In declaring her candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president, Kamala Harris joins an increasingly crowded field that includes an array of potential California contenders. Whether she will get the nomination is questionable.
They would never admit it, but in the deepest part of their minds, a group of California politicians have to be musing about the increasingly likely possibility that poll-leading Joe Biden is going to run for the presidency.
Here’s a recent New York Times headline: “Biden Sees Himself as Democrats’ Best Hope in 2020, Allies Say.”
And in Politico: “Biden uses midterms haul to bolster his 2020 chances.”
If Biden were the nominee, he would have to give serious consideration to a running mate who would attract women, minority voters and young voters.
A December 2018 Quinnipiac University poll gave Biden an 84%-to-7% net favorability rating among Democrats and a 60%-to-21% rating among voters 18-34 years old. Harris had a divided 20%-to-22% percent, with 57% saying they hadn’t heard enough.
Biden, however, has had his share of gaffes over the years.
The most recent is a New York Times report Wednesday that he collected $200,000 for a speech he delivered in Benton Harbor, Michigan, to a GOP-leaning audience shortly before the midterms. Biden was in the state to boost fellow Democrats, but he wound up praising a veteran Republican Congressman, Fred Upton, who faced a tough challenge. The speech stunned Democrats.
A CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa poll among likely Democratic Iowa caucus attendees, also from December 2018, had the following ranking:
- Former Vice President Joe Biden
- Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders
- Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke
- Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren
- California Sen. Kamala Harris
Since then, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren–among others–have announced their plans to run for president, and Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown was in Iowa last week apparently testing the presidential waters. One new Democratic contender is Pete Buttigieg, 37, the openly gay mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
Biden, the Democratic frontrunner in the earliest polls, is 76. He’s an old white guy. That means he would have to give serious consideration to a running mate who would attract women, minority voters and young voters—demographics of importance to any Democratic hopes in 2020.
She got off to a good start: In the first 24 hours, her campaign said it raised $1.5 million from 38,000 donors, an impressive tally.
And that brings us to Kamala Harris, who is very much not an old white guy.
She announced she was running for president on Monday, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, during an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
She got off to a good start: In the first 24 hours, her campaign said it raised $1.5 million from 38,000 donors, an impressive tally — it surpasses Bernie Sanders’ first-day in 2016 — that can’t be immediately confirmed because the Federal Elections Commission’s website is closed due to the government shutdown.
Harris is 54, was born in Oakland and of mixed East Indian and Jamaican descent. She has served as San Francisco district attorney and then as state attorney general. She’s two years into a six-year term as a U.S. senator, filling the seat held for decades by Barbara Boxer, who retired.
If she doesn’t get the Democratic nomination, Harris, at least in theory, would bolster a Biden-Harris ticket among the very voters that Democrats, especially Biden, will need in a 2020 White House run—those young people, women and minorities.
Of course, Harris doesn’t want to hear about any of this vice presidency business at this stage of the game.
Until recently, Harris has been little known nationally, but she drew national media coverage for her aggressive questioning of Brett Kavanaugh and Jeff Sessions during Senate Judiciary Committee hearings. “I’m not able to be rushed this fast. It makes me nervous,” Sessions said when being questioned by Harris.
That exposure has helped her as she seeks national office. But critics say her record as a self-described “progressive prosecutor” in California has been mixed and is all but certain to be highlighted by foes during the presidential campaign.
But some Democrats privately wonder if she would be well placed as a VP partner for a white male contender like Biden.
Of course, Harris doesn’t want to hear about any of this vice presidency business at this stage of the game, with her own bid for the White House underway.
Warren would also balance the ticket and so would Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who earned rave reviews from Democrats during the Kavanaugh hearings.
But neither Warren nor Klobuchar are members of racial minorities. (Well, there is that Native American business with Warren, but never mind.)
Dianne Feinstein, California’s senior senator and, like Harris, a Democrat from the San Francisco Bay Area, has already endorsed Biden.
Then we have Rep. Adam Schiff from Burbank and the two California Erics—Eric Swalwell, a San Francisco Bay Area congressman, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Even though they’re attractive politicians, they’re white too.
One argument against any of these is that California will go blue in any case, nullifying any need to haul in Democratic votes that might not otherwise be available.
And they are not then only ones in the expanding race for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
Maryland Congressman John Delaney announced he was running, as did Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, West Virginia Sen. Richard Ojeda and New York businessman Andrew Yang.
Among others reportedly considering a run: billionaire and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Pennsylvania Sen. Robert Casey Jr. and even 2016 presidential contender Hillary Clinton.
Democratic consultant Garry South has his doubts about whether Harris would find a vice-presidential slot attractive. He said in an email:
“I think it’s one thing for a long-serving U.S. senator like LBJ [12 years, Walter Mondale (12 years) or Biden (36 years)] to cash in that position for a vice-presidential slot. But I don’t see a relatively newly elected senator like Harris, who will only have served for four years of her first six-year term by 2020, being willing to do so. Also, [Barack] Obama’s example of announcing for president after only two years in the Senate, and being elected after serving only four years of his first term, provides other first-term senators encouragement to try for the top slot, too, not settle for second fiddle.”
One interesting aspect of all this is that Dianne Feinstein, California’s senior senator and, like Harris, a Democrat from the San Francisco Bay Area, has already endorsed Biden.
It’s also important to remember that the Republicans had 16 hopefuls in the race for the party’s nomination in 2016 and few people accurately predicted how things would ultimately turn out. By some estimates, the Democrats have 24 potential candidates.
So those confidently citing polls about Biden’s current current popularity might pause and consider the uncertain nature of politics.