WASHINGTON – An impassioned argument over racism in America has boiled to the surface in an increasingly muddled Democratic presidential primary campaign, triggered by an electrifying debate encounter that has reverberated across the campaign for days.
Former vice president Joe Biden, who since his April 25 entry into the presidential contest has held a consistent lead in polls, is experiencing the most unsteady period of his campaign so far in the aftermath of his heated exchange with Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., over his past views on school desegregation, with demands from some civil rights leaders for him to further clarify his 1970s-era opposition to mandatory busing.
The moment has taken on particular salience because it showcased Biden, 76, who has premised his candidacy in part on his ability to win back working-class white voters, under attack from one of the country’s most prominent black political figures in Harris, who addressed the issues in deeply personal terms.
Harris and a second black presidential candidate, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., have spent the past week casting Biden as an anachronism who should apologize for his busing position and his willingness to work with segregationist senators.
The rising tensions have the potential to reshape the race, with Biden at risk of losing support from crucial African American voters and Harris appearing to gain momentum. But the emerging dynamics are also sparking concern among some in the party who fear that renewing painful debates over school busing risks turning off centrist voters whom Democrats hope to win next year in their shared goal of defeating President Trump.
“There is a narrow pathway if we continue on this path of being the quote-unquote Whole Foods party,” said J.D. Scholten, the Democrat who nearly defeated Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, in a…