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Kamala Harris Kicks Off Presidential Campaign With Oakland Rally


Immigration will surely be an issue in the 2020 presidential election. The most recent Democrat to enter the race is also the one capturing the most attention, at least in this moment. California Senator Kamala Harris drew an estimated 20,000 people to her kickoff rally in Oakland yesterday. NPR's Scott Detrow was there.

OAKLAND INTERFAITH GOSPEL CHOIR: (Singing) ...Through the perilous fight.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: The setting had all the hallmarks of the traditional campaign kickoff. Oakland City Hall was draped in flags and bunting as Harris stood in front of it, launching her bid for president. The rally also had the unmistakable feel of both the East Bay and of Harris's black heritage.

OAKLAND INTERFAITH GOSPEL CHOIR: (Singing) ...The bombs bursting in air, gave proof through the night...

DETROW: The Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir sang, and a drum group played Marvin Gaye, among other touches.

KAMALA HARRIS: I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States.


DETROW: Harris is organizing her message around her long career as a prosecutor and the way that, in that job, she would always announce herself to the judge and jury.

HARRIS: I walked into the courtroom for the first time and said the five words that would guide my life's work. Kamala Harris, for the people.

DETROW: But while that for the people slogan permeated her speech, it was another repeated theme that energized the crowd - the idea that the policies President Trump promotes don't represent the United States of America.

HARRIS: When we have children in cages, crying for their mothers and fathers, don't you dare call that border security. That's a human rights abuse.


HARRIS: And that's not our America.

DETROW: Harris criticized the president implicitly...

HARRIS: Lord knows I am not perfect, but I will always speak with decency and moral clarity and treat all people with dignity and respect.


DETROW: ...And also explicitly.

HARRIS: When authoritarianism is on the march, when nuclear proliferation is on the rise, when we have foreign powers infecting the White House like malware...

DETROW: Harris also laid out a campaign platform that looks increasingly familiar among the Democrats in the race. She promised to push for "Medicare-for-all," for debt-free college education and universal pre-K, among other policies. She did so on a scale and stage that sought to signal to Democratic voters and donors that in a crowded and growing field of candidates, she is a contender who should be taken seriously.

The heavily produced and attended rally was a much different approach from the purposely low-key way other top-tier Democratic candidates have begun their campaigns. Senator Elizabeth Warren launched her bid with a web video, then went right to Iowa.


ELIZABETH WARREN: Hello, Council Bluffs. Woo.

DETROW: And after an appearance on CBS's "Late Show," Senator Kirsten Gillibrand visited her hometown diner in upstate New York.


KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND: People want common-sense solutions. They want you to fight for them and get things done, and I have a really strong, proven record of doing that in my last decade in public service.

DETROW: In Oakland Sunday, supporters packed the plaza in front of City Hall, as well as several surrounding city blocks. They ranged from the interested but uncommitted, like Isaac Pingrey...

ISAAC PINGREY: I'm excited that she's announcing her candidacy. I think we have a lot of great candidates. So, you know, if Amy Klobuchar's announcement was, you know, a mile from my house, I'd go to that, too.

DETROW: ...To people like Malaika Bobino, who says she'll definitely vote for Harris in California's primary. Pointing to the just-ended government shutdown, Bobino says of all the issues out there, to her, the most important one is simply electing a Democrat.

MALAIKA BOBINO: That and the wall and just who he is, yeah. Change is more important than anything.

DETROW: That's something Democrat after Democrat has told NPR here in Oakland but also Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere. If that's the criteria many Democrats will be voting on, the question is how candidates will distinguish themselves in a field that grows more crowded every week. Scott Detrow, NPR News, Oakland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.
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