Home / US / Sen. Kamala Harris questions whether America should choose a woman of color as president

Sen. Kamala Harris questions whether America should choose a woman of color as president

Last May, Kamala Harris faced the NAACP's largest chapter, focusing her comments on one topic: eligibility.

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Five months later, Harris would call the question of her eligibility "the elephant in the room" during an interview with Axios.

Harris, a woman who is both black and Native American, wondered aloud whether "America was ready for a woman and a woman of color to become president of the United States of America."

It's a question she has also raised on the campaign trail and questioning whether her race and gender could be a hindrance to her presidential bid among the largest group of major challengers the Democratic Party has ever seen ̵

1; a field that includes an open gay mayor, a Hindu Pacific Islander congresswoman, an African American senator, a former Latino federal official, and an Asian American businessman.

ABC News has reached out to the Harris campaign for an answer.

The issue is complicated and multi-faceted, say political experts and especially relevant during an election cycle where voters have the most diverse candidate in history to choose from.

Leah Wright Rigueur, assistant professor of public policy at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, told ABC News that "for most of the country … gender is not an obstacle to people voting for a political candidate."

On the other hand, she said, "There are parts of sexism, or unique challenges that female candidates face, that male candidates do not."

Nevertheless, Wright Rigueur noted that black women often do well when they join "because they have the ability to unite different coalitions into alliances that ultimately drive them into office. So you can call them unites – they are very good to unite different coalitions. "

In a CNN / SSRS survey conducted October 17-20, Harris asked 6% of whites and 6% of non-white voters asked which Democratic presidential candidate they would be most likely to support.

Harris is not the first to raise the issue of race and gender as presidential candidate.

In the 1970s, New York's legislator Shirley Chisholm, who was the first black woman elected to Congress, also became the first African-American woman to run for the Democratic presidential election. At the time, she said she did not fully receive the level of support and funding needed to get a truly competitive bid and ultimately loss.

According to her obituary in the New York Times, she told the Associated Press in 1982 that "I've always faced more discrimination as a woman than being black … When I ran for Congress, when I ran for president, I met more discrimination as woman than to be black. Men are men. "

Democratic strategist Atima Omara says there has been a shift in the electorate since the 2016 election. Omara says she has seen more people willing to consider women of color because voters "realize that these women represent a very strong base in The Democratic Party. I see more receptivity among voters, where it definitely would not have been before 2016. "

And still, she said, many colorful women have to deal with attacks based on outdated stereotypes.

Omara points to former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams as a high-profile candidate who has been able to overcome many of these challenges and says, "She has been able to build her political career by being genuine and actually leaning into many who she is. is. "

Although the root of Harris's struggle to gain momentum in polls is unclear, she has had her own difficulties in connecting with the audience beyond her core group of supporters., Say political experts. In late October, Harris announced she would cut down any staff and move staff from several primary states, including New Hampshire, to Iowa in an "organizational transition to go all-in on Iowa."

In Wright Rigueur's opinion, Harris' campaign should also think more broadly about helping voters get in touch with her.

"It can't just be that she's a black woman," said Wright Rigueur, pointing to Harris & # 39; fighting in places where she should make good choices, such as her home state of California.

For her part, Harris has worked to connect with voters and highlight what she sees as cultural gaps that are worth bridging.

Harris was only five months after his bid for the White House when the California senator went to Detroit at the address of the NAACP's largest branch in May.

She told the crowded room that "there have been a lot of conversations by voters about eligibility and who can talk to the Midwest. But when they say that, they usually put the Midwest into a simplified box and a narrow story. And too often their definition of the Midwest leaves people out, leaving people in this room who helped build cities like Detroit. "

The largely African American crowd received warm Harris remarks in the midst of her slow climb up to the polls later, she would clash with former Vice President Joe Biden about busing and contesting at the presidential debate in June.

  PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., pauses when speaking at a town hall event at Culinary Workers Union, Friday November 8, 2019, in Las Vegas.
John Locher / AP
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Kali fornia, pausing as she speaks at a town hall event at Culinary Workers Union, Friday, November 8, 2019, in Las Vegas.

"As the only black person on this scene, I would like to talk about the breed," Harris said that night.

She went on to say that "there was a little girl in California who was in the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And the little girl was me. "

That moment on stage in Miami would end up on a t-shirt with the words, "The little girl was me" – a T-shirt that would provide a fundraiser for the California senator.

At Essence Festival, one of the largest African-American events in the country, Harris would double in his pitch to black voters.

She looked back on President Donald Trump's slogan "Make America Great Again" and asked if he was referring to a time before laws codifying access to abortion and voice protection for minorities.

"Well, Essence, we won't be back," she said to applause. “It's actually time to turn the page. And it's time to write the next chapter. "

Her speech touched on the need to strengthen the economy and improve access to health care, among other topics. She also revealed a $ 100 billion plan to increase black home ownership.

Her comments before the collection were largely received well.

Alicia Jones, an alumnus of Howard University, told ABC News shortly after Harris's comments to Biden about busing "I felt it was politicizing … And at that point, it took the smart person I thought she was and took down a couple of notches.

Jones, who has not completed her election for the Democratic primary, told ABC News that race does not matter how she chooses to vote.

"Don't think I'm a voice for you just because you're black," she said. "I didn't vote for Barack Obama just because he was black. I voted for him because he was smart. I voted for him because he had a record that showed me the things he did. It didn't matter that he was only a senator for five minutes. ”

  PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. Speaks with Aaron Nachampassak, 11, Right, and Others at a Church Assembly Breakfast in Fort Dodge, Iowa, November 10, 2019.
Kathleen Ronayne / AP
Democratic Presidential Candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif ., Speaks to Aaron Nachampassak, 11, right, and others at a church assembly breakfast in Fort Dodge, Iowa, November 10, 2019.

ABC News spoke to several white voters in the granite state who said they support Harris.

Marty Parichand said he was very hopeful for Harris's candidacy – but because Harris drew resources from the state, it is harder for him to support her candidacy.

Another voter, Jody Goodrich, said Harris was her favorite.

And yet, she also told ABC News, "I think she didn't do as well in the debates after the first debate and that she talked a bit. Maybe she doesn't have the ability to really hang there. "

EDITOR'S NOTE: The title has been updated to reflect that Senator Kamala Harris has spoken of serving as a woman of color for President. The story has been updated to add further context to Harris's comments on race and equality, choices and additional historical notes.

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