Rafael Carranza – Andrew Oxford – Maria Polletta – Arizona Republic
(CNT) City News Talk #arizona
Democratic vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris on Wednesday made a final appeal to Arizona voters who have yet to cast their ballots, emphasizing the “clear contrast” between this year’s Republican and Democratic tickets during back-to-back events in Phoenix and Tucson.
The trip marked Harris’ second visit to the crucial battleground state this month and overlapped with the seventh visit of Republican President Donald Trump, who is seeking reelection. Unlike the Trump campaign, Harris and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden have shied away from large rallies, instead hosting more intimate events with community leaders, union members and business owners.
That pattern held Wednesday: Harris began her Tucson visit by meeting with five Latina businesswomen at La Chaiteria, a Mexican restaurant that recently opened in one of Tucson’s historically Latino neighborhoods.
Though Pima County has long been a reliable bastion for Democrats, the Biden campaign believes an Arizona victory will require boosted participation among Tucson-area voters. Harris’ visit was meant to more broadly energize Tucson’s Latino population, campaign officials said.
As Harris arrived at La Chaiteria, owner Wendy Garcia greeted her alongside local artist Alejandra Trujillo, who’d painted a mural at the site depicting civil rights icon Martin Luther King and Mexican painter Frida Kahlo joined in hands and raising them in the air.
“This was an idea we had to promote the union and support of Latinos and Afro-Americans to just be together and support the community,” Trujillo told Harris after the senator asked about her inspiration behind the mural.
After meeting with Garcia and four other business leaders, Harris stepped out of the restaurant and addressed reporters and a crowd of supporters that had gathered outside. She praised the women for forging ahead with their businesses despite the many obstacles they’d faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and talked up the $150 billion plan she and Biden drafted to invest in small and minority-owned businesses such as La Chaiteria.
“There’s so much innovation. There’s so much excitement about the work that they are doing. But they need access to capital,” Harris said.
The senator’s remarks were at times drowned out by honking from a caravan of Trump supporters who drove by the restaurant flying “Trump 2020” campaign flags. Harris was undeterred.
After concluding her remarks, she waved to supporters and used her fingers to make the number six — the number of days until the election — as they cheered. Harris remained well over 6 feet away from the small crowd, a nod to the care the Biden campaign has taken to emphasize that they are following social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Harris: Donald Trump ‘failed us’
Precautions also were in place at Harris’ next scheduled event, a drive-in rally held at Pima Community College’s West campus. By the time Harris took the outdoor stage there, at about 12:30 p.m., about 100 cars had gathered for the pandemic-friendly drive-in rally.
Other prominent Democrats from the Tucson area, such as Reps. Raul Grijalva and Ann Kirkpatrick, warmed up the crowd. Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords introduced her husband, Mark Kelly, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Martha McSally, R-Ariz.
Mayor Regina Romero, the first Latina to lead Tucson, introduced Harris, but not before taking her own jabs at Trump over what she called his “wall of hate” being constructed south of Tucson along the Arizona-Mexico border in protected desert wilderness and ancestral tribal lands.
Harris didn’t pull any punches, either, beginning her speech with a takedown of President Donald Trump’s handling of COVID-19.
“Donald Trump failed. He failed us,” she said, criticizing Trump’s decision to downplay the seriousness of the virus earlier this year and railing against his administration’s attempts to get the Affordable Care Act repealed. “He failed the American people.”
Harris contrasted Trump’s health care philosophy with Biden’s, working to paint the Democratic Party as a guardian of health care access for Americans with low earnings and pre-existing conditions.
At one point, she asked attendees to honk if they knew anyone with such a condition, rattling off a few examples such as diabetes and breast cancer. The honking was deafening.
Harris contrasted Trump and Biden’s economic strategies: While Biden evaluates the economy by looking at how the average American is doing, she said, Trump looks to the stock market.
She repeated Biden’s vows to repeal a Trump-sanctioned tax cut for the wealthy and invest the funds in infrastructure.
Harris devoted the final portion of her remarks to the importance of voting, highlighting America’s “long history of powerful folks trying to make it difficult for other folks to vote.”
“They know that when we vote, things change,” she said of historically marginalized groups. “Our democracy is always going to be as strong as our willingness to fight for it … and that means everyone of us voting.”
‘Get the job done’
Harris took a quick flight to Phoenix, where she met with about two dozen Black community leaders and underscored the outsize impact that COVID-19 has had on people of color.
The senator noted that people of color have been more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 and to die from it. And businesses owned by people of color affected by the economic recession the pandemic has wrought are more likely to face barriers accessing the capital needed to survive and recover, she said.
The country’s recovery won’t be “like flipping a light switch,” she warned the socially distanced audience of a few dozen people during a town hall-style meeting at The Van Buren in downtown Phoenix.
But Harris said that the country’s recovery must be “taking, again, into account racial disparities, understanding we have to do this in a way that’s equitable.”
Harris also talked about policing.
As she soon as she stepped off her plane, she was asked about protests against police brutality and particularly the killing of Walter Wallace in Philadelphia.
“Part of the reason that people are marching in the streets is that there has not been the level of attention, especially recently over the last few years, that is necessary from the president of the United States. And Joe’s committed to that,” she told reporters.
Harris went on at The Van Buren to call for creating a national registry of police officers who break the law so they don’t get fired in one community and move on to another. She also called for national standards on use of force, decriminalizing marijuana and expunging the records of people of convicted of marijuana offenses.
The meeting was wide-ranging, though, touching on issues from education to business investment in communities of color.
The gathering was a chance for Harris to speak directly with a base of supporters at a time when Arizona’s status as a battleground means campaigns are searching for every persuadable vote in the middle but risk peril if they take anybody in their own column for granted.
With Harris’ visit, Arizona had received by Wednesday more visits by major party presidential and vice-presidential candidates than in any year since 1996.
Jevin Hodge, a candidate for Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, said the meeting was sort of like turning around and preaching to the choir but that it was nonetheless important to see a presidential ticket addressing issues like the ones Harris raised.
“I’m really excited and relieved to see this is a priority in the campaign and that they carry this through the administration,” Hodge said.
Berdetta Hodge, president of the Tempe Union High School District’s governing board and his mother, said this has felt like a very different election year.
“It is different because we never had the ear of Washington like this,” she said. “It’s really good to have that here.”
She had a particular message for Harris, too.
“We’ve been told as Black girls we need to sit down, we need to be quiet, we need to be not loud,” she told the vice presidential nominee during the meeting. “So thank you for being loud and not being quiet.”
Later, at a drive-in rally across from Papago Park, Harris took the stage at dusk with singer Alicia Keys, her song “Girl on Fire” blaring as the crowd honked its horns.
In a race when so many voters are simply fatigued by politics and just about everything else, the two hit tried to hit an energizing tone in the election’s last days.
“Get all up in your feelings of civic pride,” Keys told the crowd as she urged them to vote.
When Harris spoke afterward, her remarks largely mirrored those she’d delivered in Tucson earlier in the day.
Highlighting the impact of the dual public health and economic crises affecting Arizona, she again described the election as a “clear choice … about where we go from here.”
“Arizona has a longstanding reputation for no BS,” she said. “Just get the job done.”