WASHINGTON – Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., had a campaign-defining moment last week during the first Democratic primary debate that has led to a jump in polls. Harris' sudden surge has arguably secured her status as a top contender in a Democratic 2020 field of two dozen candidates.
During last week's debate, Harris had a powerful exchange with former Vice President Joe Biden, where she called out Biden for opposing federally mandated busing to integrate schools while he was in Congress.
Since then, several polls have shown Harris surging ahead of other leading Democrats in the party's crowded primary field.
Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters, Harris is at 20% nationally — just two percentage points behind from Biden, who is at 22%, according to a Quinnipiac Poll released Tuesday.
In an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Wednesday, 41% of Democratic-leaning voters said Harris stood out in the debate. In that same poll, however, Harris trailed behind Biden, who was 29%, and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders who was at 23%, as the preferred candidates among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents. Harris stood at 11% alongside Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who was also at 11%.
In most polling, Biden has repeatedly been the front-runner in the sprawling Democratic field. However following his performance at last week's debate, the former vice president's support has seen a significant drop. In last month's Quinnipiac poll, Biden was at 30%, meaning Tuesday's poll represents an 8-percentage point drop for him. Biden also dropped 10 percentage points to 22% in a CNN poll published Monday.
In Tuesday's Quinnipiac poll, Warren came in third at 14%. Sanders was the only other candidate in the double digits at 13%.
This was one of three recent polls showing a surge by Harris. The California senator has jumped into second place in Iowa with 16%, according to a Suffolk University/USA TODAY Poll released Tuesday. Harris also surged to second place nationally in Monday's CNN poll
But what does Harris' growing front-runner status mean for her campaign? It will almost surely lead to more scrutiny and attention from her many opponents, including the president of the United States.
Here's what to watch out for:
Trump is taking notice
President Donald Trump had been mostly mum on Harris' campaign throughout the primary season.
However, that changed just two days after she took to the debate stage when the president sought to downplay Harris' performance.
"I thought that she was given too much credit," Trump told reporters in a news conference in Japan following the G-20 summit. "I think she was given too much credit for what she did.
"It wasn't that outstanding," he concluded.
The president added that Biden "didn't do well" and "maybe the facts weren't necessarily on his side."
The president's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., also commented on Harris. Trump Jr. has repeatedly criticized several Democratic presidential contenders, including Biden.
Trump Jr. caused backlash from a number of other 2020 Democrats who came to Harris' defense when he retweeted a post by Ali Alexander – a conservative commentator whose Twitter profile claims to have "exposed Kamala Harris."
Alexander's tweet said "Kamala Harris is *not* an American Black. She is half Indian and half Jamaican. I'm so sick of people robbing American Blacks (like myself) of our history. It's disgusting."
"Is this true? Wow," Trump Jr. wrote in a retweet, before deleting the post that same night, according to The New York Times. Harris is American and was born in Oakland, Calif.
Harris campaign communication's director Lily Adams called Trump Jr.'s attack "racist."
“This is the same type of racist attack his father used to attack Barack Obama,” she said in an interview on CNN. “It didn’t work then and it won’t work now.”
An interactive guide: Who is running for president in 2020?
Will Harris have a fundraising surge?
The second quarter fundraising period ended June 30, three days after Harris' challenge to Biden on the debate stage.
Although Harris has yet to announce her second-quarter fundraising totals, pundits and voters will be closely watching how many contributors she tallied and how much money she took in.
During the first quarter, Harris raised $12 million. And in the first 24 hours after the start of last week's debate, she raised $2 million online, according to the New York Times.
Given her recent polling surge, her second-quarter fundraising will be scrutinized to see how she measures up to the other top-tier 2020 Democratic hopefuls.
Harris' history as a prosecutor
Throughout her campaign, Harris has invoked her record as attorney general for the state of California and embraced her past as a prosecutor.
While campaigning in South Carolina last month, Harris said that she is best positioned to "prosecute the case" against Trump due to her history.
“I know how to get that job done,” Harris said. “We need somebody on our stage when it comes time for the general election who knows how to recognize a rap sheet when they see it and prosecute the case.”
However, many progressives have criticized Harris for her record as California attorney general, arguing she was part of an era of "tough on crime" Democrats. And those criticisms will likely become more salient as Harris continues to gain national attention.
Lara Bazelon, a law professor and the former director of the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent in Los Angeles, wrote in a New York Times op-ed in January that Harris was not a "progressive prosecutor."
"Time after time, when progressives urged her to embrace criminal justice reforms as a district attorney and then the state’s attorney general, Ms. Harris opposed them or stayed silent," Bazelon wrote. "Most troubling, Ms. Harris fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that had been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors."
Scrutiny of her record will continue to rise as Harris continues to appeal to voters. Over the past couple years, criminal justice reform has been a growing issue for voters, according to several polls and surveys.
Rising support from black voters
In addition to her surge with the national electorate in recent polls, Harris is also gaining traction with black voters.
In Tuesday's Quinnipiac poll, 27% of black Democratic voters backed Harris. Last month, Harris was at 9% among non-white Democratic voters, according to the Quinnipiac poll. However, Biden still currently leads with black voters. He is at 31% with black Democratic voters, according to the Quinnipiac poll.
Biden also has won the support of several members of the Congressional Black Caucus, despite the fact that two African American senators and members of the caucus -- Harris and Cory Booker of New Jersey — are also seeking the Democratic nomination.
Black voters are a crucial bloc for Democrats. Many of the Democratic wins in the 2018 midterms were driven by black voters, particularly black women, according to many political observers and an analysis from the NAACP.
Over the past couple of weeks, Harris has also tried to specifically appeal to black voters. Early last month, Essence Magazine announced Harris would have a monthly column with the only black woman in the Senate. On Saturday, Harris will be at the 2019 Essence Festival in New Orleans.
Since her debate performance, Harris has also raked in a new endorsement from Congress.
Rep. Jahana Hayes — the first Black woman elected to Congress in Connecticut — endorsed Harris on Wednesday, citing her debate performance.
"During last week’s debate, we watched all the Democratic candidates for President discuss their hopes and plans for our country," she wrote in an op-ed published in Essence. "We watched as one candidate in particular had the courage to ask the tough questions and demonstrate the strength to handle difficult situations. We watched Kamala Harris remind us of how policy directly affects people."
Hayes wrote that Harris is "the perfect antidote to our current President’s false narratives."
"Kamala knows what it takes to move us forward as a country, and I am proud to endorse her for President of the United States," Hayes concluded.
Like what you’re reading?: Download the USA TODAY app for more
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kamala Harris is surging. Here's what that means for her campaign