COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — It was one of those incredibly hot summer days in Iowa, but Kamala Harris was unfazed.

The 55-year-old senator from California, invigorated by a massive crowd gorging on free campaign-provided barbecue, was taking questions after a 30-minute stump speech. A man stood and said he was worried that Democrats won’t be able to handle the brawl that will be a general election campaign with Donald Trump. He wanted to know if Kamala Harris will be tough enough — and even mean enough — to engage in that battle.

 

Harris' first response was non-verbal. She put a hand on her hip, cocked her head, squinted, and looked at the crowd as if to say, “He does know who he is talking to, right?” She then lifted up the microphone and said, “There is no question that good ideas and pretty speeches is not going to be enough. We cannot afford to be lovely, and then lose. So we need to know how to fight.”

The written word doesn't do justice to the scene; Harris pronounced “lovely” in a sickly sweet way meant to imply how much disdain she has for the word. She then said, “There is no question in my mind, also, that we will win. No question in my mind.” The crowd responded with a standing ovation.

The exchange displayed Harris' most essential argument for her candidacy: As the former district attorney for San Francisco (2004-2011) and attorney general of California (2011-2017), she is tough as nails and can use that experience to beat Trump in the presidential election.

 

In Des Moines, she told the crowd, “We are going to have to successfully prosecute the case against four more years of Donald Trump and it will take a prosecutor to do that. And I think we are working with a pretty good, long, rap sheet.” To emphasize her point, she makes the exclamation that has become a bit of a catchphrase at her events: “Dude’s gotta go!”

At the recent Liberty and Justice Gala, also in Des Moines, she said Democrats need a nominee "who has the ability to go toe-to-toe with Donald Trump. And Iowa, you’re looking at her!”

In Indianola, she said, “I have been a fighter and I’ve taken on some tough fights — the big oil companies, the pharmaceutical companies, the transactional banks. I have taken them on and won. Look at my track record to know what I mean. I will fight for you every day of the week and we will win.”

And yet, for all of her prosecutorial prowess and tough talk, Harris on the campaign trail in Iowa is an exuberant, happy, oversized personality with a unique background. The daughter of immigrant academics from India and Jamaica, Harris grew up attending both Hindu and Christian religious services. As a teenager she was part of a dance group called “Midnight Magic,” and at several events in Iowa her dance moves have been on display — including boogieing before the Polk County Steak Fry that is captured on YouTube and was featured in TIME magazine. She has a loud and eminently recognizable laugh, and she preaches compassion, saying, “I think most people who are at least fully developed people understand that the true sign of strength is not who you can beat down, it’s who you can lift up.”

Policy-wise, Harris links her proposals to a concept she repeats over and over: “It is critically important that we always have the ability to see what can be unburdened by what has been — and fight for that as a reality.”

Her plans include:

Universal health care: “I am running for president to make sure there is Medicare for all. Not Medicare for some. And to ensure that you also get choice, because I heard from folks who say, 'Kamala, don’t take away my private plan.' ”

Rural Issues: Harris’ rural development plan will provide $10,000 a year in tax credits for every full-time job created in rural areas and also invest $80 billion to provide broadband internet to every American home by 2024. “Rural America has been overlooked. It’s not just about farmers, but also about hospitals closing down and broadband.”

The Middle Class: Harris wants a tax-cut for families making less than $100,000 a year. “I”ll tell you how we’re going to pay for that,” she says in Council Bluffs. “On Day 1, we’re going to repeal the (Trump) tax bill.”

Gun law reform: Harris says she will give Congress 100 days to draft a gun reform bill. If they don’t: “I will take executive action and we will put in place a comprehensive background check requirement. We need to take the licenses away from gun dealers who break the law. 90% of the guns associated with crime are sold by 5% of the dealers.”

However, the main theme of her campaign — the tough, proven prosecutor — has also led to extreme press scrutiny and attacks from opponents about her past record that have driven her from the top of the polls and led to a tactical decision to pull all her national resources into Iowa, increasing her paid staff there to over 130 and bringing her Iowa field offices to 17. The idea is for her to reintroduce herself to voters there and put her campaign in their hands. As she infamously put it, “I’m ****ing moving to Iowa!”

At the Polk County Steak Fry in Des Moines, Kamala Harris tells the crowd, “The thing I love about Iowa is that you have the ability to see what other people sometimes can see but what many can’t see.” Harris is hoping that they see in her the person she sees when she looks in the mirror. She says her mother always told her, “Kamala, don’t let anyone tell you who you are. You tell them who you are.”

Harris is going to keep telling voters who she is and hopes that’s what they want. As she says, “This is a fight born out of optimism — a fight I can win.”