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Harris Brings Campaign To Reno, Says 2020 A Battle For 'Soul Of Our Country'

RENO, Nev. (AP) — California Sen. Kamala Harris told northern Nevada Democrats on Tuesday she's a fighter who can take back the White House in 2020 in a battle for the "soul of our country," cut taxes for the working class and raise teachers' pay with the biggest federal investment in education in U.S. history.

Making her first campaign visit to the northern end of the early caucus state, Harris told more than 100 people who jammed the Washoe County Democratic headquarters in Reno she feels like they are her "first-cousins" because they share a state border.

"I fully, fully intend to win this election," said Harris, the first Democratic presidential candidate to visit northern Nevada this year. She held a rally in Las Vegas in early March and spoke at a conference for black women entrepreneurs.

After a 30-minute speech filled with optimism in Reno on Tuesday, Harris was asked by a man in attendance if it is possible to stay out of the political gutter in her attempt to defeat President Donald Trump next year.

Election 2020 Kamala Harris Nevada
California Sen. Kamala Harris speaks to more than 100 people who jammed the Washoe County Democratic headquarters in Reno, Nev., Tuesday, April 2, 2019 for her fist presidential campaign stop in northern Nevada. Harris is bringing her Democratic presidential campaign to northern Nevada for the first time to visit party faithful and teachers and speak at a fundraiser for one of the biggest progressive groups in the early caucus state. (AP Photo/Scott Sonner)

"I think it is critically important that our nominee knows how to fight, and I do," the former California attorney general said. "But I also do believe this has to be — in our spirit and in our hearts and in our fists — a fight that is won out of optimism. Because this election — guys as far as I'm concerned — is bigger than the guy who is in the White House."

"The task is to fight for the soul of our country," she said later Tuesday night at a fundraiser in Carson City for Battle Born Progress, one of the largest progressive groups in the state. "We are better than this."

• ALSO READ: Kamala Harris Campaign: $12 Million Raised In 1st Quarter

She also vowed to fight the Trump administration's push to revive the licensing process for a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain north of Las Vegas.

"Let me be very clear: Yucca Mountain? Not on my watch," she said to loud cheers.

Harris' Reno debut wasn't without some conflict. She assured a Native American woman who interrupted her speech she would look into her concerns about U.S. violations of tribal treaties. She also defended her opposition to the death penalty when questioned by a Jewish American woman who said she's a strong supporter of capital punishment partly because her grandfather was killed during the Holocaust in Nazi Germany.

Harris also defended her call for universal gun background checks and a ban on assault weapons, criticizing "supposed leaders in Washington, D.C., who have failed to have the courage to reject a false choice that suggests either you are in favor of the Second Amendment or you want to take everyone's guns away."

At an education round-table at a Carson City middle school, she touted her plan to raise teachers' salaries. She has vowed to spend $315 billion over 10 years to boost teacher pay nationally by an average of $13,500.

In Nevada, her formula would result in an average raise of $15,000 for each of the state's 17,000 teachers, the equivalent of a 26 percent pay hike, according to her campaign.

• ALSO READ: New Polls Confirm Kamala Harris Is A Top Dem. Candidate For 2020

Harris says her education proposal will be financed by strengthening the estate tax and closing tax loopholes that benefit the rich. She said U.S. taxpayers should look at the expense of the proposal the same way as corporate leaders who want to grow their companies.

"They don't look at it as a cost. They look at it as an investment," she said. "We are a society that says we care about education, but not so much the education of other people's children."

Harris said the U.S. Education Department under her administration would be very different than the one run now by Secretary Betsy DeVos.

"Instead of wanting to put a gun in a teacher's hand, give a teacher a raise," Harris said.

She also vowed to "vigorously defend" the right of teachers to join unions and bargain collectively.

Harris spoke at a tap room and coffeehouse a block from the state capital in Carson City at the fundraiser for Battle Born Progress, an alliance of union workers, minorities and social activists in the key western swing state where Latinos make up nearly one-third of the electorate and African Americans about 10 percent.

Nevada, which elected its first Democratic governor in 20 years in November, is the only state in the nation with an overall female majority in the Legislature.

Its presidential caucuses set for Feb. 22, 2020, follow only New Hampshire and Iowa in the nominating process.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — another Democrat presidential hopeful — is expected to hold a rally Saturday in Reno.

© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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