Kamala Harris took command of the debate stage on Thursday night time after time -- from quieting a chaotic stage by admonishing her rivals not to engage in a food fight to demolishing Joe Biden with an impassioned critique of his comments about working with segregationists and his record opposing aspects of busing.
In what was unquestionably the most difficult moment of the night for the former vice president and front-runner, Harris challenged him for invoking his work with segregationists at a recent fundraiser. She then went on to disassemble his record on busing.
It was a spell-binding moment that showed not only her skills as a tough and unsparing debater, but also the fierce side of her persona, which her supporters believe will be devastating up against President Donald Trump.
"Vice President Biden, I do not believe you are a racist and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground, but I also believe and it's personal and it was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country," Harris said.
She said Biden had worked to prevent the Department of Education from integrating school busing during the 1970s, and that decision hurt a little girl in California.
"That little girl was me," Harris said with emotion swelling in her voice. "So I will tell you that on this subject, it cannot be an intellectual debate among Democrats. We have to take it seriously. We have to act swiftly."
It was a moment that put Biden on the defensive with his voice rising as he defended his record, as he would do often in the debate.
"It's a mischaracterization of my position across the board," Biden said. "I do not praise racists. That is not true. Number one. Number two, if we want to have this litigated on who supports civil rights, I'm happy to do that."
After a feisty and vigorous fight night among the other 10 candidates in Miami Wednesday night , Biden is sharing the stage Thursday, with his closest rival Sen. Bernie Sanders, as well as Harris and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who have piqued the interest of Democrats looking for a fresh generation of leadership in the White House. It's the first test for the former vice president since he left government in January 2017, and he is aiming to show that he has the kind of message discipline that has been lacking in some of his past debate performances over his lengthy career in politics.
Biden, Sanders, Harris and Buttigieg are onstage with six candidates who have gained far less traction in the polls: New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and spiritual author Marianne Williamson who all met the threshold set by the Democratic National Committee.