In a commanding showing, Harris, daughter of a Jamaica father, consistently carved outclear positions on her proposed policies and plans if elected to replace incumbent President Donald Trump.
She also launched a stinging attack on Joe Biden, the former U.S. vice president and longtime senator, who was the undisputed frontrunner for the Democratic party presidential nomination leading into debate.
The winner of the Democratic primaries willlikely challenge Republican Trump in the Nov. 2020 presidential election.
Harris, 54, drew proverbial “first blood” on the crowded stageearly into the debate. As the other nine candidates vying for the Democratic nomination engaged in a shouting match for attention, she calmly weighed in by declaring: “Guys, you know what, America does not want to witness a food fight. They want to know how we’re gonna put food on their table.”
That drew thunderous cheers from the live audience in Miami. Even Biden, standing two candidates to her right, applauded.
Harris’s interjection signaled her intention to becomea focal point of the June 27 debate, the second half of a two-tier arrangement which began the night before with 10 other Democratic candidates at the same venue.
She wasn’t done. Harris attacked Trump’s record onthe U.S. economy, which she claimed only benefited the wealthy, and his policy of separating minor immigrants from their parents and locking them up. She sided with colleagues who are against mass deportations, reaffirmed her support for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and repeated plans for improving healthcare and education in the U.S.
But it was Harris’sbrutal spotlight on Biden, who she trailed by more than 20 points in most polls, and his record on civil rights and race issues, which was the most talked about segment of both Democratic debate nights combined. In the days leading up to the debate, the former vice president made controversial statements, which appeared to indicate his respect for former U.S. lawmakers who made their career on issues like segregation.
Harris pounced. She made clear she did not think Biden was a racist, but then questioned why he would want to do that.
“It was actually hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country,” Harris said, directly addressing Biden.
She also pointed to the then senator’s opposition to busing students to desegregate public schools. The U.S. Supreme Court 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka stated it was unconstitutional to segregatepublic schools.
Biden responded by indicating his views on the matter had been “misrepresented,”claiming he did not oppose busing, which was a system of sending black students to schools formerly attended by majority of white students and vice versa. Those schools were often in neighborhoods some distance away from the students’ homes.
"I did not oppose busing in America,” said Biden, although his statements and correspondence clearly show he did at the time.
“What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education, that's what I opposed."
Then Biden, who has since come to be known as a civil rights champion, tried to blame the states for not carrying out the Supreme Court’s decision.
But Harris pounced again. This time she pointed to a personal story, highlighting her own participation in busing as a child, some two decades after the Brown decision.
“That little girl was me,” said Harris, a former attorney general for California, as she explained that she had to ride the buses.
The exchange between Harris and Biden seemed to unnerve the 76-year-old former vice president. He mostly stared straight ahead as Harris verbally bombarded him. Eventually, in the middle of a response, Biden conceded: “My time is up.”
That could prove a majorconcession. Although the immediate fallout of Harris’s debate performance was still not clear up to press time, political observers had little doubt who won the exchange.
“Then after Biden had been beaten silly by California Sen. Kamala Harris, he looked shaken,” wrote Dan Gainor of Fox News.
Harris’s performance drew raves from other political observers. It also appeared to elevate her candidacy, while separating her from most of the other 20-plus Democrats in the primary race.
“The evening's star was Kamala Harris,” wroteRaul A. Reyesin a column published by CNN.“She seized her moment, delivering sharp, impassioned answers that did not avoid the questions.”
“Harris put to bed any concerns about her electability and proved she has the fearlessness to stand toe-to-toe against Trump,” wrote Bakari Sellers, a Democrat from South Carolina.
Harris pressed home her perceived advantage the day after the debate by releasing a photograph of herself as a young girl going to school to highlight the impact of busing. Fundraising T-shirts were also made showing the photo. Unconfirmed reports indicated that Harris recorded her second highest fundraising total the day after the debate.
The next televised debates among the Democrats is scheduled for this month.