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Harris faces biggest moment in spotlight yet

Harris faces biggest moment in spotlight yet
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When Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisObama to campaign for Biden in Florida Biden appears on Brené Brown's podcast to discuss 'empathy, unity and courage' The Hill's Campaign Report: Obama to hit the campaign trail l Biden's eye-popping cash advantage l New battleground polls favor Biden MORE (D-Calif.) takes the stage for the vice presidential debate in Utah on Wednesday night, she will face her biggest challenge yet as Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida Supreme Court reinstates ban on curbside voting in Alabama MORE’s running mate.

Harris will be making the case against Vice President Pence and President TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE while showcasing Biden — and giving viewers a better glimpse of the woman who, if Biden wins, will be a heartbeat away from the presidency. 

The California senator has been on the national stage before, but this will be her biggest moment yet, and it will precede the starring role she’s likely to take when the Senate begins confirmation hearings next week on Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s pick to replace Justice Ruth Bader GinsburgRuth Bader GinsburgDemocrats to boycott committee vote on Amy Coney Barrett's Supreme Court nomination Mitt Romney did not vote for Trump in 2020 election The Senate should evoke RBG in its confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett MORE on the Supreme Court.

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For weeks, Democrats have been counting on the former prosecutor to deliver a flawless performance. But as Trump recovers from his bout with the coronavirus, Harris will have to do a delicate dance of sorts to hold the administration accountable without burning the ailing president. 

“I think a lot of folks are expecting her to really nail him to the wall,” said one Democrat close to the Biden campaign. “They want her to come in guns blazing and make fools out of them and they’ll be watching for that.” 

Democratic strategist Jamal Simmons said Harris shines in committee hearings and on the debate stage because “she can prepare an argument and she can deliver it.” 

“She can deliver a blow better than any politician,” Simmons said. 

But she also has had some weaknesses. He pointed to a debate during the Democratic primary last year when Rep. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardHarris faces biggest moment in spotlight yet Ocasio-Cortez slams Tulsi Gabbard for amplifying ballot harvesting video Republicans call on DOJ to investigate Netflix over 'Cuties' film MORE (D-Hawaii) ripped Harris’s record on criminal justice and the senator’s rebuttal fell flat. 

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“I hope they’ve worked on her ability to counterpunch,” Simmons added. “She needs to both deliver the hit and hit back after she’s been attacked.” 

In recent weeks, Harris has been largely holed up in debate prep with her former Democratic rival, Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegLGBTQ voters must show up at the polls, or risk losing progress Buttigieg says it's time to 'turn the page' on Trump administration Sunday shows preview: Coronavirus cases surge in the Midwest; Trump hits campaign trail after COVID-19 MORE — who served as the mayor of South Bend, Ind. — playing the role of Pence. 

Aides on the Biden campaign said Harris would make the case for why the former vice president is the best leader for this time while holding the Trump administration accountable. But they also set expectations low when it came to torching the president. One source close to the campaign said it will be similar to the tone taken by Biden at his speech in Michigan on Friday. 

Part of the strategy is to demonstrate the difference in approach between the Biden campaign and the Trump campaign. 

Kirk Wagar, a former ambassador and Democratic mega-donor who knows Harris well, added that “as long as people can see the competence, pragmatism and decency of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris,” in the debate, “I feel pretty good about it.” 

Harris just last month acknowledged feeling some pressure about the face-off with Pence, setting expectations. 

“Let me just say something,” she said, interrupting California Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, who was hosting the virtual fundraiser event. 

“He’s a good debater. So, I’m so concerned, like I can only disappoint,” Harris said, laughing.

“Because literally, he’s a very, he’s a very good debater … so I definitely am going to prepare for this debate like I have for previous debates. But I take this debate very seriously. And I think we can expect he’s going to be very good,” Harris said. 

Trump might have helped Harris just a bit with his comments after leaving Walter Reed hospital in Bethesda, Md. Trump said he was “feeling really good” and “better than I did 20 years ago,” which some Republicans said gave Democrats license to ramp up the attacks.

“Donald Trump declaring himself in better health than ever frees up the Biden campaign to go back on the offensive after Trump and his handling of coronavirus and we’ll see that most immediately coming from Kamala Harris,” said Republican strategist Doug Heye.

Those who know Harris say the moment is tailor-made for her. 

“She always steps up for the big moments,” said one aide. “She actually shines in the big moments more so than the moments when no one is watching.”

The Biden campaign has sought to make the campaign a referendum on Trump and his handling of the pandemic. Events in the past 48 hours, the Biden camp believes, have played into that game plan. And they believe it will play with voters watching the debate.

“Kamala Harris is the anti-Trump,” said Mike Nellis, a Democratic consultant and a senior adviser during her presidential campaign last year. “Instead of spewing lies into a microphone or being dangerously cavalier about COVID … That’s exactly what voters have been looking for, especially after this last week.”