On the Trail: Harris says questions in N.H. were based on her race

  • Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., high-fives 2-year-old Isabelle Chan of Newton, Mass. at the Common Man Restaurant in Concord on Feb. 18. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 2/28/2019 12:10:31 PM

Presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris says she heard a racial reference in the opening question she received during her first meeting with reporters in New Hampshire.

The question focused on how much time Harris would spend in the state that holds the first primary in the race for the White House.

The day after she wrapped up a very successful trip to the Granite State, Harris said during an interview on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah that “what no one said, but the inference was, well, the demographic of New Hampshire is not who you are in terms of your race.”

Harris – who grew up in Oakland, Calif., and is a daughter of parents from Jamaica and India – would be the first woman to win the White House and second African-American, if she succeeds. And New Hampshire is one of the least diverse states in the nation.

The Democrat from California met with reporters on Feb. 18 at Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, a couple hours into her first visit to New Hampshire after launching her presidential campaign. The first question came from this reporter, who covers the 2020 campaign trail for the Monitor, as well as for SeacoastOnline and for Fox News.

‘Senator. Welcome to New Hampshire. There is this perception that this the least important of the four early voting states for you. Just wondering. We’re glad that you’re here, but it was just over a month ago that you announced,” this reporter said.

Harris interrupted to point out that it was three weeks ago in Oakland that she announced.

While Harris formally declared her candidacy on Jan. 27 at a massive rally Oakland, she first announced she was launching a presidential campaign on Jan. 21 during an appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America.

Four days after her announcement on the Martin Luther King Jr. Day federal holiday, Harris visited South Carolina, the state that holds the first southern primary. And the day after her formal announcement in Oakland, she stopped in Iowa, which kicks off the presidential caucus and primary calendar.

The jam-packed 24 hour visit to New Hampshire came Feb. 18-19.

Harris went on to tell reporters that “I’m here because I believe that this is a very important state and I intend to spend a lot of time here and I intend to compete for the votes here and I’m going to put a lot of effort into doing that.”

“It’s an important state. It’s a state of people who have a lot of needs and need to be seen and heard. And it’s certainly a state of informed folks who care about the process and are engaged in the process and I want to be here to answer the questions that are posed and also to listen as much as I talk,” she emphasized.

Harris was asked a similar question about two hours earlier, as she sat down for an interview with WMUR, the only commercial television station in the Granite State.

“We haven’t seen much of you in the previous two years. Why was that? Some people, the narrative is out there that Sen. Harris is focusing elsewhere,” WMUR political director Adam Sexton asked.

Sexton appeared to be pointing out that Harris – unlike many of her rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination – did not make any stops in New Hampshire during the 2018 midterm campaign to assist Democrats running for office.

Harris gave a similar answer, vowing to spend time campaigning in New Hampshire and emphasizing the importance of the state.

During her nationally televised interview on the Daily Show, Harris said that “yesterday, I was in New Hampshire. And when I was there, the reporters, the first line of questioning I got was – you’re in New Hampshire, we heard you’re not going to come to New Hampshire. We thought you weren’t going to try to compete in New Hampshire.”

The candidate’s recollection of the question posed by the Monitor and WMUR was different than what was actually asked of Harris.

Harris continued, telling Noah that “what no one said, but the inference was, ‘Well, the demographic of New Hampshire is not who you are in terms of your race, and who you are.’ And I was like, ‘No, I am competing in New Hampshire. I’m going to be here, and I’m going to tell you something, to the point of the universality and commonality of the message.’ ”

“I got to New Hampshire, Trevor, there was a line around the block. There were 1,500 people who showed up for our event,” she highlighted. “And what that tells me, it reinforces for me the commonality that the demographics don’t matter.”

Harris was referring to an event she held at Portsmouth’s historic South Church. The gathering drew more people than any other presidential campaign event in New Hampshire held so far during the 2020 election cycle.

The question from the Monitor – which led the newspaper’s coverage of the Harris visit – was not aimed at the candidate’s race. Rather, it was based on the lack of any prior visits to New Hampshire by Harris over the past year and on the national media narrative that Harris may spend more time in the other early voting states as well as her home state of California, which moved up the date of its primary in the 2020 calendar to Super Tuesday, about three weeks after the Granite State votes.

Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, another Democratic presidential candidate who is African-American, has not faced a similar line of questioning. Booker visited New Hampshire twice last year – once before the midterm elections to help out fellow Democrats running for office – and once in December – to headline a New Hampshire Democratic Party event celebrating the party’s major victories in the midterms.

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