Sen. Kamala Harris called it “the donkey in the room”: Are Americans ready for a black woman to be president?
Harris, California’s junior U.S. senator, is used to making history. She was the first woman to serve as California’s attorney general and the first African-American to represent her home state in the U.S. Senate.
Friday night at a bar in Muscatine, Iowa, Harris engaged in “real talk” with the packed audience.
“This is not a new conversation for me,” Harris said. “It’s actually a conversation I’ve heard in every campaign I have — and now here’s the operative word — won.”
Harris is not the only candidate this year to face the electability question. People wonder whether Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren would perform well as a general election candidate, or if the country is ready for a young, gay man like Mayor Pete Buttigieg to be president.
She praised Iowans for being “a leader” and “having the ability to see what is possible even we’ve not seen it before.”
Harris went on to talk about a week she spent in Iowa at the end of 2007 and beginning of 2008. When she was “campaigning for a certain senator from Illinois,” Harris said she knocked on the doors of people living in a Des Moines nursing home.
That trip stood out to her, Harris said, because she met an elderly black woman who said of Barack Obama: “They’re not going to let him win.”
“And then I saw what I was looking at, which is this lady, in all of her 85-plus years, and what she has experienced and witnessed in terms of indignities and injustice,” Harris said. “And at this stage in her life, she wasn’t about to visit another disappointment on herself.”
But Harris persisted, and “guess who showed up at the caucuses the next night, and guess who won?”
Harris spent 15 days here in October — more time than any of her Democratic opponents — and she will celebrate Thanksgiving in Iowa with her family. Her next trip runs from this upcoming Tuesday to the Sunday after Thanksgiving.
Like Obama, Harris has doubled-down on Iowa, though it has yet to pay off for her in the polls.
According to the Des Moines Register, Obama led its Iowa Poll for the first time in November 2007. In November 2019, however, Harris only is the first-choice candidate for 3% of likely Democratic caucus-goers, putting her in a five-way tie for sixth place.
But in the newspaper’s latest poll, 36% of voters said they were “actively considering” Harris, the highest percentage of any other candidate.
Laura O’Toole of Muscatine is one of those voters committed to caucus for Harris.
“I think that she seems like she has the courage to fight back, that she’s going to take on the things that she’s going to take on and not just feed us political BS,” said O’Toole, a relative newcomer to Iowa who will caucus next year for the first time. “I really believe in her.”
Though O’Toole was all-in on Harris, she acknowledged some could be wary of her candidacy.
“I feel like a lot of the people that I speak with are on that boat, but I know that there’s a lot of people that probably aren’t ready,” said O’Toole, 32.
In addition to Muscatine, Harris also visited Washington, Iowa, on this short swing. She will return Tuesday and spend six days in the state, holding house parties and participating in community events. On Thanksgiving Day she will attend the Des Moines Turkey Trot and visit the same nursing home, Corinthian Gardens, where she knocked doors for Obama in 2007.
“It is my intention to cover as much ground as I can in the entire state,” Harris told reporters prior to the Muscatine event, “and so I’m spending time in communities that have large populations and then smaller populations. There are a lot of universal and common concerns and issues, but there are some that are specific to specific regions of the state, and it’s important to me that I be there.”
After the event, Megan Dorsey said the people she surrounded herself with “definitely think [Harris] is electable.”
“I think she’s amazing,” said Dorsey, a clinical research assistant. “I think she’s a strong, intelligent, badass lady and that’s exactly what we need in the White House.”
By Elizabeth Meyer