Harris speaks at UNCA, looking to secure votes for tight races in North Carolina

Joe Lehrman
Sports Editor
[email protected]
The presidential election came to UNC Asheville’s campus as Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris spoke at the Reuters Center on Wednesday. 
After canceling a scheduled campaign visit to Asheville last week due to multiple positive coronavirus tests in her staff, Harris made an appearance at UNCA, speaking to a chosen audience of about 40 people, spaced six feet apart.

Trump supporters hold signs demanding answers from the Biden/Harris campaign about U.S. senatorial candidate, Cal Cunningham. Photo by Joe Lehrman

“They contacted us, I guess the campaign did, and I’m not really sure how it happened. It happened really fast. Fast like yesterday,” said bassist for the Steep Canyon Rangers Barret Smith. The Asheville based bluegrass band played music for the crowd while they waited for the speakers to begin.
 “We hung out, played some music for a little while. It was a pretty small socially distanced crowd. Then the mayor spoke briefly. And then a field organizer spoke briefly. And then Senator Harris gave a really great speech,” Smith said.
Harris spoke alongside Asheville’s mayor, Esther Manheimer, and other Asheville city council members. Harris thanked Manheimer and Chancellor Nancy Cable for the leadership roles they held in Asheville in her 15-minute speech given in front of the backdrop of UNCA’s campus and the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The Harris team contacted UNC Asheville the morning of Oct. 19 and quickly rented the space at the Reuters Center, said special assistant to the chancellor for communication and marketing, Sarah Broberg via email. In her speech, Harris admitted that she planned on speaking at the campus earlier in the month, but had to reschedule due to the coronavirus problems her team encountered.
While most students were not permitted to attend the speech, a sizable crowd of supporters, opposition and media gathered on the street below the Reuters Center waiting to see the candidate’s motorcade as she left to travel to Charlotte.
Some students raced to the Kimmel Arena parking deck area to get a chance to get to see the vice presidential candidate, others were unaware that Harris had been on-campus until later in the day. 
“We were driving back from soccer practice, like about an hour ago and we saw everything going on. I had no idea that Harris was here. Yeah, I didn’t really know what was going on. So we just came to check it out,” said UNCA soccer player Larsen Hackworth.
Of the dozens of supporters who came to see Harris, many were women looking for their only chance to see one of the most powerful female politicians in America. Former school teacher, Linda Winchell, wearing her Ruth Bader Ginsburg T-shirt specifically for this event said Harris was her first choice for president during the Democratic primaries.
“She’s a strong woman. She’s a prosecutor and her prosecuting skills show that she can ask the right questions and answer them intelligently. She is aware of all the people in this country that need assistance,” Winchell said.
Even on short notice for the event, a group of President Trump supporters staged a counter-protest, holding signs referencing U.S. Senate candidate Cal Cunningham and the recent revelations about his extramarital affair. Their message asserted that the Biden/Harris campaign had abandoned Cunningham, refusing to reference or support his candidacy since the discovery of his affair claimed a representative for the N.C Republican Party.
“We’re highlighting that Cal Cunningham has refused press availability in over two weeks,” said Press Secretary for the N.C. GOP, Timothy Wigginton. “He couldn’t answer simple questions about how many affairs he’s had. Now there’s the Army’s investigating him. There’s just so much scandal happening around him. He’s refusing to talk to North Carolina voters and apparently the Biden/Harris campaigns are now trying to ditch him, even though it’s the most important senate race in the country.”
Wigginton, who lives in Chapel Hill, said all of the opposition supporters lived locally, traveling from around Buncombe County to protest the vice presidential nominee. Other attendees were unaware or confused by the claims made by the Trump supporters.
“I’m aware of the scandal, but I don’t know what’s going on with that. Quite honestly, I’m more concerned with his policies than who he’s sleeping with,” Winchell said.
Both Biden and Trump supporters remained calm on their sides of the street until Harris departed, and both sides began cheering and jeering respectively as the Asheville police and Secret Service drove away. 
As the motorcade receded from view, the Trump supporters began the chant of “Back the Blue” in support of the few remaining police officers blocking the road. In response, the crowd on the opposite side chanted “Black Lives Matter,” leading to a few minutes of a fiery call-and-response.
Harris’ trip to Western North Carolina is the first made to this part of the state by the Biden/Harris campaign this election cycle. North Carolina remains a crucial state to win in the presidential election. With most polling indicating a close margin between Biden and President Trump, North Carolina’s 15 delegates could make-or-break an electoral college victory for each candidate. 
“Thirteen days to go and we cannot spare a minute,” Harris said in her speech. “I know that everyone here and around the country is prepared to do, as Joe Biden says, to fight for the soul of our nation.”
The U.S. senatorial race between incumbent Thom Tillis and Democratic challenger Cal Cunningham has become one of the most high profile and controversial in the country as both candidates have become embroiled in scandals in the month before their campaign ends. Alongside Cunningham’s sexual sc

A cardboard cutout of U.S. Senate candidate, Cal Cunningham, brought by opposing Republican protestors. Photo by Joe Lehrman

andal, Tillis also brought up questions about his judgment as he contracted COVID-19 at the Rose Garden superspreader event, where President Trump and other high-level Republican lawmakers also contracted the coronavirus. Tillis was pictured multiple times without wearing a mask at the event despite hundreds of people attending.
The N.C. 11th Congressional District race between Madison Cawthorn and Moe Davis, whose jurisdiction would encapsulate all of WNC, has become one of the most heated races in the nation, said Department Head of Political Science and Public Affairs at Western Carolina University Chris Cooper.
“I think it’s the nastiest race in the state. And one of the nastiest in the country,” Cooper said. “We’ve had three debates so far. They’ve all been nasty. There’s no love lost between the two. And I don’t see that letting up anytime soon.”
More than $8 million has been collectively spent by the candidates vying to replace the seat of former Rep. Mark Meadows, who left office to work as President Trump’s chief of staff.
In 2016 and 2020, candidates running for office have made stops at UNCA’s campus trying to court the affluent and college-age voters near the university. In 2016, Tim Caine, former democratic vice presidential candidate for Hillary Clinton stopped by UNCA to give a speech similar to how Harris popped by on Wednesday. This year, Moe Davis visited to talk with students for the political science department and Madison Cawthorn was reported to be talking to voters outside of UNCA’s one-stop early voting facility in Reed Plaza.
Political science professor Giovanny Pleities-Hernadez, Ph.D., invited Davis, Cawthorn and Patrick McHenry of N.C. 10th Congressional District to speak at UNCA.
“The Davis campaign reached back out and made arrangements, the Cawthorn campaign reached out but never committed, and the McHenry campaign never responded,” Pleities-Hernadez said. “Ultimately, my objective was to help students gain some insight into what it takes to run for Congress and some of the realities of being on the campaign trail. The event was originally supposed to be for my class, but I opened it up to the department after talking to my colleagues.”