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Kamala Harris: "Of course" it's different to run for president as a black woman

Kamala Harris says running for president as a woman of color in the 2020 election is different than running as a black man or as a white woman and that the question of electability has emerged as "the elephant in the room about my campaign."

Why it matters: In an interview with "Axios on HBO," the California senator, stuck around 5th place in Democratic presidential primary polls, says there’s still time to regain momentum to crack the top three in the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3. She was mostly guarded in her remarks, but spoke more spontaneously on questions about race and her law-and-order background.

  • "Of course" it's different to run for president as a black woman, she said. "When there is not a reference point for who can do what, there is a lack of ability or a difficulty in imagining that someone who we have never seen can do a job that has been done, you know, forty-five times by someone who is not that person."
  • "I have also started to perhaps be more candid" or speak with "a candor in terms of the politics of race in the way that I'm talking during my town halls and in my rallies."

In the interview at her campaign office in Cedar Rapids, Harris also talked about health care, the challenges of running on a law-and-order background in today’s climate, and President Trump on Twitter.

She declined to share her views on Elizabeth Warren's rise in the Democratic contest or whether she thinks Warren is electable. She also declined to discuss the other frontrunner, Joe Biden.

  • Harris had a brief rise in the polls early in the summer after questioning Biden's record on busing, but since then she has been stuck behind Warren, Biden, Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg in most polling — including in Iowa, her strategic priority.
  • Her policy prescriptions tend to sit between the Warren-Bernie Sanders wing of the party and the Biden-Buttigieg wing.

On health care: Harris says she changed her approach to Medicare for All after understanding how many Americans feel strongly about keeping their private health insurance.

At first, she embraced Sanders' Medicare for All plan that ends private insurance, but then rolled out an alternative in July that preserves a role for private insurance to compete inside a government-run system.

  • "I have publicly and will always applaud Bernie for what he did to bring this conversation to the place that it now exists," she said.
  • But "I heard from people, 'Kamala, don't take away my choice if I want a private plan. Please don't take away my choice.' And I said, you know what? That is fair."
  • "I said to my team, I know we're going to take a political hit for it. . . I knew I'd be called a flip flopper for that."
  • "But here's the thing. I plan to govern" and "just because it might get you political points, that's not what people want. They want a leader who actually sees them as responsive to their needs and is honest and willing to have the courage to maybe take a political hit."
  • "I'm never gonna apologize for listening to people and then deciding, hey, they've got a point. This can be better."

On running as a former prosecutor and state attorney general in the era of Black Lives Matter:

  • "One of the greatest advances in the civil rights movement has been the invention of the smartphone, because now everyone has in their pocket the ability to record and videotape what communities have been seeing and experiencing for generations.
  • "I grew up a black child in America. I was fully aware, and that's why I decided to become a prosecutor, because I said if we want to change these systems, we need to be many places, including inside at the table where the decisions are being made."

Harris stands by her call to get Trump suspended from Twitter, a campaign that has drawn some criticism as a gimmick.

  • "Donald Trump has used his Twitter account, and he has 65 million followers, in a way that has been about intimidating witnesses, threatening people, obstructing justice" and it's "a real issue" for gun control advocates, whistleblowers and lawmakers on the receiving end of his attacks.
  • "People can intellectualize all they want about what it means for the campaign to say it. But I'm talking about real people whose lives are being threatened."