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The ten contenders who faced off in the third Democratic Presidential debate hosted by ABC on August 12 sent a powerful message to voters – it was time to get rid of Donald Trump and each of them was ready and equipped to do it.
Senator Kamala Harris, looking directly into the camera in her opening statement, attacked first, “I have some words for Donald Trump, who we all know is watching.”
The president, said Harris, spent his first term sowing “hate and division among us” and used fear, intimidation and over twelve thousand lies “to distract from failed policies and broken promises.” She argued that the only reason Trump escaped indictment is because a sitting President cannot be charged with a crime.
The crowd roared with approval when Harris suggested the President “go back to watching Fox News.”
The final ten candidates who qualified for the third round of debates met fundraising and polling requirements set by the DNC (at least 2% support in at least four polls and donations from at least 130,000 unique donors), presented a remarkably diverse group across the spectrum of age, gender and ethnicity. Harris is the only woman of color to make the cut.
As the first front runner of dual Indian-American and African-American heritage, Harris is uniquely positioned to represent both groups in her presidential campaign, so her platform and policies have come under close scrutiny from both communities.
So how did she do?
What the American people know, said Harris, is that “the vast majority have so much more in common than what separates us, regardless of race, where we live, or the party with which we are registered to vote.”
Her plan is to stay focused on “our common issues, common hopes and desires and in that way, unifying our country, winning this election and turning the page for America.”
During the three-hour long debate, Harris came under fire for her record on crime, compared Trump on trade policy to the ‘little guy’ in the Wizard of Oz, and laughingly offered V P Biden an awkward “Hey Joe, let’s just say we can,” when he queried her proposed executive order to ban assault weapons.
And yet, the debate on mass shootings allowed Harris to dig deep into her experience on handling gun violence, “I’ve seen more autopsy photos than I care to tell you,” she said, protesting the trauma of young children forced to practice gun drills in primary school. It also gave her one of the best lines of the night when commenting on the El Paso’s mass shooting that claimed 29 lives, ‘Trump did not pull the trigger, but he’s certainly been tweeting out the ammunition.”
ABC moderator Linsey Davis confronted Harris with some tough questions on her prosecutorial record, calling her newly released plan for criminal justice reform contradictory to her prior positions. “When you had power why didn’t you try to affect change then?”
Harris disputed the challenge as distortions of her record which did not reflect reforms she had initiated, that required law enforcement to wear cameras and racial bias training for police officers. Her message about changing the system from the inside outlined future plans to end mass incarceration and solitary confinement, shut down for-profit prisons, and hold law enforcement, including prosecutors, accountable – a plan that she said, activists called ‘bold’.
Harris also swung the healthcare discussion away from her opponents’ well-intentioned proposals for every American to have healthcare coverage, to focus instead on Donald Trump and the end goal. “Let’s talk about the fact that Donald Trump came into office….and spent almost the entire first year of his term trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act.”
She drew applause from an appreciative audience with a reminder about the late Senator John McCain’s surprise 2 am vote, against a GOP-sponsored limited repeal of Obamacare. Harris’ cue to her sparring opponents who basically agree on healthcare coverage, was to frame the real threat to millions of Americans and the ACA, “Lets focus on the end goal. If we don’t get Donald Trump out of office, he’s going to get rid of all of it.”
Topher Spiro, from the Center for American Progress said, “Kamala Harris won the opening statement and the health care debate. Just sayin!”
Currently, Kamala Harris ranks among the top five candidates in a YouGov/FairVote of national Democratic voters. Will she be the one to stop Trump from taking away healthcare from 300 million Americans? And will Democratic voters think Kamala Harris is the one who can get on stage in a debate with Donald Trump and take him down?