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Harris turns election into referendum on Trump's character

Harris turns election into referendum on Trump's character
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Last night’s vice presidential debate between Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisBiden announces all-female White House communications team Biden to nominate Neera Tanden, Cecilia Rouse to economic team: WSJ Memo to Biden: Go big — use the moment to not only rebuild but to rebuild differently MORE (D-Calif.) and Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceTrump set for precedent-breaking lame-duck period Trump pardons Michael Flynn O'Brien on 2024 talk: 'There's all kinds of speculation out there' MORE was historic for several reasons. Harris was the first woman of color to stand on a vice presidential debate stage. It was also historic in that it underscored that the biggest issue on the ballot this election will not be any specific policy but rather the character of the candidates.

Harris was masterful in drawing a contrast between Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump rages against '60 Minutes' for interview with Krebs Cornyn spox: Neera Tanden has 'no chance' of being confirmed as Biden's OMB pick Five things to know about Georgia's Senate runoffs MORE and President Trump. She insisted that we do not have to accept and normalize the destructive alternative universe that Trump and Pence have brought upon the country, where truth, science and facts don’t appear to matter.

She confidently told voters that they have the power to change the direction of the country, and that while many substantive issues are on the ballot, the overarching question voters will answer in this election is that of character. 

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Who has the right character and temperament to lead the greatest nation on earth? Four years ago, the American people gave a chance to a rogue businessman. That choice has backfired, and what voters have gotten is an incompetent administration that has failed them.

Character is front and center because Trump has proven that his character flaws have cost American lives and livelihoods. Trump has made clear that he will prioritize his own self-interest and political fortunes ahead of the well-being of the public.

Nothing has seared that reality into the minds of voters more than what has transpired during the pandemic. First we learned that Trump knew early on how deadly COVID-19 was and lied about it to the public, and now we see how he has conducted himself since getting infected — being treated then returning to the White House and recklessly putting the people around him in danger of contracting the virus. Then he had the gall to declare that COVID is nothing worse than the flu and to encourage Americans not to let it rule their lives.  

Harris kept returning to Trump and Pence’s horrid handling of COVID-19, and how it was a reflection of their poor character and competence. But she also effectively tied their positions on other key issues to character. She reminded the public that Biden was instrumental in passing the Affordable Care Act, and that he was in charge of reviving the economy under President Obama.

Pence was Trump lite — the same lies without all the bluster and bravado. He made his boss happy, and Republicans who support Trump thought he did a great job. But, down in the polls, he needed to change the course of the race; he failed. 

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While some pundits believe Harris missed opportunities to slam Pence on his lies, she chose instead to focus on the bigger picture of character and what it will mean to Americans over the crucial next four years.  

Harris did what she needed to do last night. She and Biden are ahead in the national polls and in the battleground states. She highlighted how Biden would be a president for all Americans, eradicate the virus, safely bring back an economy that works for everyone, address racism and discrimination — and do it all with decency, humanity and civility.  

Sen. Harris convincingly argued that with a President Biden, Americans will be able to wake up each morning unafraid about what their commander-in-chief may have said or tweeted that night before. She made clear that with Biden at the helm, the character of the nation will be in good hands. 

Maria Cardona is a longtime Democratic strategist and was co-chair of the Democratic National Committee's rules and bylaws committee for the party's 2020 convention. She is a principal at Dewey Square Group, a Washington-based political consulting agency, and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.