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Sen. Kamala Harris, D-C.A., one of the highest-polling Democrats vying for the party’s nomination to the presidency, made her first campaign stop in Connecticut last Sunday and left the Nutmeg State with extra cash and new endorsements — including that of New Haven mayor Toni Harp

Harris attended a fundraiser in Greenwich last weekend, hosted by Dita Bhargava, who unsuccessfully ran for state treasurer in 2018. Along with raising an expected $110,000 from the fundraiser, Harris also received endorsements from several few prominent Connecticut politicians.

In a statement released the day after the fundraiser, Harp complimented Harris for her efforts to change the criminal justice system and the American health care system and improve the lives of working people.

“[I applaud] … her fierce determination to challenge the status quo and curb the nation’s epidemic of opioid and other substance abuse,” Harp said. “Senator Harris is a seasoned champion for the ideals and values that are at the foundation of the Democratic Party.”

Harris also picked up endorsements from several lawmakers in the Connecticut General Assembly, including Anne Hughes, D-Easton, Bobby Gibson, D-Bloomfield and Quentin Phipps, D-Middletown. Harris is also the only Democrat to have received the endorsement of a member of Connecticut’s congressional delegation. U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Cheshire, publicly announced her support for Harris’ candidacy in July. Gov. Ned Lamont also endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden the same week.

In expressing their support for Harris, the state representatives highlighted her experience, ideas and character. They drew a sharp contrast between her and President Donald Trump, while emphasizing the need for structural change. Hughes emphasized Harris’ understanding of potential criminal justice system reforms and of how children and “the most vulnerable” are suffering under the current administration.

“I believe this is an epic fight and the voices most harmed and impacted by this current administration’s failure need to be at the center and be the loudest of this wave. I believe Harris is the one to be it both as a black woman and as a prosecutor,” Hughes told the News.

Phipps also spoke to the change Harris represents — change he believes is urgent and must be systemic. Harris’ experience in various political offices also gives Phipps hope that she will be able to “change systems from the inside.”

“This is an opportunity to take leadership on an important choice. I think we need bold leadership that is not afraid to make decisions and speak up for what is right,” Phipps told the News.

State Rep. Jilian Gilchrest, D-West Hartford, told the News that while she has not officially endorsed Harris, Harris is her “top candidate at this point.” She also complimented Harris’ positions on important gender and sexuality issues, such as reproductive rights and sexual violence.

“I like that Senator Harris has spent her career attempting to change flawed systems from the inside out.” Gilchrest told the News. “She is a fierce advocate for women, in particular women’s reproductive rights and preventing sexual violence. I think she brings a good balance of progressive values and pragmatism.”

Gilchrest, Phipps and Hughes all emphasized their support of multiple candidates in the field, including former Housing Secretary Julian Castro for Phipps, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg for Gilchrest and Sen. Amy Kloucbchar, D-Minnesota, for Hughes. Additionally, all three told the News that they like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts.

While the endorsements — coming more than six months before the Connecticut primary — may seem early, Phipps and Hughes emphasized the need to build momentum for Harris, in Connecticut and beyond. They both hope their endorsements will aid in this process.

“I think we’re going to see quite a few leaders throughout Connecticut endorsing Harris soon,” Phipps told the News. “It helps build trust for folks that may not know her quite as well.”

Phipps told the News that since endorsing Harris, he has received almost exclusively positive feedback from constituents and colleagues alike. Hughes concurred, saying that she has heard from many women who now want to “join the fray.”

Hughes also spoke about the need for more black women in leadership, a belief that led her to endorse Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, to be the next majority leader of the Democratic caucus in the State House. Since many black women have first-hand experience with suffering, they are more able to speak to these experiences and energize voters, according to Hughes.

“I think centering black women leaders that have lived and seen first-hand the impact of other people being harmed is absolutely critical. It’s not about tweaking around the edges, there’s a lot of systems that need to be dismantled,” Hughes said. “It’s about trying to build spheres of influence where we have it. It’s about getting people excited and elected, coming out early and motivating people to get engaged.”

Hughes said she does not believe Biden is the right person to lead the Democratic party. She argued that he “has no idea” how to repair the damage done by the current administration and change the status quo, and will not energize liberal voters to go to the polls.

Connecticut democrats voted for former President Barack Obama in 2008 and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016 presidental election, both by small margins.

Connecticut’s democratic presidential primary will be held next April 28.

Emmett Shell | emmett.shell@yale.edu