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Kamala Harris is struggling to win progressives and black voters



Sen. Kamala Harris, the California Democrat and 2020 presidential candidate, is attempting to strike a difficult balance between appeasing progressive activists and appealing to more moderate Democrats as her poll numbers fall.

California’s former attorney general, Harris has found vocal critics within the progressive community— particularly among criminal justice activists and public interest attorneys who take issue with much of her 25-year-long prosecutorial record.

In February, an LGBTQ rights attorney at the ACLU wrote a searing indictment of Harris’ record as attorney general on issues concerning transgender prisoners and sex work.

“I believe that people can evolve but I don’t believe that Harris has or will,” the attorney, Chase Strangio, wrote. “She is trying to obscure the harms she has caused and telegraphed her willingness to keep causing those harms.”

The op-ed forced Harris’ sister and campaign chair, Maya Harris, a former ACLU attorney herself, to attempt damage control by calling up her former colleagues, The New York Times reported.

Cliff Albright, the co-founder of Black Voters Matter Fund, told The Times this week that Harris has a “credibility gap” with progressives.

“Trust has to be built,” Albright said. “And she has to build and it has to be through substantive policy, and use policies that us activists have built. She doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel — she has to look to the organizing community that has been doing that work.”

Read more: What you need to know about Kamala Harris and her 2020 presidential bid

Recent polls show Harris has dropped several points since her strong start to the race earlier this year. Her support among nonwhite voters is relatively low at 4%, according to a late April CNN poll, after former Vice President Joe Biden‘s entrance into the race late last month. The CNN poll found Biden has 50% support among nonwhite voters.

But Harris is taking issue with the popular argument that a white male candidate, like Biden, is more “electable”— and more capable of going head-to-head with the president — than a woman of color.

“There has been a lot of conversation by pundits about ‘electability’ and ‘who can speak to the Midwest?’ But when they say that, they usually put the Midwest in a simplistic box and a narrow narrative, and too often their definition of the Midwest leaves people out,” Harris said during a campaign event last weekend in Detroit. “It leaves out people in this room who helped build cities like Detroit. It leaves out working women who are on their feet all day — many of them working without equal pay.”

Some of Harris’ top aides, including pollsters, have determined that the Democratic voter base doesn’t want her to move left, The Times reported. They argue Harris should highlight her prosecutorial record and that the effort to please the left is futile while she’s competing against progressive stalwarts like Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

In a strategic shift, Harris has recently leaned into her criticism of Trump and his administration. A video of her questioning Attorney General William Barr during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee went viral last week. The exchange put Harris’ prosecutorial skills on display and strengthened her reputation as a fighter.

During a speech at an NAACP event in Detroit on Sunday, Harris hit Trump multiple times.

“This president isn’t trying to make America great,” she said. “He’s trying to make America hate.”

Trump has also recently taken aim at Harris, describing her as “nasty” twice in response to her questioning of Barr. Notably, Trump infamously used that same word in 2016 to describe Hillary Clinton, dubbing her a “nasty woman.”

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