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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.

Cases: 263023

Reported Deaths: 5752
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17675191
Hinds16813331
Harrison14224204
Rankin11167219
Jackson10839190
Lee9050144
Madison8568168
Jones6668114
Forrest6177124
Lauderdale6097192
Lowndes5518120
Lafayette516298
Lamar503965
Washington4923125
Bolivar4104109
Oktibbeha405982
Panola384881
Pontotoc376258
Warren3674103
Monroe3671108
Union355663
Marshall355270
Neshoba3485154
Pearl River3468105
Leflore3111109
Lincoln305688
Hancock291862
Sunflower291475
Tate279662
Alcorn272354
Pike268981
Itawamba268063
Scott259648
Yazoo255256
Prentiss252553
Tippah249250
Copiah249049
Coahoma248054
Simpson242171
Leake237367
Grenada223272
Marion222073
Covington219973
Adams213671
Wayne212634
Winston207371
George204339
Newton199046
Attala196963
Tishomingo194161
Chickasaw189044
Jasper179538
Holmes171768
Clay165837
Tallahatchie156235
Stone151425
Clarke147262
Calhoun140822
Smith129226
Yalobusha122034
Walthall114337
Greene113529
Noxubee112926
Montgomery111636
Carroll106622
Lawrence106517
Perry104531
Amite101426
Webster96124
Tunica88821
Claiborne88325
Jefferson Davis88329
Benton85623
Humphreys84624
Kemper80520
Quitman7089
Franklin69917
Choctaw63213
Wilkinson59825
Jefferson56821
Sharkey45117
Issaquena1606
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 439442

Reported Deaths: 6657
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson644371007
Mobile31435569
Madison28158217
Tuscaloosa21492275
Montgomery19873332
Shelby19248132
Baldwin17128189
Lee13137107
Morgan12594142
Etowah12070181
Calhoun11496206
Marshall10420123
Houston8988164
Limestone832081
Cullman8257124
Elmore8183110
DeKalb7871107
Lauderdale7847107
St. Clair7808130
Talladega6445112
Walker6028183
Jackson599145
Colbert548694
Blount546286
Autauga535862
Coffee460764
Dale409685
Franklin374150
Russell354215
Chilton344373
Covington338580
Escambia334544
Tallapoosa3143109
Dallas312996
Chambers303470
Clarke298036
Pike262431
Lawrence253355
Marion253161
Winston233342
Bibb222348
Geneva210247
Marengo208231
Pickens199531
Hale184944
Barbour180538
Fayette177829
Butler173160
Cherokee165131
Henry159525
Monroe152021
Randolph145536
Washington141727
Clay129746
Crenshaw123745
Macon121937
Cleburne121525
Lamar119922
Lowndes114836
Wilcox107922
Bullock103328
Perry99918
Conecuh97822
Sumter90527
Greene77923
Coosa63418
Choctaw51924
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