DAVENPORT, Iowa — Kamala Harris is on the move.
During the course of a five-day sprint across Iowa that included 17 stops across 11 counties, the Democratic presidential candidate ordered tacos from a tacqueria in Storm Lake, sampled a pork chop at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, called bingo at a senior centre in Muscatine and toured the Coyote Run farm in Lacona.
The Associated Press interviewed Harris on her bus, which blared her name in bold, vibrant colours as she travelled through a state that she repeatedly said has “made me a better candidate.”
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: What have you learned from the people you have met on this trip so far?
A: I’ve heard from everyone from farmers to teachers, to people who have been laid off, to seniors who are worried about their Medicare coverage and their prescription drug costs, to students really worried about student loan debt. A lot of people worried about climate change, and there’s an intersection between some of those. What I’ve enjoyed about it is, you know, given the travel schedules we all have, to be in for me, with all of the states that we have to cover. Being in one state for five to six straight days, doing it on the bus in a way that we’re not just going to the places where there are airports and kind of … but instead can get out to places where there are no airports but where people live. How many people came up to me and said, ‘Thank you for coming,’ because they’re not necessarily used to seeing with any frequency at all presidential candidates. I’ve been saying from the beginning, and I’m still in that phase, that it’s really important for me to listen as much as I’m talking.
Q: Why was it so important to be in Iowa for so long?
A: There are some practical reasons, to be sure. The Senate’s not in session so I could actually do five straight days. Five straight days, it’s a luxury of sorts. To be able to do that, to do it and to stay, and, really, we’ve been all over the state. It’s almost like being embedded when you as a journalist do that, right? Which is being able to really just dive in and not to have split attention to really just be here. Like this, looking out the window and seeing the flooding and seeing … one of the things I am very focused on in Iowa is the water issue, both in terms of issues of rain and flooding but also clean water is just a big issue in the state. I was just in Michigan. It’s a big issue there. When you talk to a mother in Flint or in Detroit, and you talk to a mother here, they’re having the same conversation, which is that there is poison in the water that their babies are drinking. That’s real. And they’re saying, What is my government doing about it? And they’re saying, “I don’t have any other source of water, and sometimes I have to drink that water that I know has chemicals in it that my child shouldn’t be drinking.” That’s real. For me, that’s the thing about these kinds of trips, which is very affirming. It’s about proving my hypothesis, if you will, which is that we have more in common than what separates us.
Q: How do you think about balancing telling people why you want to be their president and responding to things that President Donald Trump says?
A: I feel the need to speak about what he says when it is so clearly destructive, hateful or not reflective of the words of a leader, which is often. But I just think that this is a moment that is challenging leaders to have the courage to speak and say that is not effective of a leader, much less the leader of our nation and the so-called free world. People gotta speak up. There’s a speech that I give about hate, and it was actually part of my stump for a long time. Which is about the importance of speaking truth even when it makes people uncomfortable and speaking the truth about racism, anti-Semitism on and on. … We must agree that whoever is the subject of that and is being attacked should never be made to fight alone. That’s what is going on in my head when I hear certain statements that he makes. It’s about all of us collectively saying we’re not going to stand by and witness an attempt to beat people down without standing up, collectively, and saying we’re all in this together.
Q: Your campaign’s headquarters are in Baltimore. What did you think of the president’s comments about the city and its residents?
A: Our headquarters are in Baltimore, very purposely chosen. I remember spending time in Baltimore when I was at Howard. Baltimore is a great American city. It’s got a profound history, it’s got a profound culture. And yeah, it has challenges, but it also has made incredible contributions. I put his attack on Baltimore in the same lane of all of the other attacks, right? He is disrespectful. He clearly is not a student of history in terms of understanding the historical significance of certain moments in time or certain places, and the fact that he spoke the word he did about Elijah Cummings … it’s just continually further evidence of a person who does not understand the significance of the words of the president of the United States. Those words should be used in a way that is about lifting people up, not beating them down. The people of Baltimore are the people he represents. To speak of them like the other is just vivid evidence of the fact that the guy does not understand his job and therefore should not be in that job. Most other people, if they keep showing they don’t understand what the job requires, get fired. He needs to get fired. That’s why I’m running against him. Dude gotta go!
Q: How did you come up with that line?
A: It was a Saturday night in Las Vegas. It was one of our last events and I’m going on. I’m making the point about how our campaign is so much bigger than about getting rid of Donald Trump, it’s about the future of America and making the transition. As a point of emphasis, and also because I got very casual in my conversation because it was just late … So I said, just as a basic point, ‘We all know dude gotta go.’ At which point people— because it was Las Vegas on a Saturday night — people started chanting, ‘Dude gotta go, Dude gotta go.’ I don’t know how many times, the whole place. I did it again, I think, last night, and people kind of liked it. But it makes the point. At some point the conversation about what is not right … At some point, these things are just really self-evident, and so for me, the issue that our campaign is about is not only that kind of obvious point, but what are we going to build. That’s why I talk about the fact that people want a problem-solving president, somebody who can be transformative in a way that is about transforming lives, that is about building up our country in a way that is about strengthening us.
Juana Summers, The Associated Press