On a sunny, early fall day, Vice Presidential Candidate Kamala Harris stopped by UNC Asheville on Wednesday, Oct. 21 to speak about the importance of early voting and to rally support for her running mate, Presidential Candidate Joe Biden.
“13 days to go,” Harris said at the event, referencing the closeness of Election Day. “And we can not spare a minute, sisters and brothers. We cannot spare a minute in terms of everything that I know everyone here and around our country is prepared to do — as Joe Biden says — to fight for the soul of our nation.”
In addition to encouraging citizens to cast their votes, Harris spoke on the Biden-Harris campaign’s dissatisfaction with how the Trump administration has handled public health, particularly during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
“In many ways, I’ve thought of this pandemic as being an accelerator in that it has highlighted what was wrong before and has made it worse,” the California senator said.
Harris berated the Trump administration for knowing the dangers of the novel coronavirus on Jan. 28 in the wake of over 220,000 Americans dying from the disease.
“They sat on that information, they covered it up,” Harris said. “And instead the President of the United States, the commander in chief — whose first responsibility should be to keep the American people safe — sat on this info and suggested to the American people you’re on one side of his ledger if you don’t wear a mask and on the other side of his ledger if you do.”
Harris also acknowledged the difficulties the pandemic presents college students.
“It’s a challenging time for everyone and for our students,” Harris said. “Our daughter is a senior in college. It really, pardon my expression, sucks.”
The vice presidential candidate also mentioned President Trump’s effort to dismantle the Affordable Care Act and warned it could threaten those with pre-existing conditions, including survivors of COVID-19.
“Right now in the midst of a public health pandemic, Donald Trump and Bill Barr are in the United States Supreme Court trying to get rid of the Affordable Care Act that President Obama and Vice President Biden made happen that brought healthcare to over 20 million Americans,” Harris said. “And if they are successful, it is estimated at least 23 million Americans will lose their coverage.”
Harris said Trump has a “weird obsession,” with undoing programs set in place by President Obama, claiming his attempt to end ACA is a reason to vote against him.
“That alone is reason to know that he is incapable of being a president who will protect the wellbeing and health of the American people and that is why he’s got to go,” Harris said.
Harris also spoke against the Republican effort to install Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. Harris called the potential installation illegitimate due to the ongoing presidential election.
“We’re not talking about election season,” Harris said. “We’re not talking about an election year. We’re talking about an election that is taking place right now where over 20 million Americans have voted and the election will be over in 13 days and the majority of the American people are saying let the American people decide who will be their president, and then that is the person who should decide who will fill a lifelong position to the highest court in our land.”
While speaking, Harris took the opportunity to confirm that as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, she would be opposing Barrett’s confirmation.
“I will say publically I will oppose her confirmation for a number of reasons that include the illegitimacy of the process, that include the right of women to make decisions about their own body and their own reproductive healthcare, that include the need to maintain the Affordable Care Act,” Harris said.
After establishing her statement that President Trump was not supporting public health, Harris said electing Biden would benefit public health and Americans’ healthcare coverage, including that for mental health.
“This is why we need Joe Biden to be elected President of the United States, because on the one hand you have Joe Biden who was one of the creators and one of the reasons that we have the Affordable Care Act, who will make a commitment– has made a commitment to you, North Carolina and the American public that he will expand coverage, that he will expand health care, bring down the cost of premiums, bring down the cost of prescription drugs, lower medicare eligibility to age 60. He is saying ‘I will expand healthcare,’ understanding for too long we’ve been pretending healthcare is about a body that starts from the neck down. But we need to also deal with healthcare that starts from the neck up — that’s called mental healthcare,” Harris said.
Harris spent time comparing and contrasting policies supported by Biden and Trump and encouraged North Carolinians to vote early.
“I do believe the outcome of this race will in very many eays be decided by you north carolina. It will be,” Harris said.
Harris concluded the rally by promoting unity among Americans and rejecting hate and fear.
“To strengthen our country to take back the soul of our country — it’s about all of us and all of us being a part of where we go and where we need to go and where we can go,” Harris said.
Crowd gathered outside
While a limited number of individuals were allowed in the area to hear Harris speak, a crowd gathered nearby on UNCA’s campus. Some members of the crowd watched Harris speak broadcast over livestream on their various devices.
Harris supporter Alex Pritchard sat among friends to show their support for the Biden-Harris campaign and what Harris’s position means for female empowerment.
“For one thing, empowering women to be in higher offices is very important — Women in positions of power,” Pritchard said. “And also because she supports people of color and LGBTQ+ people and also because I think she’s going to take the COVID-19 pandemic a lot more seriously.”
Another member of the crowd, Katherine Maser, admitted having some different opinions than Harris and Biden on certain policies, but still affirmed her support for the running mates.
“There are somethings that I kind of question about both of them on the sense of policy and stuff like that, but overall we have the same values of just supporting people no matter who they are, what their socioeconomic status is, their gender or their sexuality is — not dismissing people. And honestly that’s what I get behind, just a person that openly accepts other people,” Maser said.
While driving back from soccer practice, UNCA soccer player Nathaniel Holiday and two of his teammates noticed the crowd and stopped by to determine the reason behind the large gathering and decided to stay. Holiday says he plans on voting for Biden and Harris.
“I don’t really affiliate with a political party, but I lean more Democrat. I just kinda wanted to see what was going on,” Holiday said.
Retired teacher Linda Winchels also gathered to show her support for Harris, wearing a shirt with the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s face on it. She said the vice presidential candidate was originally her first choice for president during the primaries.
“She’s a strong woman and her prosecuting skills come through to show that she can ask the right questions, answer them intelligently. The fact that she is aware of all the people in this country that need assistance, not just the rich people,” Winchels said.
Harris spoke about the potential confirmation of Barrett to the Supreme Court, and Winchels acknowledged the importance of this issue, though she said other issues remained of greater importance to her as a voter.
“The main issue, I think, is the Black Lives Matter, and then making sure every single citizen in the United States is valued,” Winchels said.
The road served as a division between those gathered, one side assembled to show support for Harris or to simply observe the event, and the other a group of demonstrators claiming members of the Democratic Party, including Harris, stopped speaking about senate candidate Cal Cunningham in light of his recent extramarital affair.
“We’re highlighting that Cal Cunningham hasn’t had a press availability in two weeks,” said Timothy Wigginton, Press secretary for the North Carolina GOP. “His last one he wasn’t able to answer simple questions about how many affairs he’s had. Now the army is investigating him, there’s an FEC complaint filed against him. There’s just so much scandal around him and he’s refusing to talk to North Carolina voters. And apparently the Biden-Harris campaign is now trying to ditch him, too, now, even though he’s the most important senate race in the country.”
Winchels acknowledged the conservative demonstrators’ equal right to assemble, but also affirmed that the scandal regarding Cunningham would not make her any less likely to vote in his favor.
“His policies are more important than who he’s sleeping with,” Winchels said.
Division between these two sides became extremely evident when a car drove by while its driver shouted the phrase “Trump 2020.” Many individuals on the side of supporting Harris began to chant “Black Lives Matter,” to which the other demonstrators retorted: “All lives matter.”
Following Harris’s speech, a motorcade drove down the road as the crowd gathered to watch the trail of cars leave the campus. One side of the crowd cheered while the others booed and displayed their signs about the Cal Cunningham scandal to the passing vehicles.
At 12:16 p.m. UNCA Chancellor Nancy J. Cable emailed the campus community to notify them about Harris’s visit, emphasizing that the visit was not an endorsement from the university.