On the Trail: It’s Take 2 for Harris in NH

  • FILE - In this March 9, 2020, file photo, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks at a campaign rally for Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden at Renaissance High School in Detroit. Before Joe Biden named Harris his running mate, women’s groups were readying a campaign of their own: Shutting down sexist coverage and disinformation about a vice presidential nominee they say is headed for months of false smears and “brutal” attacks from internet haters. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File) Paul Sancya

For the Monitor
Published: 8/12/2020 4:48:35 PM

The New Hampshire Democratic Party tells the Monitor that it’s planning at least 60 virtual events next week during the Democratic National Convention to showcase Joe Biden and his newly announced running mate, Sen. Kamala Harris of California.

Biden, the former vice president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, made the choice many people were expecting as he named the first-term U.S. senator and former California attorney general as his running mate. Biden made his announcement Tuesday afternoon in a text and email, making Harris the first Black woman and the first person of Indian descent on a major party presidential ticket.

For Harris, who last year ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination, it’s a second chance to make a first impression with voters in New Hampshire, which is one of roughly a dozen general election battleground states that could decide whether Biden or Republican President Donald Trump wins in November.

Longtime New Hampshire Democratic Party Chair Ray Buckley praised Harris as “a lifelong champion on the issues Granite State families care about most – from making college more affordable to protecting the environment to making sure everyone has access to affordable health care to raising the minimum wage and establishing paid family leave.”

While Granite State Democrats may now be energized to vote for Biden and Harris, that wasn’t the case during the primaries. Biden came in a dismal fifth place in New Hampshire, while Harris didn’t even make it to the Feb. 11 primary. The senator – short on campaign cash and not resonating in public opinion polls – ended her White House bid last December.

New Hampshire GOP Chair Stephen Stepanek pointed to the first-in-the-nation presidential primary as he took aim at the Democratic ticket.

“Remember that while Joe Biden left New Hampshire in the middle of our first-in-the-nation primary, Kamala Harris didn’t even bother to file for the New Hampshire ballot in person. With Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, there has never been a presidential ticket that has ignored New Hampshire so much,” said Stepanek, who served as a state co-chair for Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

In taking aim at Biden, Stepanek was referring to Biden’s flight from New Hampshire to South Carolina on the afternoon of the primary. After the poor finishes in the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire’s primary, Biden rebounded with a second-place finish in Nevada’s caucuses, a landslide win in South Carolina, and sweeping victories on the March 3 Super Tuesday coast-to-coast contests, which catapulted him toward clinching the Democratic nomination.

For Harris, New Hampshire was always a question mark.

Arriving in the Granite State in early February of last year– soon after launching her campaign in front of a massive crowd of 22,000 in her hometown of Oakland, California, the senator faced a national media narrative that New Hampshire wasn’t a top priority. Instead, reports said Harris would place more firepower and spend more time in South Carolina, the first Southern primary where Black voters make up a majority of the state’s Democratic primary electorate – and in her home state of California – which had the most delegates up for grabs among the 14 states that voted on Super Tuesday.

But Harris did assemble a talented campaign team in the state, steered by Democratic strategist Craig Brown. And the senator drew large crowds during her initial swing – including 1,000 people jammed into Portsmouth’s historic South Church – with another 500 waiting outside in the snow.

During that first visit, Harris told the Monitor she was committed to competing in the first-in-the-nation primary state.

“I intend to spend a lot of time here and I intend to compete for the votes here,” she said in comments at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord that grabbed national media attention.

When Harris returned to New Hampshire in the spring, she continued to draw large crowds. But she campaigned in the state less often than many of her top rivals. Back in the state in early September to speak at the New Hampshire Democratic Party’s annual convention – Harris once again pledged that the Granite State “is a top priority going forward. . . . It’s a very important state.”

But she never followed through, and the early September trip was her last visit to the state before she dropped out of the race later in the year.

Longtime New Hampshire presidential primary veteran Terry Shumaker, a Concord-based attorney and former U.S. ambassador who backed Biden during his first White House run and again this cycle, emphasized that the Harris’s track record in the primary is irrelevant now.

“I think it’s ancient history and people are going to vote in November based on what they think is in their and their family’s best interests,” he said.

One of the reasons for the senator’s demise last autumn in the presidential primaries – after soaring in the polls last summer – was a lack of resonance with the Democratic Party’s powerful left wing.

Harris’s law enforcement background caused plenty of tensions with progressives. Her record as a prosecutor as San Francisco’s district attorney and later as California attorney general was scrutinized and criticized by plenty on the left. And Harris, who was a strong supporter of a government-run Medicare for All health care system when she launched her White House bid, also took arrows from progressives for her moderating stance on the issue during the course of her presidential campaign.

But three leading New Hampshire progressives who are all on the ballot this year were singing the senator’s praises on Wednesday in conversations with the Monitor.

Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky – who along with state Senate majority leader Dan Feltes is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination – recalled that “I actually introduced Sen. Harris at a rally in Keene. I enjoyed spending time with her, her husband, and her senior staff. I thought she’s a great speaker.”

The Concord Democrat added that Harris is “a good addition to the Biden team and I look forward in the fall to working with Sen. Harris and Vice President Biden to move our ticket forward.”

Former 2nd Congressional District U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes – noting that “we are in an age of a pandemic” and that “the foundations of our democracy have been shaken” by President Trump – stressed that Harris “was the right pick at this time and I’m very excited. I haven’t felt like this since 2008. I feel hope and I think change is in the air.”

The Concord Democrat who’s running to succeed Feltes in the state Senate acknowledged: “I know that many progressives are concerned about her record as DA and AG in California. I think her record in the Senate has been progressive and I think that the important focus is looking to the future and making sure Donald Trump doesn’t remain in the White House.”

And former state representative and 2018 Democratic congressional candidate Mindi Messmer – who’s running for the Executive Council – said she’s “absolutely all on board with the Biden-Harris ticket.”

Messmer – who was a New Hampshire co-chair for progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign – said that “it doesn’t matter” that she has some policy disagreements with Harris because the overriding mission is “to get the most dangerous president out of office.”

“She has a great stance on repealing the death penalty that I agree with. I really think it’s a great step to have a woman of color on the ticket,” Messmer stressed.

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