Kamala Harris, Confronting Critics, Releases a Criminal Justice Plan

Now, Ms. Harris is seeking to reclaim the mystique that catapulted her into the highest echelons of the Democratic presidential race just two years after her election to the Senate. After her performance in the first debate in June led to a surge in polling and fund-raising, her poll numbers have slipped to the mid-single digits, putting her a step below the race’s top-tier candidates: former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.

In response, Ms. Harris has sharpened her policy message. For her criminal justice platform, she sought input from an array of activists, including some of the black progressives who have criticized her record in California.

To emphasize this new focus, the Harris campaign planned to release a video on Monday with several prominent criminal justice voices, including Phillip A. Goff of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and Angela Rye, a CNN commentator.

Ms. Harris is also leaning into an explicit pitch about her identity as a barrier-breaking woman of color in a primary race increasingly dominated by white candidates. Apart from any professional experience, Ms. Harris said she was best suited to disrupt a criminal justice system that has disproportionately affected minority communities because she has more personal experiences with those communities.

“The thing is, that when I see the people that we are talking about who are in the system, I see them in a multidimensional way,” Ms. Harris said. “And I don’t just see them based on race and gender. It’s not something I read about. It’s more complex than just knowing the history of racism in America — which most people don’t — it’s about also being able to see them as people.”

Asked if it was still possible for her to win over skeptical criminal justice activists, including black ones, Ms. Harris said she believed she could.

“Communities, and particularly the black community has a righteous distrust of law enforcement based on histories of empirical evidence — they have a reason to distrust,” she said. “But I understand that, and it was this is part of why I became a prosecutor, because I understood that there are good reasons to not trust the system, and it needs to be changed.”