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It's Kamala Harris' race right now

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During a CNN town hall in Iowa, Democratic presidential contender Kamala Harris discussed not needing a male Democratic candidate to challenge and win against President Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Posted: Jan 29, 2019 3:40 PM
Updated: Jan 29, 2019 3:40 PM

There's a long way to go before the Democratic Party picks its nominee for the presidency. But this week, it's Kamala Harris' race.

The senator from California's performance at a CNN town hall Monday night solidified her standing as a leading contender. She was fluid and engaging, striking that always-tough balance (for women, at least) of being both authoritative and warm. She also took solidly left positions on a slew of important topics. Still, there were moments where Harris didn't quite clear the bar -- most notably her comments on her own history as a prosecutor, which is shaping up to be a weakness for an otherwise resolutely progressive candidate.

Politics, for better or worse (usually worse), is about style over substance, and Harris was an ace. She hit all the right notes: cool, collected and poised when answering weighty policy questions and somewhat silly queries about the #MeToo movement dividing men and women, impassioned when defending DACA beneficiaries.

After a young woman stood up and identified herself as an undocumented immigrant who was brought to the United States as a child, and who was sick of seeing her life used as a political football, Harris commended her "courage" and then continued, "I will say to you that I stand with you. There are so many who do, and we should not be trading on your life for the sake of the political games that this President is playing in trying to vilify young people like you, who are doing nothing except being productive and believing in and living the American dream."

Harris also brought her straight-shooter style. In response to a question about gun control, her answer was jarring (and necessary): "Here's what I think," she said. "I think that somebody should have required -- and this is going to sound very harsh -- I think somebody should have required all those members of Congress to go in a locked room -- no press, no one else -- and look at the autopsy photographs of those babies. And then you vote your conscience. This has become a political issue."

When was the last time you heard a politician speak in such raw and powerful terms about one of the most divisive and deadly political issues of our time?

Harris was disciplined and on message, even when faced with questions about her record as a prosecutor, a potential liability among progressives. On race, always a complicated issue in America, she struck an Obama-ish tone, recognizing the historic nature of her campaign without making the case that her candidacy hinges on her being a "first." (Among her firsts, Harris, who is the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, is also the first woman of color, first woman and first Asian-American to become attorney general of California.) She quoted her mother: "You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you're not the last." It's a savvy way of addressing identity in a country where open discussion of race brings discomfort to a lot of white people.

But that doesn't mean she was light on the substance. Harris took positions on a series of issues that would have been radical even a few years ago: backing Medicaid for all, a "Green New Deal," and even doing away with private insurance entirely (a claim she may have to walk back). Harris is a serious contender, and it is to the credit of the progressive left, often inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders, that these positions are now mainstream among Democrats. Political discourse and, hopefully, our policies will be better for it.

Where many on the left, myself included, still want clarity from Harris: criminal justice. She did answer a question about her history as a prosecutor, and had a message that no doubt appeals to most Americans: that "as a prosecutor, my duty was to seek and make sure that the most vulnerable and voiceless among us are protected," that she was also a reformer of a broken system. These are claims that have been called into question by many progressives in the criminal justice space, most notably Lara Bazelon in The New York Times.

According to Bazelon and other critics, Harris wasn't as progressive a prosecutor as she now claims; her office, they say, withheld evidence from defense teams that could have tipped the scales of justice. (In her article, Bazelon sought a response: "Harris says that as a career prosecutor, she takes allegations of misconduct very seriously. 'My office evaluates each case based on the facts and the evidence,' she told me.")

Harris' answer at the town hall will likely be the one she sticks to going forward -- and it's one that will resonate for many. It's also one that will surely be deemed insufficient for those who have a particular focus on our broken justice system, given that Harris didn't really answer for her own history. Harris should take the time to address criminal justice groups directly and speak to the issues where they are demanding answers, including on her record and her plans going forward.

Whether Harris is the nominee or not, the fact that she, Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand are all in the race is heartening for all of us who want to see a strong challenge to Donald Trump.

The Democratic bench is deep, and this primary will be a contentious one for the best reason: because there are so many excellent, qualified candidates. The primary is a long way away, and there will no doubt be significant ebbs and flows as some candidates surge and others retreat. But on Monday night, Harris pushed to the front of the pack.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 16041

Reported Deaths: 767
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds103526
Lauderdale74568
Madison74525
Neshoba70742
Jones66331
Scott66112
Forrest59439
DeSoto5538
Leake44712
Rankin4468
Holmes43928
Copiah3154
Jackson30813
Attala30318
Yazoo2864
Newton2824
Leflore27334
Lincoln27029
Monroe26525
Harrison2637
Oktibbeha25314
Lamar2485
Lowndes2309
Wayne2242
Pearl River21131
Pike20411
Adams20015
Noxubee1916
Washington1917
Warren18110
Covington1732
Jasper1654
Lee1657
Bolivar16511
Clarke15419
Smith15311
Kemper14711
Lafayette1414
Chickasaw13714
Coahoma1274
Winston1211
Marion1179
Carroll11711
Clay1154
Claiborne1122
Lawrence1061
Simpson1020
Grenada993
Yalobusha966
Tate951
Hancock9112
Itawamba897
Wilkinson859
Union857
Sunflower853
Montgomery851
Panola843
Marshall813
Jefferson Davis803
Tippah7611
Webster683
Calhoun674
Amite641
Walthall610
Humphreys597
Tunica563
Prentiss563
Perry513
Choctaw482
Pontotoc433
Jefferson431
Tishomingo340
Quitman340
Stone310
Franklin292
Tallahatchie291
George261
Greene221
Alcorn181
Benton140
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 18474

Reported Deaths: 651
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2283118
Jefferson1882103
Montgomery180243
Tuscaloosa81616
Marshall7059
Franklin5768
Lee55234
Shelby52220
Tallapoosa43166
Butler41618
Walker3782
Elmore3739
Chambers35826
Madison3444
Morgan2971
Baldwin2929
Unassigned2922
Dallas2823
Etowah26112
DeKalb2563
Lowndes25512
Autauga2395
Coffee2381
Sumter2267
Houston2235
Bullock2136
Pike2080
Colbert1872
Hale1789
Russell1770
Barbour1751
Marengo1746
Lauderdale1672
Calhoun1653
Choctaw15310
Wilcox1527
Cullman1501
Clarke1482
St. Clair1311
Randolph1287
Marion12411
Dale1230
Pickens1215
Talladega1175
Limestone1080
Chilton1041
Greene954
Winston910
Macon864
Jackson833
Henry812
Covington811
Crenshaw783
Bibb761
Escambia743
Washington726
Blount631
Lawrence510
Monroe442
Geneva430
Perry420
Conecuh411
Coosa401
Cherokee383
Clay282
Lamar260
Fayette160
Cleburne151
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