Imagine a combination of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and you’ve got Kamala Harris, the current seat-warming senator from California who, like Obama, is using the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body as a resume-puncher before swiftly moving on to bigger things: the 2020 Democrat presidential nomination. Even as a nobody senator, she’s been the subject of dozens, perhaps scores of speculative stories about her future, so now — lest they build her up too quickly — Politico and other Democrat cheerleaders are cautioning her to get her ducks in order before heading out on the hustings:
Kamala Harris has been called “the female Barack Obama.” She’s built a national following with her outspoken criticism of Donald Trump and prolific fundraising for fellow Democrats. But the California senator’s rapid rise — she’s just 15 months into her first term — has created an awkward issue: Even as progressives tout her as one of the top 2020 contenders, Harris remains something of a mystery back home.
Her approval ratings are solid, but not stratospheric. And 28 percent of California voters say they don’t know or have no opinion about Harris, according to a recent Morning Consult poll — placing her in the bottom 10 of name recognition among U.S. senators in their home states. A Berkeley IGS Poll in September found California voters — by a more than 2-to-1 margin, 49 percent to 22 percent — would rather Harris stay in the Senate than run for president in 2020.
That disconnect could be a problem with California preparing to host an early presidential primary just after Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina. “There’s an old saying: ‘You’ve really got to secure your base before you start wandering off to do other things,” said Larry Stone, a longtime Democratic fundraiser in California.
As Americans have seen during various Senate hearings, she’s a fairly nasty piece of work:
She also has a lively presence on Twitter that fully reflects her “progressive” ideological zealotry, her dedication to imaginary or newly minted “rights,” and her ignorance of the Constitution. In other words, she’s the face of the modern Democrat party:
The Senate may soon vote on the nomination of Kyle Duncan for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. This man has spent much of his career advocating against LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, and voting rights.
— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) April 19, 2018
And yet bank on it: she will be a formidable candidate in the Democrat primaries. She combines Obama’s race with Hillary’s sex, and as identity politics goes these days, that’s going to be tough to beat. The other bruited candidates — Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden — are superannuated white men who won’t stand a chance once the usual suspects on the Left begin massing, chanting, and rioting. So….
Harris is well regarded by most Democrats in California, according to recent polls, even if many of her supporters have been startled by her transformation from a relatively cautious state attorney general into a serious prospect for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
In one promising sign, her endorsement has been considered a marketable asset to California politicians in the midterm elections.
Darry Sragow, a Democratic strategist whose California Target Book handicaps races in California, says her failure to cement name recognition here is less a function of Harris’ flaws than of a geographically distant state where Washington politics “is not something that many Californians pay a lot of attention to.”
“Those numbers are perfectly OK,” he said, “particularly given that, although she may be talked about in national circles as a rising star with a great future, she has been a member of the U.S. Senate for about 16 months.”
By comparison, Obama served a little more than half his only elected term in the Senate, so Harris is tracking right on schedule. Hillary, a slacker, served one full term and a bit of another, but only because she lost the 2008 Democrat nomination to Obama. But here’s the fly in the ointment:
California voters also have a history of punishing statewide politicians who covet higher office, and Harris — who has not yet said whether she will run for president — could already be staring down its effects.
“You have to understand the way Californians view themselves to really establish a baseline as to how they view their politicians,” said Garry South, a longtime Democratic strategist in the state. “Californians have a view of themselves as living in a nation-state. … California voters have not historically been impressed when one of their state politicians decides to take a run for president. And in fact, more often than not, it has hurt that individual in California, not helped them.”
Gov. Jerry Brown’s in-state popularity took a hit when he ran for president in 1980, the second of three failed presidential campaigns. When then-Sen. Alan Cranston ran for president four years later, Cranston — though a far less charismatic figure than Harris — saw his public approval rating deteriorate. Cranston’s popularity was apparently “tarnished by his run for the presidency,” Mervin Field, then director of The California Poll, wrote at the time.
“If you’re Kamala Harris, I guess you can have visions of sugar plums dancing in your head, and more power to her,” South said. “But California voters have just not taken very kindly to their politicians running for president.”
Look for them to make an exception for her. And, in any case, what does she care? If the scheme works, she’ll be moving to Washington and will never have to face California voters again. Plus, the Golden State didn’t change its primary date for nothing.
Trump won’t be afraid of her, of course — but on the off-chance that he isn’t the nominee in 2020, the Republicans better have a plan.