U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California (right) and former Vice President Joe Biden (left) speak over Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont during the second night of the first Democratic presidential debate in Miami on Thursday. Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images
Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Jolt: Kamala Harris had a good night. Joe Biden didn’t.

We’ll get right to the assessment of last night’s Democratic presidential debate in Miami, the second of two, from the Associated Press:

Kamala Harris spoke slowly but bluntly as she stared at Joe Biden, then began treating him as a hostile witness.

The former prosecutor turned California senator started by saying she didn't think the former vice president "was a racist." But she criticized him for recently "defending segregationists" in the Senate and for once opposing mandatory busing of students to desegregated public schools.

Harris described a young girl in the 1970s who boarded such buses before dramatically offering, "That little girl was me."

The moment was as powerful as it was unexpected, a searing line of attack against Biden, who served as vice president to the first African American president. Biden entered back-to-back nights of Democratic presidential debates in Miami as the leading Democratic candidate. Harris showed promise but had not made much of a mark lately.

That changed Thursday.

Watch the Harris-Biden exchange here:

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Aaron Kall, a debate expert at the University of Michigan, sent this assessment:

There is no question that tonight we witnessed a breakthrough debate performance of Kamala Harris at the direct expense of Joe Biden.

A tremendous amount of peril exists when attacking the front-runner, but Harris seized her opportunity over the controversial comments Biden had previously made regarding working across party lines with segregationists in Congress.

She was able to personalize the issue by describing her own experiences as a young student being bused to school. Harris relied upon her background and experience as a former prosecutor to argue she'd best be able to present the case against the Donald Trump presidency. After tonight's performance, I think voters can envision her in such a role.

Vice President Biden entered the debate with sky-high expectations, but failed to deliver the goods. He was directly challenged by numerous fellow candidates and failed to pivot toward attacking President Trump throughout the course of the evening.

He displayed hesitancy in questions that required him to raise a hand and exhibited weakness by begging the moderators to recognize him. Biden prematurely ended his answers during controversial exchanges with time remaining on the clock, while later complaining about getting an inadequate amount of time to answer questions.

He stumbled with dates and numbered arguments, which should make Democratic primary voters concerned how he would handle a general election debate against President Trump. This was a major area of strength heading into the debate.

Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders had solid nights, though they were largely overshadowed by the explosive exchanges between Biden and Harris. As opposed to Wednesday night, none of the lower-tier candidates broke out from the larger pack of candidates.

The Detroit debates will occur in a month and should feature a new contestant or two. The two nights will likely feature different combinations of candidates, which could in turn foster different dynamics and results. Joe Biden will need to fine tune his debate strategy and with a solid rebound performance, tonight's subpar effort will be chalked-up to rust and a significant amount of time away from the debate stage and limelight.

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In the Miami audience last night, sitting with Dr. Jill Biden, was Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms – there at the invitation of the Biden campaign. Shortly afterwards, the mayor endorsed Biden’s presidential run. From the Associated Press:

Bottoms says her decision came down to Biden's experience and her belief the former vice president is the candidate best positioned to beat President Donald Trump.

"For me, it was most important that we have a president who doesn't have to walk in the door and figure out where the light switch is, that we have somebody who can lead on Day One," said Bottoms

Bottoms, 49, dismissed concerns about Biden's remarks earlier this month, when he told supporters that the Senate "got things done" with "civility" when segregationists roamed the halls of Congress. Some critics saw his statement and subsequent responses as racially offensive and tone deaf from someone seeking to lead the modern Democratic Party.

"The larger context was that you have to work across the aisle with people you don't like, people you don't agree with," Bottoms said. "I do it each and every day as mayor of Atlanta in a red state."

Bottoms added that Biden's work on civil rights issues and his progressive resume demonstrate his commitment and that the remarks were blown out of proportion.

Contrast that with the reaction of Nikema Williams of Atlanta, who chairs the Democratic Party of Georgia. From her Facebook page:

So I’ve had fun tonight so far during the debate. But I’m now sitting in a hotel room in tears. That exchange with #SenatorHarris and #VPBiden broke me to hear him continue to defend his flawed position.

I see you #Kamala. Vice President #Biden was and is wrong. We have a fundamental difference in belief here....

As a black woman in the south, leading a State Democratic Party, I will make sure our party recognizes all the little Kamala’s and Nikema’s out there that deserve someone and a party to fight for them.

This primary is important y’all. Pay attention. Elections are about the future and I won’t go back.

***

Joe Biden wasn’t the only white Democrat wrestling with racial issues last night. But Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Ind., might have righted his campaign by faulting his own handling of his city’s police force. The exchange:

Moderator: Your community of South Bend, Indiana, has recently been in uproar over an officer-involved shooting. The police force in South Bend is now 6% black in a city that is 26% black. Why has that not improved over your two terms as mayor?

Buttigieg: Because I couldn't get it done. My community is in anguish right now because of an officer-involved shooting, a black man, Eric Logan, killed by a white officer. And I'm not allowed to take sides until the investigation comes back. The officer said he was attacked with a knife, but he didn't have his body camera on. It's a mess. And we're hurting.

And I could walk you through all of the things that we have done as a community, all of the steps that we took, from bias training to de-escalation, but it didn't save the life of Eric Logan. And when I look into his mother's eyes, I have to face the fact that nothing that I say will bring him back.

***

They didn’t get off on the best foot, but state Sen. Renee Unterman and Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan have become fast political friends since January. And this week, Unterman posted on social media that Duncan appeared at one of her campaign fundraisers for her Seventh District bid. His support brings more than a big-name backer. Duncan hails from Forsyth County - which also happens to account for about half the district. 

***

On Thursday, we told you about Congress' game of border-funding chicken. Turns out the contest ended rather quickly. 

After a little bit of back and forth on Thursday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to advance the bipartisan Senate bill. That $4.6 billion measure ultimately passed 305 to 102, with much of the dissent coming from liberal Democrats. Every U.S. House member from Georgia who was in town voted for the package with the exception of one: Atlanta Democrat John Lewis. 

***

Now that the $19.1 billion disaster relief bill is the law of the land, federal agencies are in the process of churning out the formulas, rulemakings and guidance that will determine where the money goes. That includes Sonny Perdue's Department of Agriculture, which is divvying up some $3 billion to account for crop and livestock losses from recent natural disasters. 

That process could take weeks or months. With that in mind, a half-dozen Georgia lawmakers wrote to Perdue with some recommendations. Most are quite technical, but among them is a recommendation that the state Department of Agriculture, headed by Gary Black, help administer a block grant for timber and specialty crops damaged by Hurricane Michael. 

***

One last bit of non-debate news: Georgia’s state government reduced funding for higher education more than all but five other states between 2001 and 2017, according to a new report cited by the Athens Banner-Herald.

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