- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Sen. Kamala D. Harris‘ breakout performance on the debate stage and subsequent surge in polls rekindled the narrative that she is the next Barack Obama, poised to dominate the crucial black vote in the Democratic primaries and cruise to the presidential nomination.

A faction inside the Trump reelection team is warning of such a scenario and urging the campaign to prepare more to confront her.

But Ms. Harris previously surged and then faded in the crowded Democratic race, and she has yet to forge the personal connection with voters that was the hallmark of Mr. Obama’s historic campaign.

“The debate provided Sen. Harris an opportunity to reintroduce herself on a national scale and has clearly improved her standing. But national post-debate polls are notoriously elastic,” said Democratic strategist Zach Friend, who worked on Mr. Obama’s 2008 campaign.

He said the key for all candidates at this point is to connect on a personal level with the party’s voters, over half of whom self-identify as moderate or conservative rather than adopting the liberal or far-left ideology that most of the Democratic hopefuls have been peddling.

“The challenge for all candidates in the Democratic debates are transitioning from potshots on each other to articulating a vision on what you will do better for the voter watching at home. Ultimately, if you care about voters on a personal level, they will care about you. If you care about your opponent, the voters will rightfully care about, and choose, someone else,” Mr. Friend said.

Retracing Mr. Obama’s path to the nomination is complicated for Ms. Harris. The biggest rival in her way, and the one at whom she is taking potshots, is former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, who served two terms beside the country’s first black president.

Ms. Harris also needs to rev up her fundraising operation. She raised a respectable but hardly inspiring $12 million in the second quarter, half as much as the $24.8 million raised by Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana.

In the money game, Ms. Harris also trails all the top-tier contenders in the past quarter. Mr. Biden raised $21 million, Sen. Elizabeth Warren $19.1 million and Sen. Bernard Sanders $18 million.

Ms. Harris, who is the daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, boosted her standing in the debate by confronting the front-runner, Mr. Biden, on his opposition to federally mandated busing to desegregate public schools in the 1970s.

On a tear since the debate, Ms. Harris has barnstormed across Iowa and South Carolina. She rocketed into second place and dented Mr. Biden’s lead in recent polls, including in a survey in the leadoff state Iowa.

“It’s not going to happen tomorrow. It’s not going to happen next week. But slowly, but surely, by the time they get to South Carolina, she’s going to be the African American candidate,” said a Trump campaign official who asked to remain anonymous.

Ms. Harris‘ ascent further frustrated Sen. Cory A. Booker of New Jersey, a black candidate who fancies himself Mr. Obama’s political heir but has languished in the low single digits in polls since entering the race. For him, the debate was a missed opportunity for a standout moment.

He was not on the same stage as Ms. Harris and Mr. Biden on the second night of the debates because of a random draw to divide the 20 most eligible candidates into two more manageable groups of 10.

Ms. Harris scored big in the debate by making the busing issue personal. She revealed that she was bused to desegregate schools in Berkeley, California, as a girl.

“So, I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats. We have to take it seriously,” she said.

She caught Mr. Biden off guard, and he struggled to defend his civil rights record.

The episode showed Ms. Harris‘ debating skills and highlighted her status as a woman of color. For many in the news media and some of the Trump campaign team, it also confirmed the narrative that she is the next Barack Obama. Though Mr. Biden has a long record of supporting civil rights and his opposition to busing was a mainstream position at the time, the exchange with Ms. Harris made him look bad to the younger Democratic base.

Ms. Harris later walked back her ironclad support for federally mandated busing to achieve racially integrated public schools. She said it should be an option available to local communities. This drew a sharp rebuke from David Axelrod, who served as Mr. Obama’s chief political strategist.

“It sounds here like Kamala Harris is now taking something more like the Joe Biden position on school busing. So what was that whole thing at the debate all about?” Mr. Axelrod tweeted.

Democratic presidential hopeful Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii chimed in: “It was a false accusation that Joe Biden is a racist.”

Still, Ms. Harris seized the opportunity to meet the expectations of her supporters, said Heather Harris, a professor at Stevenson University in Maryland and co-author of “The Obama Effect: Multidisciplinary Renderings of the 2008 Campaign.”

“People were waiting to see if the person they saw in the Senate, especially with the Kavanaugh hearings, would appear in the debates. And that person did appear,” said the professor, who is not related to the candidate. “Kamala Harris is consistent in her messaging and her platform, and I think that is what gave her an edge, and then she was the only one to go after Vice President Biden in the way that she did.”

She said it was still too early, though, to draw any parallels between Ms. Harris‘ campaign and Mr. Obama’s 2008 run.

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