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California's Sen. Harris praises McCaskill in St. Louis County NAACP address

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California, addresses a packed audience at Thursday's annual NAACP dinner held June 21, 2018 in downtown St. Louis.
Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat and rising national star, delivered a two-pronged address in St. Louis on Thursday that appeared to be aimed at elevating her own profile while also boosting fellow Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill.

Both officials were star attractions at the St. Louis County NAACP annual dinner, held at the downtown Four Seasons Hotel.

Many of Harris’ keynote remarks focused on challenges facing like-minded Americans who are upset over various actions by President Donald Trump’s administration.

But Harris also injected a subtle appeal to fellow African-Americans in the audience – and Missourians, more broadly – to support McCaskill, who is running for re-election this fall and needs strong support from black voters at the polls.

McCaskill’s relationship with some urban black Democrats in the state has been strained. Some have complained that she spent too much time last year traveling around rural Missouri, while neglecting the state's urban communities.

Harris ignited applause when she noted that McCaskill had been one of the early supporters of Barack Obama's 2008 presidential run. Harris said that McCaskill took a risk by siding with Obama when most other Democratic senators at the time backed his opponent, then-fellow Sen. Hillary Clinton.

On the national front, Harris praised the collective uproar over the Trump administration’s separation of immigrant children from their parents when they show up at the U.S. southern border. She cited it as an example of the nation’s strong sense of justice.

But Harris – who’s already seen as a potential presidential hopeful – also asserted that the nation was at an “inflection point’’ that will prompt future generations to question how current Americans reacted.

“Our answer is not going to simply be how we felt, but what we did,” Harris said.

“Did we sign people up to vote? Did we fight against voter suppression? Did we knock on doors? Did we pay attention to who’s elected? ... Did we stand up for justice? Did we fight for folks and for equality, and not tire?"

McCaskill had introduced Harris by citing their shared concern with voting issues. McCaskill noted that there’s a lawsuit against the Missouri's photo-ID mandate, which was put in place after voters approved the idea in 2016. 

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, who is running for re-election in Missouri, addresses the audience at Thursday's annual NAACP dinner in downtown St. Louis. June 21, 2018.
Credit Jo Mannies | St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, who is running for re-election in Missouri, addresses the audience at Thursday's annual NAACP dinner in downtown St. Louis.

McCaskill echoed critics’ longstanding views that the Republican push for stricter voting laws is aimed at suppressing votes from minorities, students and other voting blocs believed to favor Democrats.

That theme came up earlier during the dinner, when former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander took to the stage to accept an award for the voting-rights work he's done since leaving office. Kander also is seen as a rising Democratic star after founding a national voting-rights group called “Let America Vote.”

“I believe, in America in 2018, if you are a politician making it harder to vote, we should make it harder for you to get re-elected,” Kander told the cheering crowd.  

“We are patriots who understand that patriotism is not making everybody stand and salute the flag. Patriotism is about making this a country where everybody wants to.”

Follow Jo on Twitter: @jmannies

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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