The Democratic presidential candidate was the keynote speaker Sunday at the Detroit NAACP Fight for Freedom Fund dinner, attended by a mostly black audience of nearly 10,000. As of Sunday, 4.8 million people had watched the C-SPAN video circulating on Twitter of Harris questioning Barr, catapulting her into the spotlight amid the crowded field of more than 20 Democrats and hammering a campaign theme that she is the candidate to "prosecute the case against Trump."
During her remarks, Harris also said her approach to the 2020 race is about challenging notions of electability and who can speak to Midwesterners. "They usually put the Midwest in a simplistic box and a narrow narrative," Harris said. "The conversation too often suggests certain voters will only vote for certain candidates regardless of whether their ideas will lift up all of our families. It's short sighted. It's wrong. And voters deserve better."
Harris's appearance in Detroit highlights an underappreciated variable in Democrats' 2016 losses across the Great Lakes region: declining support from black voters. Michigan gave President Donald Trump his closest winning margin of any state, with the Republican finishing 10,704 votes ahead of Hillary Clinton. Much of the narrative focused on Clinton losing ground from Barack Obama's 2012 marks in many small-town and rural counties dominated by middle-class whites.
Biden has been leading the polls, with a majority saying he has the best chance to defeat Trump. A Quinnipiac poll from last week showed Biden leading among Democratic candidates with 38 percent, while Harris was fourth with eight percent.
Yet it was heavily African American Wayne County, home to Detroit, where Clinton saw her single largest and most consequential dropoff. She got 78,004 fewer votes in the county — the anchor of Democrats' statewide coalition — than Obama received in 2012, meaning that her Wayne County deficit from Obama was more than seven times the statewide gap separating her from Trump and Michigan's 16 electoral votes.
Harris told the largely African-American audience that as president, she plans to double the Justice Department's civil rights division, hold accountable social media platforms disseminating misinformation and cyberwarfare and address economic inequality for families and teachers.
Called "the largest sit-down dinner in the country," boasting 10,000 attendees, this year's dinner comes amid an already busy primary season, as Democrats are eyeing the battleground state of Michigan. Fellow 2020 Democratic contender Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey was last year's keynote.
The Detroit NAACP chapter is the civil rights organization's largest, and the city will host their national convention in July, where most 2020 Democrats are expected to appear. The Rev. Wendell Anthony, Detroit chapter president, said Sunday that "our very lives, our freedom" are riding on the 2020 election.
"This is about the soul of America," Anthony said. "There's some people that want to take us back 50 years. We ain't going. They win when we don't show up." Anthony said that while Harris' appearance was not an endorsement, the energy at the dinner was "a signal to the nation that we are concerned about what's happening in the country" and warned that "the stakes are too great for anybody to sit this out."
Associated Press writer Bill Barrow contributed to this report from Atlanta
Whack is The Associated Press' national writer on race and ethnicity. Follow her work on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/emarvelous