SOMERSWORTH, N.H. — Hundreds turned out in two small New Hampshire communities Sunday to listen to US Senator Kamala Harris of California, who was making her first campaign swing through the state since her breakout moment in last month’s Democratic presidential debate.
After her high-profile exchange with former vice president Joe Biden over busing, voters here are watching Harris with interest — and some scrutiny.
“I want a definitive policy [clarifying] what she means by ‘health care for all,’ ” said Liz Clark, a Hopkinton resident who works in the health care industry. “She flip-flops on it.”
Clark, a Democrat, said she’s leaning toward Harris and may vote for her — if the senator will spell out her position on Medicare-for-all.
Clark didn’t get an answer to that question Sunday in Gilford, where the 2020 presidential contender spoke in the backyard of former state representative Lisa DiMartino, but she was sufficiently impressed by Harris’s performance.
“I was glad that she was very clear about the issues that she did address,” Clark said.
In Gilford, and later at a high school in Somersworth, Harris touched on a wide array of liberal priorities, including stricter gun regulations, a renewed commitment to combating climate change, and a need to close the gender pay gap.
Her down-to-earth approach and calm amid some technical difficulties, like a broken microphone, won her accolades among members of the audience.
“I thought she did an amazing job. She can speak to any subject extemporaneously, and she knows her business,” said Stephen Purington of Laconia. “She’s just a genuine, good person.”
Still, reservations remained over her history as a prosecutor; some progressives are turned off by what they say was a tough-on-crime approach.
“I do have some issues [as] an African American male” about her history, admitted Ryan Glover, of Cambridge, Mass.
But Harris framed her background as the district attorney of San Francisco and then attorney general of California as a strength, saying she has experience prosecuting banks and pharmaceutical companies.
“I’ve prosecuted predators,” she said. “And we have a predator living in the White House. He has predatory instincts and a predatory nature.”
Harris accused President Trump of wanting to return to an era before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Roe v. Wade decision, in which the US Supreme Court case found a constitutional right to abortion.
“Well, we’re not going back. We’re not going back,” she said to applause.
Haley Finn and Koze Wonokay, both 17, came from Georgetown, Mass., to hear Harris speak in Somersworth.
“I think she did great,” Finn said. “I’ve always thought she’s just a badass, and represents women in a great way.”
Finn said Harris’s performance at the June debate increased her admiration, particularly when the senator said, “America does not want to witness a food fight. They want to know how we’re going to put food on their table.”
Wonokay is deciding between Harris and Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, she said, but appreciated Harris’s politeness and specificity on various issues — particularly the environment, mental health, and restrictions on guns.
“Her views on [gun regulations], very important as we’re in high school,” Wonokay said. “You do see massacres happen, [and] you don’t want it to be you.”
Hunter Taylor of Alton said he’s a Republican but is planning on quitting the party because of Trump’s actions.
Taylor supports Biden, because he thinks the former vice president is the most electable candidate.
“I am a conservative, and I do think that his views are, to me, more realistic,” Taylor said.
Although he said he didn’t love seeing Harris go after Biden during the debate, Taylor said he likes Harris and thinks she would be a good vice presidential nominee for Biden, if the two can reconcile their differences.
“I think the important thing is a ticket that can win,” he said.
Harris didn’t mention Biden by name when asked to address busing Sunday, but she doubled down on her position that the federal enforcement of school integration was necessary at the time.
“People were resisting it . . . violently resisting the desegregation of our schools,” she said. “There’s no question that even today, we are seeing extreme segregation in our schools.”
Christi Ober, from Framingham, Mass., said she loves both Harris and US Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.
“God, I hope they’re the front-runners,” Ober said. “I just think [Harris] has the potential ability to enthuse the Democratic party and the population.”
Ober, a self-described progressive who’s in favor of criminal justice reform, said she’s hoping Harris is “able to learn from previous mistakes.”
In Gilford, a 9-year-old girl asked what Harris thought about families being separated at the border between the United States and Mexico.
“On day one, I plan on shutting down all these private detention facilities,” Harris responded, describing her experience visiting a facility in Homestead, Fla., and being denied entry.
She said she climbed a ladder to watch children being shepherded into a barracks. “It’s inhumane, and it is wrong.”