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Kamala Harris, at San Francisco fundraiser, glosses over Biden debate

At a fraught moment in President Biden’s reelection campaign, as he faces calls to drop out of the race due to serious flubs at last week’s debate, Vice President Kamala Harris addressed donors at a private fundraiser Tuesday in San Francisco and focused on the election as a choice between civil liberties and dictatorship.

“Let’s just deal with the elephant in the room. There are actually two: One is the debate, and the other is Trump,” Harris said to light laughter from a group of about 35 supporters at the Nob Hill condo of real estate executive Susan Lowenberg, in a high-rise building overlooking the city and bay.

“The debate, as the president said, [was] not his finest hour. We all know that,” Harris told the room. But the outcome of the election, she added, “cannot be determined by one day in June.”

“It is still the fact that the stakes are so high in this election. It is still the fact that the race is close. It is still the fact that there is a profound contrast on the two sides of the split screen in terms of who stands for what and what each has accomplished,” she said. “And it’s still true that Trump is a liar.”

Her appearance at the San Francisco fundraiser came the same day Trump’s campaign reported raising $331 million compared with Biden’s $264 million during the second quarter of this year, eliminating the cash advantage Biden previously had over Trump.

“President Trump’s campaign fundraising operation is thriving day after day and month after month,” the Republican’s top campaign advisors, Chris LaCivita and Susie Wiles, said in a statement. “This fundraising momentum is likely to grow even more as we head into a world-class convention and see the Democrats continue their circular firing squad in the aftermath of Biden’s debate collapse.”

Harris didn’t say anything further about Biden’s debate performance while a Times reporter was present at Tuesday’s private fundraiser.

Elizabeth Ashford, a Democratic strategist who served as Harris’ chief of staff during her tenure as California’s attorney general, applauded Harris’ focus in recent days on delivering a crisp, clear message to an anxious American electorate. Harris’ job, Ashford said, is to focus on the administration’s accomplishments, and to demonstrate to voters — without actually saying it — that she can step in if necessary to effectively lead the nation.

“That is where I would be singularly focused,” Ashford said. “One of Kamala’s areas of growth has been to be really confident in how she communicates. And this is that moment.”

A new CNN poll indicates some 75% of voters think Democrats would have a better shot at keeping the White House if they swapped Biden out for someone new. The poll also showed nearly as much support for Harris as for Trump in a hypothetical matchup — with 47% of registered voters surveyed nationwide saying they would support Trump and 45% saying they would vote for Harris. The same poll indicated the difference between the current likely candidates was larger, with 49% backing Trump and 43% favoring Biden.

At the fundraiser Tuesday, Harris seemed comfortable and relaxed in a room full of longtime donors and friends stretching back to her start in San Francisco politics as district attorney 20 years ago.

Harris touted the administration’s policy accomplishments, such as capping the price of insulin for seniors on Medicare and erasing student loan debt for millions of borrowers. She highlighted the White House’s commitment to mitigating climate change through investments in green energy, and its support for reproductive freedoms and other rights for women and marginalized communities.

“There is an awareness among the American people that there is a full-on attack — an intentional attack — against hard-fought, hard-won freedoms and liberties,” she said.

Those stakes became “even higher” with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Monday that gave Trump — and possibly future presidents — legal immunity from criminal charges stemming from official actions while in office, Harris said.

“And let’s not forget, Donald Trump has openly said he admires dictators and intends to be ‘a dictator on Day One,’” Harris said. “We gotta fight, and we know how to fight.”

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