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4 Takeaways From Night 3 Of The Democratic National Convention

Kamala Harris made history with her formal nomination as the first Black woman and person of Asian descent on a major party's national ticket.

The 55-year-old California senator used much of her first prime-time address as Joe Biden's running mate to tell her own story before turning her fire on President Trump.

Former President Barack Obama, who has mostly stayed on the sidelines as Democrats blasted President Trump's policies over the past 3 1/2 years, took off the gloves and questioned Trump's fitness for the job.

Here are four takeaways from Night 3 of the Democratic National Convention.

1. Harris introduced herself and began to prosecute the case against Trump

Speaking in a quiet and mostly empty hall in Wilmington, Del., Harris used much of her speech to tell her story — and try to link it to the stories of other children of immigrants and their experiences.

With some political observers already setting expectations that this national introduction could determine the success or failure of a future Harris presidential campaign — given that her running mate is 77 — Harris faced the test of connecting with people who were taking a first look and energizing those in the Democratic base who have been less than enthusiastic about Biden as their standard bearer.

Harris received national attention for her debate performances during her primary run and for her questioning of top Trump administration officials from her perch in the Senate. But this was the first time many Americans heard about her mother and father, immigrants from India and Jamaica, respectively.

Harris highlighted her upbringing in the 1960s when she attended civil rights marches as a small child. "In the streets of Oakland and Berkeley, I got a stroller's-eye view of people getting into what the great John Lewis called 'good trouble,' " she said.

Harris talked about her husband, Doug Emhoff, his two children from a previous marriage who call her "Momala," her extended family and even her sorority sisters.

But she soon pivoted to the traditional role of a vice presidential running mate — attacking the opposing ticket.

Harris made it personal about Trump, even though her hardest-hitting lines didn't explicitly mention his name.

Noting her background as a prosecutor fighting for victims of sexual assault and taking on big banks, Harris said, "I know a predator when I see one," followed by a studied pause.

She later talked about the impact of inequities in the country — in health care, education and opportunity, and the fight to combat racial injustice.

"There is no vaccine for racism. We've gotta do the work," she said. "For George Floyd. For Breonna Taylor. For the lives of too many others to name. For our children. For all of us."

The virtual convention format inevitably lessened the drama of Harris' speech.

She paused to mark the moment when she accepted her party's historic nomination — something she said her late mother could not have imagined. But there were no cheers or TV shots of emotional female supporters in a crowded hall.

While the goal was to fire up those who have been waiting for a woman of color to be celebrated on the national stage, the event came across as serious but without the energy of an audience. As Harris finished, Biden made a surprise appearance, socially distanced, but there was no traditional balloon drop.

2. Democrats hammered away at a theme: Make a plan to vote

Speaker after speaker Wednesday reminded Americans — and then reminded them again — that they need to vote in the 2020 election. Democrats are growing increasingly concerned about the president's rhetoric raising questions about the legitimacy of the November vote.

Party leaders worry that people will be reluctant to vote in person because of the coronavirus pandemic. They expect an unprecedented number of mail-in ballots and are planning a robust effort to make sure voters cast their ballots early or mail them in time to be counted.

Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump appointee and campaign donor, is facing tough questions on Capitol Hill about reforms he put in place in the U.S. Postal Service that some fear would slow mail delivery. Under pressure, he suspended the reforms until after the election.

Obama warned in his speech that Republicans were counting on people not showing up in November.

In this image from video, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the third night of the Democratic National Convention. She emphasized the importance of voting.
/ AP
In this image from video, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the third night of the Democratic National Convention. She emphasized the importance of voting.

"Do not let them take away your power," he said. "Don't let them take away your democracy. Make a plan right now for how you're going to get involved and vote. Do it as early as you can and tell your family and friends how they can vote, too."

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren closed her remarks, as did others, by offering information on how to vote: "Whether you're planning to vote wearing a mask or vote by mail, please, take out your phone right now and text 'VOTE' to 3-0-3-3-0."

And Hillary Clinton, who lost in 2016 to Trump, reminded viewers that many voters sat out that election because they didn't think their vote mattered. She warned, "This can't be another woulda-coulda-shoulda election. "

3. Presidents' Club rules went out the window as Obama unloaded on his successor

Obama has kept a mostly low profile as Trump has worked to dismantle many of the policies Obama worked over eight years to put in place. Like other former presidents, he has adhered to the unofficial rule that public criticism of the occupant of the White House is off-limits.

In this image from video, former President Barack Obama speaks Wednesday night at the convention, touching on President Trump's handling of the coronavirus crisis.
/ AP
In this image from video, former President Barack Obama speaks Wednesday night at the convention, touching on President Trump's handling of the coronavirus crisis.

That changed Wednesday night when Obama unleashed his contempt for the former businessman and reality TV star who took his place in 2017.

"For close to four years now, he's shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves."

Democratic convention organizers presented a string of speakers who argued that Trump's handling of the coronavirus pandemic conclusively makes the case that he doesn't deserve a second term.

Obama linked Trump's management of the crisis to lives needlessly lost.

"Donald Trump hasn't grown into the job because he can't," Obama said. "And the consequences of that failure are severe: 170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone while those at the top take in more than ever. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished and our democratic institutions threatened like never before."

But as tough as the former president's rhetoric was about Trump, his mostly reserved demeanor and steady delivery didn't come across with the same urgency as his wife's remarks about Trump on Monday night. Michelle Obama's warning about four more years of a Trump administration was blunter: Trump, she said, "is clearly in over his head."

Like his wife, the former president warned that things are going to get rougher as Election Day nears.

"This administration has shown it will tear our democracy down if that's what it takes to win," Obama said.

And Obama said this election isn't just about the White House, calling on voters to vote "like never before, for Joe and Kamala, and candidates up and down the ticket, so that we leave no doubt about what this country we love stands for, today and for all our days to come."

Trump was evidently watching Obama's speech. He tweeted a false claim he previously made about the former president and questioned Obama's support for Biden's candidacy.

4. Female party leaders vouched for the Biden-Harris ticket

Convention organizers faced some criticism for giving too much airtime to party elders — mostly white men — at the expense of the next generation of leaders. Wednesday's lineup was heavy on popular women, and they contrasted Biden's commitment to issues such as health care, gun control and child care with Trump's policies, which they argued threaten the economic future of women.

These speakers also took on the task of presenting the policy agenda for a Biden-Harris administration. The bulk of the convention program up until now has been about attacking Trump.

Former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, whose grave injuries from a mass shooting in Tucson in 2011 continue to make speech difficult, appeared in front of an American flag and delivered a brief but firm message.

"Words once came easily. Today I struggle with speech. But I have not lost my voice," said Giffords, now the leader of a group pressing for new gun restrictions. "We are at a crossroads. We can let the shooting continue or we can act."

In this image from video, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., speaks during Night 3, recounting Joe Biden's support for her after a mass shooting.
/ AP
In this image from video, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., speaks during Night 3, recounting Joe Biden's support for her after a mass shooting.

Giffords recounted how Biden comforted her after the shooting and she remains a key Biden ally. But her appearance also carried a collateral political purpose — her husband, Mark Kelly, is running against Arizona GOP Sen. Martha McSally.

Warren, a former rival of Biden's in the primaries, spoke from a shuttered child care center in Springfield, Mass., and blamed the Trump administration for a laundry list of problems facing working families because of the coronavirus pandemic.

"This crisis is bad and didn't have to be this way. This crisis is on Donald Trump and the Republicans who enable him. On Nov. 3, we hold them all accountable," Warren said.

"I love a good plan, and Joe Biden has some really good plans," she said. "Plans to bring back union jobs in manufacturing and create new union jobs in clean energy. Plans to increase Social Security benefits, cancel billions in student loan debt and make our bankruptcy laws work for families instead of the creditors who cheat them."

Similarly, Clinton name-checked issues effectively on the ballot in November, arguing that they demand a vote for Democrats.

"Vote for parents struggling to balance their child's education and their safety. And for health care workers fighting COVID-19 with no help from the White House. Vote for paid family leave and health care for everyone. Vote to protect Social Security, Medicare, reproductive rights and our planet," Clinton said.

The former Democratic presidential nominee also vouched for Biden's character, the four-day convention's central theme. And as one trailblazing woman to another, she predicted a coming torrent of attacks on Harris.

"I know a thing or two about the slings and arrows coming her way."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Deirdre Walsh is the congress editor for NPR's Washington Desk.