GREENVILLE, S.C. (AP) -- Kamala Harris came to South Carolina with the stated intent of boosting turnout for the midterm elections, but many voters here wanted to talk to the California senator about her role in the battle over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation, and her next political moves.
Perhaps that's no surprise for Harris's first trip as a potential presidential candidate to the state that hosts the South's first presidential primary.
"This is an inflection moment in the history of our country," she told Democratic Party volunteers at a phone bank Friday, adding that the November midterms are about "fighting for the best of who we are."
At an afternoon rally, Harris bemoaned Republican efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, blasted the GOP's tax overhaul for being tilted to the rich and cited unnamed forces trying to sow "hatred and division" in American society. But the former prosecutor invoked the language of the legal profession to "reject the premise" that the U.S. actually is as divided as it often appears.
"We have so much more in common than what divides us ... let's speak that truth," she said to a crowd that would later serenade her with "Happy Birthday." Harris turns 54 on Saturday.
Harris is among several potential Democratic presidential contenders in the state this week. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker on Friday finished a two-day swing in South Carolina. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who sought the Democratic nomination in 2016, is scheduled to be in the state Saturday. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg was here Thursday. Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigned for South Carolina Democrats last weekend.
South Carolina has proven critical in Democratic politics, offering the first opportunity for would-be president to face a significant number of black voters. Harris and Booker are the only two black Democratic senators. The state helped propel both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to the 2008 and 2016 nominations, respectively.
Harris steered clear of White House campaign talk in her first stops, though she's expected to make a decision about 2020 sometime soon after the Nov. 6 midterms.
The senator also did not focus on her -- and Booker's -- appearances in the national spotlight as the Senate Judiciary Committee debated Kavanaugh's confirmation. But several women thanked Harris for how she handled Christine Blasey Ford's allegations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh. Harris said from the outset that she believed Ford's accusation that Kavanaugh assaulted her when they were in high school. Kavanaugh vehemently denied the accusation.
Bridgette Watson, 33, shed tears as she met with Harris. "I just appreciate so much that she treated Dr. Ford with respect," Watson told The Associated Press afterward, describing herself as a sexual assault survivor. "The way she addressed her was empowering for women who have never told their stories...I didn't tell mine until this year."
Harris said she has experienced many such encounters since the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings, despite Kavanaugh's eventual confirmation. "People who might have said hello (to me) are now telling their story," she said.
In Charleston, Booker finished a South Carolina itinerary that he called an "empowering experience."
"I came down here to help, and folks in South Carolina really gave me a gift of spirit while I'm here," he said.
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