California Sen. Kamala Harris formally kicked off her presidential campaign Sunday at a rally in her hometown of Oakland, with a promise to confront toxic politics and unite a country she claims has been divided by President Donald Trump.
Less than a mile away from where she began her career as a prosecutor, Harris characterized her track record as a district attorney, attorney general and U.S. Senator as “fighting for the people.” Now, as a presidential candidate, she has folded that idea into her 2020 campaign slogan, “For the People.”
“I do not lightly dismiss the dangers and the difficulties of challenging an incumbent president. But these are not ordinary times. And this is not an ordinary election.” she said.
There was a clear message of diversity and representation for the black community at this rally. Before Harris even took the stage, a black gospel choir sang the national anthem, a black pastor preached a sermon of unity and a band participated in the New Orleans tradition of the “second line.”
Harris, a California Democrat, is the fourth woman to launch a presidential bid.
Though she never mentioned Trump by name, Harris sharply criticized the president and claimed she would confront what she considers the worst abuses of the Trump administration.
“Under this administration, America’s position in the world has never been weaker. When democratic values are under attack around the globe, when authoritarianism is on the march, when nuclear proliferation is on the rise, when we have foreign powers infecting the white house like malware,” she said.
Following Harris’ speech, the Republican National Committee fired back in a statement.
“It’s fitting that Harris chose the most liberal district in deep-blue California to launch her campaign. Government-run health care, weaker borders and higher taxes might be popular there, but her liberal policies are totally out-of-step with most Americans. President Trump has led this country to record economic highs and strengthened our national security, and it’s why he’s going to be re-elected in 2020,” RNC Spokesman Michael Ahrens said.
An estimated 20,000 people packed the plaza near Oakland City Hall and overflowed into the streets. Among the group were undecided voters like Walter Butler, who said he was looking for a candidate who can reach across the aisle.
“I’m going to try to keep an open mind but I like Senator Harris. I like the way she performed for Kavanaugh hearings,” Butler said.
Butler, who is still waiting to see who else hops into the race, has some slight reservations about Harris.
“She’s anti-death penalty, that’s in agreement of where I am at… I am a bit concerned that she’s only been a senator for two years,” Butler said.
Critics of Harris say her decisions as a prosecutor did not align with the progressive values of the party. On Twitter, the hashtag #KamalaIsACop has ignited a firestorm of tweets attacking the Senator for her record.
While Harris personally opposes the death penalty, she defended it as California’s attorney general in 2014. Harris also won a $25 billion settlement for California homeowners hit by the foreclosure crisis, but drew criticism when she did not prosecute Steven Mnuchin’s OneWest Bank for foreclosure violations in 2013.
Some supporters said they trusted her record as a prosecutor.
“I think she’s right in the African-American community you want folks to be smart on crime and tough on crime. We also want there to be restorative justice policies. I think we can have both,” supporter Chris Taylor added.
Harris also began spotlighting issues that she says will be at the heart of her campaign: Medicare for All, an income boost of up to $500 a month for working families, criminal justice reforms like ending cash bail, climate change and expanding education by making pre-K universal and college debt-free.
“So today I say to you, my friends, these are not ordinary times. And this will not be an ordinary election. But this is our America,” she concluded.
The lyrics of a song from the “Hamilton” musical soundtrack –- “I’m not throwing away my shot” — echoed as she left the stage.