On the trail: Former rival Kamala Harris backs Biden

JACKSON, Miss. (Reuters) – U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, the one-time Democratic presidential contender who took Joe Biden to task over his civil rights record, endorsed the former vice president on Sunday in his bid to challenge Republican Donald Trump in November.

The backing of the black senator, who clashed with Biden during the party’s early presidential debates, could give Biden a boost as he campaigns before the next round of presidential nominating contests, including the big prize of Michigan.

Biden campaigned in Mississippi and his progressive opponent Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont, was in Michigan as they battle for voters before six state contests on Tuesday.

Below is a summary of Sunday’s events.

FROM ATTACKER TO BACKER

Harris, a former candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, backed Biden’s bid for the White House and planned to campaign with him on Monday in Detroit, which has a large African-American population.

“There is no one better prepared than Joe to steer our nation through these turbulent times, and restore truth, honor, and decency to the Oval Office,” said Harris, a first-term senator from California and the state’s former attorney general.

One of the most talked-about moments of Harris’ campaign was her blistering attack on Biden during a June presidential debate. She called his remarks about working with segregationist senators hurtful and questioned Biden’s 1970s opposition to school busing.

Still, black voters have backed Biden overwhelmingly, pushing him into huge gains in South Carolina’s Feb. 29 presidential primary and on Super Tuesday last week. They will be crucial in Michigan, where they comprise almost 14% of the population and make up as much as 80% of some areas of Detroit.

A number of Harris backers switched their support to Biden after she dropped out of the race in December, having struggled to build support and raise money.

Biden has received a number of high-profile endorsements from establishment Democrats and his former rivals in the 2020 Democratic race, former Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar. Like Harris, both are moderate Democrats.

JESSE JACKSON BACKS SANDERS

Sanders garnered his own endorsement on Sunday from the Reverend Jesse Jackson, a civil rights leader who is well known especially among older African Americans.

FILE PHOTO: Former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris take the stage before the start of the second night of the second U.S. 2020 presidential Democratic candidates debate in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

In his endorsement, Jackson described black Americans as those most left behind socially and economically.

“A people far behind cannot catch up choosing the most moderate path. The most progressive social and economic path gives us the best chance to catch up and Senator Bernie Sanders represents the most progressive path,” he said.  

Jackson planned to speak at a campaign event with Sanders in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Sunday, where the stakes are high for Sanders after Biden’s Super Tuesday victories.

Jackson has been a leader of the U.S. civil rights movement since the mid-1960s, and was with Martin Luther King Jr. when he was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1968.

Sanders lags Biden in support among black Americans.

“YOU’RE THE REASON I’M BACK”

Biden credited African-American voters with reviving his moribund campaign on Sunday in Mississippi.

“If I am the comeback kid, there’s only one reason I’ve come back: the African-American community all around the country,” Biden said on Sunday at the largely black New Hope Baptist Church in Jackson. “You’re the reason I’m back. Nobody else. You’re the reason.”

Hundreds of parishioners listened as Pastor Jerry Young said God works “behind the scenes” to protect the faithful even when they are confronted by hopeless situations. Biden often says he has long turned to black churches for hope.

Earlier on Sunday, Sanders cited a different force at work, saying in television interviews that “the power of the establishment” forced Klobuchar and Buttigieg out of the race. Both endorsed Biden before the crucial Super Tuesday primaries.

In addition to Michigan and Mississippi, Washington state, Missouri and Idaho holding primary elections on Tuesday. North Dakota will hold caucuses.

CORONAVIRUS AND THE CAMPAIGN

With the coronavirus outbreak spreading to more U.S. communities, Sanders was asked on Sunday if he would continue to hold campaign rallies, which draw tens of thousands of people.

FILE PHOTO: Candidates former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Senator Kamala Harris take the stage on the second night of the second 2020 Democratic U.S. presidential debate in Detroit, Michigan, July 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

He said he was in communications with public health officials on the risk before each campaign event. “We will not endanger the health of anybody in this country,” he told CNN. “We are watching this thing very, very carefully.”

Sanders, 78, and Biden, 77, are in higher risk categories because of their age, as is Trump, who is 73.

Trump said on Saturday he would continue to hold political rallies.

Reporting by Trevor Hunnicut in Mississippi and Doina Chiacu in Washington; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

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