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Kamala Harris Makes Her Pitch At Iowa State Fair


The Iowa State Fair, it's a whole lot of fun. There's a lot of fried food, rides, the whole works. But for presidential campaigns, it is pretty serious business. Many Democrats view the fair as the beginning of a phase when Iowans start paying closer attention to the race, and they start to pick a candidate to eventually caucus for. NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow is just back from the Iowa State Fair. Hi, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.

MARTIN: So you spent a couple days with California Senator Kamala Harris. How did she approach the Iowa State Fair?

DETROW: So she's gotten a lot of attention and interest from Democrats, but she hasn't cemented herself as their top choice. So she approached this visit to Iowa as a way to really show that she's a serious contender. Let's start with one very serious campaign moment, and that is flipping pork chops on a grill in front of a ton of cameras and people.


KAMALA HARRIS: I think I can also flip Republicans. That's what I'm saying (laughter).

DETROW: Harris arrived at the fair while crossing the state in a sleek, wood-paneled bus - black on the outside with Kamala written out in yellow, blue and red.


HARRIS: Thank you. Hi, everybody.


HARRIS: Welcome. My name's Kamala. Nice to meet you.

DETROW: Harris is toward the top of the field in both polling and fundraising, but she's lagged behind Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and sometimes Elizabeth Warren in voter support. Still, most Democrats are a long way from a final choice. Many are like Dale Liska, who went to a campaign stop Harris held in Fort Dodge.

DALE LISKA: I like her. I'm kind of in between about three candidates right now.

HARRIS: I'm going to keep on working to get up right and just keep working up that list (laughter).

DETROW: As Harris's bus barreled between Fort Dodge and Clear Lake, Harris told NPR she's comfortable with her place in the crowded Democratic field.

HARRIS: I need to keep spending time with folks. You know, I am a - I've never run before. So there are a lot of people who just don't know my background. They don't know our work. They don't know the plan.

DETROW: While Warren and Sanders focus on big overhauls to the economy and political system and Biden talks about restoring normalcy, Harris is increasingly focused on economic issues - tax credits for middle and lower income families, increasing pay for teachers.

At the state fair, she said she wants to fix the types of problems she says keep people up at night.


HARRIS: It usually has to do with one just a very few things - our personal health, the health of our children and our parents. For so many, can I get a job, keep a job, pay the bills by the end of the month.

DETROW: Even though Democrats credit a focus on health care and income inequality as the reason for winning back the House of Representatives last year, presidential campaigns are often won on big, sweeping narratives defined by memorable slogans - Yes We Can, Make America Great Again. On the bus, Harris disagrees.

HARRIS: Listen; I think that people want a president who is going to be interested in the things that keep them up at night, the things that are weighing on them, the things that are debilitating, and that can be addressed.

DETROW: But for many Democrats focused on beating Trump, it's not the policy platform that draws them to Harris. It's the way she's gone after opponents on debate stages and in high-profile Senate hearings.

SHELLY ESCOBIDO: I could imagine her doing that to Donald Trump and just cutting him off at the knees.

DETROW: Shelly Escobido is another Fort Dodge Democrat who has Harris on a list of four or five. When Harris has those moments, like the first debate when she confronted Biden, she rises on Escobido's list. But other times when Harris isn't taking as clear or as bold a policy stance as other Democrats, she drops down on the list again.

ESCOBIDO: She needs to be more forceful. I always feel like she's - she's forceful in given moments, and then I always feel like she hesitates. Like, she pulls back. Lay it out there. Just go for it, you know?

MARTIN: So, Scott, we were hearing there some voters have made up their mind. Some haven't. Meanwhile, the next round of debates is coming up, right?

DETROW: Yeah, and Harris has secured her spot in the debates, but a lot of candidates are still on the bubble. They need to hit polling and fundraising marks by the end of the month, or they don't make the stage. So for many, it could be the end of their campaign. There's a lot of pressure over the next few weeks for candidates on the bubble.

MARTIN: NPR's political correspondent Scott Detrow. Thanks, Scott.

DETROW: Thank you. 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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