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'Everything is at stake': Kamala Harris rallies Miami Democrats

Miami Herald logo Miami Herald 10/31/2020 By Samantha J. Gross and Alex Harris, Miami Herald
a man wearing a suit and tie: Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks during a drive-in campaign rally at Northwestern High School in Flint, Michigan, on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. © Drew Angerer/Getty Images North America/TNS Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden speaks during a drive-in campaign rally at Northwestern High School in Flint, Michigan, on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020.

MIAMI — On the last weekend of early voting, a critical period for Florida Democrats counting on a swell of turnout from Black and Hispanic voters, vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris urged voters to choose the candidate that says “Black Lives Matter.”

Harris visited South Florida in a final swing through the state, where latest polling shows a razor-thin margin between her running mate, former Vice President Joe Biden, and President Donald Trump. Sunday marks the final day of early voting, and Democrats are sweating. Their advantage, once around 500,000, is down to around 116,000 votes.

a person riding on the back of a car: Romana Barbagallo holds a cutout of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) makes a campaign stop at the Palm Beach State College in Lake Worth, Florida, on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. © Joe Raedle/Getty Images North America/TNS Romana Barbagallo holds a cutout of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) makes a campaign stop at the Palm Beach State College in Lake Worth, Florida, on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020.

Harris’ stops in Miami-Dade, along with simultaneous Democrat-hosted events including a virtual Get Out the Vote forum for members of the faith community and celebratory Souls to the Polls events, all focused on a crucial demographic for victory: Black voters.

Harris opened her speech at Florida International University’s South Campus in West Miami-Dade by highlighting the “four crises” that she says are brought about by Trump. One is the legal challenge to the Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court will address the Trump administration’s request to overturn the law, ending the insurance program known as Obamacare, on Nov. 10.

Donald Trump et al. in front of a crowd: President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Reading, Pennsylvania, on one of four stops in the Keystone State on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020. © Spencer Platt/Getty Images North America/TNS President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Reading, Pennsylvania, on one of four stops in the Keystone State on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020.

“Honk if you know somebody with diabetes,” she said. “Honk if you know somebody with high blood pressure, breast cancer or lupus.”

She solicited a loud roar of honks from the hundred or so cars at the drive-in rally, which was not open to the general public. Campaign supporters receive invites, but unlike Trump rallies, people cannot show up.

Harris touched on other issues Biden has highlighted and contrasted his stances with Trump’s record, such as the importance of recognizing human-caused climate change, criminal justice reform, a rejection of racism and expanded access to healthcare.

“Let’s honor the ancestors, who fought for our right to vote. Everything is at stake,” she said.

Toward the end of the speech Harris was briefly interrupted by a man who appeared in front of the stage, yelling “Trump 2020” and holding a sign that said “Looters for Biden.”

Many of the issues Harris rallied around Saturday had to do with causes that have impacted Floridians in an outsized way.

She started with COVID-19, which has taken the lives of more than 16,000 Floridians and sickened more than 800,000 more. She asked the crowd what they would have done and what kind of money they would have saved if they knew earlier the hold the virus would take on American people and the economy .

“Donald Trump knew back in January that this virus would kill people at five times the rate of the flu,” she said. “What did he do? He covered it up.”

She went through the list of other campaign promises Biden has made part of his campaign to working-class Americans. Biden pledges to lower taxes and roll back tax cuts for the rich, she said. He would make criminal justice reform a priority, decriminalize marijuana, shut down private prisons and end cash bail, she added.

“There’s a long, overdue reckoning on racial justice in America, too,” Harris said. “Joe Biden, a student of American history, is able to speak the phrase: ‘Black lives matter.’”

Army veteran Paul Cruz, the son of two first-generation mainlanders from Puerto Rico, introduced Harris.

Cruz enrolled in the Army after graduating from South Miami High School and served as an intelligence analyst in Germany, Bosnia, Kosovo, Hawaii, Iraq and Afghanistan. He now lives in Homestead.

As vice president, Biden had visited Cruz’s base while he was deployed.

“I was raised in Dade,” Cruz said. “I believe there is no place like Miami. It’s not a location or a city. It’s a vibe. That’s why Senator Harris is back here in the 305.”


Video: Early voters line up in Miami, Florida, a week before the election (AFP)

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While rally attendees waited for Harris, reggaeton songs played and drivers honked their horns in support of opening speakers, who included Miami-Dade County commissioner and mayoral candidate Daniella Levine Cava, outgoing Florida House Minority Leader and county commission candidate Kionne McGhee, state Rep. Dotie Joseph, state Sen. Jose Javier Rodríguez and U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

At the front of the crowd was Tangier Scott, wearing a bedazzled Delta Sigma Theta T-shirt, representing her historically Black sorority. She also wore classic Converse sneakers, a staple of Harris’ wardrobe.

“I’m here to support my sister,” said Scott, referring to Harris’ membership to the Alpha Kappa Alpha, another historically Black sorority. “We are all a part of something. And a Biden-Harris ticket is for the people.”

Scott voted early at the North Dade Regional Library with her 90-year-old mother but says she has been continuously encouraging younger people in her community to turn out and vote early.

A group of sisters from Alpha Kappa Alpha, the historically Black sorority Harris belongs to, turned out to the drive-in rally decked out in pink and green, the sorority’s colors.

Priscilla Dames Blake, an AKA sister and local Democratic organizer, covered her car in signs with a large AKA blanket covering her hood. Dames Blake and her husband came back from their anniversary trip from Hilton Head, South Carolina, to make sure they were one of the first people to vote early in Miami-Dade County.

Dames Blake, who also works as a poll worker, organized for former President Barack Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton in 2012 and 2016. She remembers what it felt like when Black voters did not turn out in 2016 in the same numbers they did in 2012.

“We cannot allow that to happen this time,” said Dames Blake, 67, of Kendall. “Kamala being in Miami says a lot. They are refusing to let that happen to Democrats again.”

Nearby in her decked-out car was Denise Rowe, a 51-year-old teacher from Southwest Miami-Dade, who came to the rally with two fellow teachers to support Harris, who she said promises a better future for the children they teach.

“It’s been a rough four years,” Rowe said. “If change doesn’t happen, what happens for our kids?”

Rowe, who is Black and voted early, said she hopes more people in her community turn out and vote for Democrats to ensure Biden-Harris win. She has read headlines about low voter turnout among Black Democrats in Miami-Dade County.

“All I can do is hope people are excited to vote on Election Day,” she said. “I think they are waiting for the big day.”

Continuing with a theme of reaching Black voters, a crucial bloc for the Biden campaign, Harris stopped by Buccaneer Park in Miami Gardens where U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson was meeting with Black men in her district to talk about their concerns.

After the meeting, Harris said she was inspired by the leaders of Miami Gardens, the largest Black-majority city in Florida and one of the largest in the United States.

She said listening to them was special, and marked the first visit to the city by a candidate on the 2020 presidential ticket. She told reporters in a brief press conference that Biden has a real plan to bring economic mobility to Black and brown communities like Miami Gardens by boosting access to capital and that he will help Black communities thrive by getting rid of mandatory minimum sentences, closing private prisons and decriminalizing marijuana.

“There are a series of issues at play in this election,” she said. “Joe Biden and I have a real plan.”

Wilson, joined by Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver Gilbert, said the meeting underscored the importance of turning out the Black vote.

“What more can we do to impress upon the African-American men in this community that they don’t have the luxury of staying at home this election,” she said.

After her stops in Miami-Dade, Harris headed north to Broward County to continue campaigning. She also has a planned stop in Palm Beach County.

Harris last visited Florida on Oct. 19, the first day of in-person early voting, where she hosted an early vote drive-in rally in Orlando and a separate event in Jacksonville.

She also visited in September after being named Biden’s vice presidential pick with her husband, Doug Emhoff, who traveled around Miami-Dade County to meet with Black voters, Jewish and Hispanic voters and college voters.

After Harris’ September trip, the Biden campaign caught criticism from Haitian Americans for not including any Haitians in Harris’s discussion with African-American community leaders at Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens.

South Florida is home to the country’s largest Haitian-American community.

Harris’ visits comes days after Biden held a drive-in rally at Broward College, where he painted a grim picture for voters of what he thinks a Donald Trump victory will do for America.

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©2020 Miami Herald

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