we want to be,” Obama said during her address.

The former first lady also voiced her support of Harris on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon.

“You’ve got this. So many people will be doing everything we can to get you and @JoeBiden elected this fall,” Obama tweeted at Harris.

Democratic strategist Antjuan Seawright expressed confidence that Harris will bolster the calls made by Obama on Monday night by voicing support for meaningful change and warning of what four more years of Trump would mean.

“We have to remind people how high the stakes are in this election. At the end of the day, losers do not legislate, and you cannot govern if you do not win,” Seawright told The Hill.

“So, for all the minor issues or disagreements people may have with Joe Biden’s historic running mate, I will remind those people that the differences that they have should not even start to compare to the differences we have with Donald Trump, Mike Pence and the agenda of the Republican Party,” he said.

Tags 2020 conventions 2020 Democratic convention Bernie Sanders Black Lives Matter Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden Michelle Obama Mike Pence police reform

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