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Home | News | Election Center: Vote2020 | In Houston, Kamala Harris draws large crowd, prominent Democrats in first major Texas swing

In Houston, Kamala Harris draws large crowd, prominent Democrats in first major Texas swing

HOUSTON — By the time U.S. Sen Kamala Harris, D-California, took the stage here Saturday, the message was clear.

“This is Harris County!” declared a bevy of colorful signs in the hands of supporters in a crowded auditorium at Texas Southern University. And when Harris began to speak during the biggest event of her first major swing through Texas, Harris was implicitly communicating much the same message: There may be two Texas Democrats vying for support in this state nearly a year ahead of Super Tuesday, but the Californian isn’t ceding any ground to the state’s native sons.

“I love being in Harris County!” she declared by way of greeting, enjoying raucous applause, and, apparently, the alignment between her surname and the name of Texas’ largest county and one of its most diverse. And in unveiling a major pitch for raising teachers’ salaries — a proposal her campaign has described as “the largest federal investment in teacher pay in history” — she made sure to nod to the last Texas Democrat to occupy the office she seeks.

“[Lyndon B. Johnson] was the last president that made a meaningful investment in public education.” One of his reasons, she said, was “to bridge the gap between helplessness and hope.”

Saturday was Harris’ second public campaign event in Texas after a visit Friday nightto the Dallas-area Tarrant County Democrats.

In Houston, on the campus of one of the nation’s largest historically black colleges, she attracted a crowd of some 2,400 including of influential area Democrats including U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Sylvia Garcia as well as state Sen. Carol Alvarado and state Rep. Ron Reynolds.

The crowd cheers for Democratic 2020 presidential candidate and Sen. Kamala Harris at a campaign event at Texas Southern University on Saturday, March 23, 2019 in Houston, TX. Pu Ying Huang for The Texas Tribune

Rodney Ellis, a Harris County commissioner and major crusader for criminal justice reform, praised Harris as a “career prosecutor, but… a thoughtful prosecutor,” defending Harris against criticisms of her record. When he introduced her, he declared, “I’m endorsing her right now!”

With scores of delegates up for grabs in a state expected to be competitive in the general election for the first time in decades, Harris’ swing looks like a tactical play to capture prized supporters, as well as backing from Texas’ growing communities of color. Harris’ campaign sees major opportunities to recruit support from black and Hispanic communities in Houston and Dallas and has already launched overtures to Texan members of the Congressional Black Caucus, POLITICO reported this week.

The importance of that representation was clear for supporters in line Saturday. Ron Clark said he brought his 7-year-old daughter Madison to Harris’ event “for obvious reasons”: He wanted her to see “someone who looks like her” poised to fight for the country’s top job. She smiled from atop his shoulders, pink sneakers dangling and several teeth missing from the top row.

Other supporters in a line curving out through the campus and onto the street said they’re all but certain to vote for Harris, though most said they had backed her rival, El Paso Democrat Beto O’Rourke, last fall in his closer-than-expected challenge to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz. Attendees seemed to know less about Texas’ other Democratic contender, former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro.

There will be “no tears from me” if either O’Rourke or Castro earns the Democratic nomination, said Aaron Rodriguez, a 25-year-old engineer who lives in midtown Houston — “there are a lot of good options.” But Harris, he said, is his clear first choice.

So too for Mirna Gonzalez, a 24-year-old high school teacher in Houston who arrived Saturday eager to hear more about Harris’ education plan.

Without offering details on how she’d pay for her teacher pay plan beyond promising a good “return on investment,” Harris pledged to close the wage gap between teachers and similarly situated professionals within her first term. A fuller rollout of the plan is expected early next week. The issue could find resonance in Texas, where teacher pay is middle-of-the-pack compared with other states and state lawmakers are in the middle of a legislative session laser-focused on overhauling a flawed school finance system.

“I’ve been traveling around, and the crowds seem to look different from one place to another — but I’ll tell you, the issues, the priorities, are the same,” Harris said. “And the truth is, we are a nation and a society that pretends to care about education — the education of other people’s children. And we’ve got to deal with that.”

Gwen Davis, 66, summed up her support for Harris in one word: “equality.”

“I want to see more women in power — no matter what color they are,” said Davis, a nurse.

And then she announced to the rest of the line: “It’s time for a change!”

Author: EMMA PLATOFFThe Texas Tribune

We’re tracking the Texas stories in the presidential contest, from the Texans in the race to all candidates’ efforts to reach voters and raise money in the state. We’ve also compiled stories from our archives related to Texans running for president.

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About The Texas Tribune

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. Facebook (@TexasTribune) Twitter (@TexasTribune) Instagram (@Texas_Tribune)

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8 comments

  1. Mueller's gone but the party is just starting!

    I once had the opportunity to meet Kamala Harris when she was running for the San Francisco District Attorney office to unseat Terrance Hallinan. I was at a pool hall shooting pool when one of my friend walked up and asked me: I want you to meet someone, and it was Kamala Harris. We shook hands and my friend then asked me if I would vote for her, and I said without a doubt, and Kamala smiled at me and I smiled back at her and they walked away.
    It was 2008 and I did vote for Kamala Harris but I also voted for John McCain that election year, John McCain was like a shipmate to me.As we both served on the same aircraft carrier in different eras of time.
    The same carrier that the late senator was shot down by the North Vietnamese and taking POW!
    Kamala Harris/Beto O’Rourke or vise verse sounds like a good combination if either makes it past the democratic primary. I can say that I am very proud of Kamala Harris political career success, she went on to become the state of California AG and then voted into the United States Senate.
    And now she might become the first woman president of the United States!
    Plenty of good democrat contenders for the 2020 presidency and she is one of the top three in my books.
    Can’t say the same for those disgusting racist bigots over at the GOP! they all make me sick!

    • Liar, you once posted that you went into the Navy just to avoid Vietnam.

      • Mueller's gone but the party is just starting!

        You are just so jealous about me because I’m a retired American citizen and make good money off my retirement pension. That is why you are so mad and disgruntled at everything, that you don’t even feel when Donald Trump pokes you in the ass.
        Mind you that I wanted to go to Vietnam and even tested in the Army National Guard at age 17! but they told me to come back the following year because I was still in high school.
        The following year I registered with the selective service board aka the draft, and the following month congress abolished the draft.
        You can’t ever say that about own yourself mikey mad mike! they kicked you out of the Army with a dishonorable discharge.
        They gave you a fifty dollar Greyhound bus ticket to go back home, and Gee Dubb picked you off the streets, as a male prostitute panhandler.
        You can’t even spell Harris correctly you dumb idiot!
        Willie Brown was mayor of San Francisco and a democrat, he was also a reformed Texan. I’m also a reformed Texan and proud to be one, I don’t carry that Texas chip on my shoulders like you wanna be Texans do.
        You should go back home to mama you whiny fat butt blast overweight piece of lard.

        • Albert you are all wrong. The Vietnam draft ended January 1973. The Vietnam War ended April 1975. Registering for selective service at age 18 doesn’t count. Regardless you were way too young. Nothing worse than stolen valor or cheap personal embellishment. Good try but you are obviously a fake. Nothing but a loser.

    • What are you going to do when Trump gets re-elected? That leftist witch hunt has turned against you.

    • Narcissistic much Albert? Trump won and you lost. Plain and simple no matter how much you rant. Read my lips. NO COLLUSION!

  2. And I forgot, Haris was able to get into politics because she was porking Willie Brown.

    • Leave it up to delusional Albert to support Beto the fake Mexican and Harris the fake African-American. Socialist Bernie will probably win the Democrat Party nomination. But Albert doesn’t sound like a Bernie Bro.

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