Kamala Harris’s Moment, Voting Rights, Yet Another Candidate: This Week in the 2020 Race

Every Saturday morning, we’re publishing “This Week in the 2020 Race”: a quick way to follow the presidential campaign and the field of 24 candidates for the Democratic nomination. Trust us, we know how hard it is to keep up.

Twenty candidates took the stage this week for the first Democratic debates, and the biggest moment belonged to Ms. Harris, the senator from California.

Ms. Harris, appearing on Night 2, was a commanding presence from start to finish: casting herself as the proverbial adult in the room while the other candidates were shouting over one another and, by many viewers’ assessment, getting the best of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in an intensely personal exchange on race.

After a methodical, almost prosecutorial buildup and an instantly quotable interjection — “As the only black person on this stage, I would like to speak on the issue of race” — Ms. Harris confronted Mr. Biden over his recent nostalgic recollection of working with two segregationist senators.

“You also worked with them to oppose busing,” she said. “And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”

Mr. Biden accused her of misrepresenting his position, defended his record on civil rights and — in a dig at Ms. Harris’s former profession — said he had chosen to be a public defender, not a prosecutor. But, as our colleagues reported on Friday, prominent Democrats think he emerged from the debate bruised.

  • You can find the biggest takeaways from the debates here. For more on Night 2, read our full recap here. See what veteran campaign strategists thought here.

Julián Castro, the former housing secretary, was the breakout star of Night 1, especially when he talked about immigration. Senator Elizabeth Warren also put in a strong performance, especially when it came to her economic plans. And the Democratic Party’s leftward shift was on full display.

Except for Ms. Warren, everyone on stage on Wednesday was looking for a breakthrough moment to lift them out of single digits in the polls.

Few got one — but some issues rarely discussed in such a prominent setting did.

Senator Cory Booker became the first candidate to mention transgender rights in a presidential debate. Mr. Castro, meanwhile, made a point of calling for “reproductive justice,” which emphasizes the socioeconomic dynamics that make it harder for women of color and other marginalized groups to get abortions and other reproductive services.

What will come up in the next round of debates? We’ll find out on July 30 and 31. (That’s right, we’re doing this all again in a little over a month.)

The candidates, essentially unanimous in both cases, praised the census ruling and denounced the gerrymandering ruling, which they called “a disgrace,” “undemocratic” and “a stain on our Constitution.”

While several candidates took the opportunity to highlight their voting-related policy proposals on Thursday, hardly any time was spent discussing gerrymandering during that evening’s debate.

The Supreme Court’s rulings came just two days after Ms. Warren announced a plan to “strengthen our democracy.” The far-reaching proposal would create new standards for how federal elections are carried out across the country, as part of an effort to protect voting rights and make it easier for Americans to cast ballots.

Specifically, Ms. Warren said she would create a new federal agency, the Secure Democracy Administration; replace every voting machine with modern equipment; and require the use of a uniform federal ballot. She also called for uniform election rules, automatic voter registration and same-day registration nationwide, early voting and voting by mail, and making Election Day a holiday.

“Our elections are never going to be secure, fair or workable with so many jurisdictions each making their own rules — especially when some officials deliberately manipulate those rules to stop people from voting,” she wrote in a Medium post.

Joe Sestak, a former congressman from Pennsylvania and former Navy admiral, declared his candidacy last weekend, bringing the Democratic field to a totally manageable two dozen.

His pitch?

“Our country desperately needs a president with a depth of global experience and an understanding of all the elements of our nation’s power, from our economy and our diplomacy to the power of our ideals and our military, including its limitations,” he said.

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