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Kamala Harris: Path to victory 'runs straight through' Michigan

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Detroit — Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris pushed for support Tuesday in two of Michigan's largest cities, visiting Black-owned small businesses in Flint and touting the need for voter participation in Detroit.

Wearing a mask while she spoke outside the Detroit Pistons Performance Center, Harris stressed the stakes of the Nov. 3 election, which is six weeks away, and the importance of Michigan in determining whether President Donald Trump or Democrat Joe Biden wins. A path toward victory "runs straight through" the state, she said.

"We will keep coming back," the 55-year-old senator from California said. "Because so goes Michigan, (so) goes the rest of the country."

Democrats are counting on voters in urban areas, like Detroit, to turn out at a higher rate in 2020 than they did four years earlier when Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton. The Republican won Michigan by 10,704 votes, his closest margin of victory nationally. He became the first GOP presidential nominee to carry the state since 1988.

Democratic vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris speaks with the Detroit Youth Choir after a campaign event in Detroit on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2020.

But a turnout decline in Detroit was blamed in part for Trump's narrow victory. Clinton got about 46,000 votes fewer in Detroit in 2016 than then-President Barack Obama received in 2012, while Trump gained 1,600 more votes than GOP nominee Mitt Romney did four years earlier.

Trump also made campaign stops in Detroit and Flint in 2016, including at a Black church in each of the cities.

"Detroit, I believe, is going to decide the election in Michigan," the city's mayor, Mike Duggan, said at Tuesday night's event. "And we’re going to turn out big.”

Duggan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Democratic U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Democratic U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield participated in the campaign event outside the Pistons facility. The Detroit Youth Choir performed. About 70 people attended. The event wasn't open to the public as the former vice president's campaign continues to hold smaller gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a 20-minute speech, Harris criticized a Republican lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act and Trump's response to COVID-19. Standing in front of a sign that read, "Get in the game. Vote," she noted the president continues to hold rallies as the virus spreads. He was at a Monday rally about 20 minutes outside of Michigan in Toledo.

"He has convinced everyone that you’re on one side of his ledger if you wear a mask, and you’re on the other side of his ledger if you don’t," Harris said. "Making value judgments about people who are concerned with not dying. We're talking about the president of the United States.

“We deserve better. We deserve better.”

During an earlier stop at Headliners Barbershop in Detroit, Harris met with Lt. Gov. Gilchrist, Detroit NAACP President Wendell Anthony and other members of the Detroit community to discuss issues ranging from police funding to jobs to the coronavirus pandemic. 

At the outdoor event, Harris warned that people in leadership positions across the country repeatedly ignored America’s history with race, but argued that Russian interference in 2016 exploited Black people's voting history. 

"In 2016, they targeted black voters — it’s part of the report  —  and you know why?” said Harris, the junior senator from California. “Because they knew that they could try and tap into a righteous distrust of the system, but with misinformation so people would be turned off by it.”

She criticized Trump for sounding the alarm about mail-in voting, arguing it only served to spread mistrust of the election system. 

“Why do you think they are trying to suppress and to make it difficult or to confuse Black people around voting?” Harris asked. “The answer is simple: Because they know when we vote things change.”

Gilchrist noted several of his acquaintances who have contracted COVID-19 in recent months have been Black men, underscoring the importance of this election for that demographic. 

“Joe Biden specifically has never turned his back on the city of Detroit,” Gilchrist said. “That’s what we’re voting for in a partner in the White House. Not someone who insults every elected leader in our state like we have right now.”

Harris said the nation needs to “reimagine public safety” and shed the idea that the only way to make a community safer is to put more officers on the street.

“If we want to build safe communities, we need to invest in the health of communities,” Harris said. 

Trump has attacked the "defund the police" movement as promoting crime and accused Biden of supporting it. The former vice president has said he doesn't want to eliminate funding for law enforcement but supports other approaches to reducing crime. 

In response to the Harris visit, Paris Dennard, the Trump campaign's senior communications adviser for Black media affairs, contended Democrats' "radical policies" have "failed Black Americans for decades."

"Because of the president’s promises made and kept to Black voters, our Black Voices for Trump coalition is growing and families across the country are energized for four more years of a president who will fight for us," Dennard said.

Before stopping in Michigan's largest city on Tuesday, Harris visited Flint, where she had a closed meeting with unidentified Flint community leaders and went on a 45-minute walking tour of businesses. The conversations during the tour seemed to focus on what the businesses have done to adapt during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a pool report.

"We don’t lack for good ideas. We don’t lack for entrepreneurial spirit," said Harris, according to the pool report.

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., greets supporters as she visits different businesses that have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, Tuesday in Flint, Mich.

In Flint, she stopped by MagnifiClips, Comma Bookstore and Bedrock Apparel. She also bought items at the Flint Farmers Market. She was joined by Deanna Nolan, a Flint native and former Women's National Basketball Association player.

At the market, Harris purchased a box of apples, two ears of corn and a box of jalapeños, according to the pool report. Before the tour, Harris met with Flint community leaders who discussed "water, the economy, the pandemic and other issues," according to the Biden campaign. 

Flint is still recovering from a lead-contaminated water crisis that resulted after the city's water source was switched in April 2014 to the corrosive Flint River.

City residents have been skeptical of Flint's water quality despite testing showing lead levels that comply with federal standards and Obama's sipping of city tap water in May 2016. Residents still drink bottled water and directly drinking out of the tap is discouraged. Since 2015, voters have replaced two mayors in the Democratic stronghold. 

"Sen. Harris affirmed that both she and Vice President Biden believe that everyone in America has a fundamental right to drink clean water and breathe clean air," the campaign said of the discussion.

Flint is in Genesee County, one of Michigan's largest counties and a place where Democrats want to do better than they did in 2016.

In 2012, Obama won the county by 28 percentage points. In 2016, Clinton beat Trump there by 9 percentage points. 

State Sen. Marshall Bullock, D-Detroit, attended Tuesday night's gathering in Detroit with Harris.

"When we all vote, we make change, and we’re a better society for it," he said.

cmauger@detroitnews.com

Staff Writer Beth LeBlanc contributed.