California Attorney General Kamala Harris has long been tipped as a future leader. And If she can win the Democratic primary, in a liberal state where the Republican party is largely in disarray, she is expected to go on to a high-profile national position, which some are buzzing could set her up for a future presidential run.
Harris, 51, has been tipped to be the nation’s first Black woman president. She comes from a diverse ethnic background, with an Indian mother and Jamaican father. As a Howard University alumnus and Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority member, her Black community ties are strong. She also has some powerful supporters, including President Barack Obama. In fact, Obama once got in a bit of hot water for praising her looks.
Harris first gained prominence in the Bay Area for her work as San Francisco attorney general. She implemented several innovative programs to help reduce recidivism, such as insisting young offenders complete their GEDs and then enroll in community college or apprenticeship programs. She documented her views on reducing youth crime in a book titled “Smart on Crime: A Career Prosecutors Plan to Make Us Safer.”
She was elected California attorney general in 2010 and re-elected in 2014. She is the first African American and first female to hold the position. In office, Harris has tackled many of California’s pressing issues such as safeguarding environmental protection laws, fighting human trafficking and working with Mexico to prevent gangs bringing drugs and guns across the border. She has also confronted the home foreclosure crisis caused by the housing market crash and secured $20 billion for California’s struggling homeowners.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, a Los Angeles-based author, political analyst and activist believes Harris is a formidable candidate.
“Kamala Harris' strengths are she has a long history in law enforcement, is a popularly-elected statewide office holder, can raise lots of money, has broad voter appeal that crosses racial lines, and has a good track record on fighting for consumer protections,” said Hutchinson.
However, she has been criticized for not addressing one of America’s most pressing issues—police brutality.
“She's taken some heat for her soft stance on police misconduct, namely not more aggressively speaking out and putting the muscle of her office behind the more blatant cases of police abuse,” Hutchinson said. “She's also drawn some criticism for being too close to big corporate special interests.”
Harris is facing a challenge from Democratic Rep. Loretta Sanchez, who is of Mexican descent. California’s large Hispanic community is beginning to flex its political muscles. Several Latino politicos have called for a Latino senatorial candidate. Nonetheless, Harris has won support from the Latino community, receiving an endorsement from the Spanish language paper La Opinion.
“The fact that she has broad voter appeal will offset any potential fall-off from the challenge from a Latina candidate. However, she'll still have to aggressively campaign among Latino voters to minimize the vote drop-off,” explained Hutchinson.
According to Mac Zilber, a campaign consultant at Shallman Communications, one of the top political consulting firms in California, Harris’s biggest test will come from a Democratic primary challenger, not from a Republican opponent.
“In California's new top-two primary system, there is a strong chance that there will be no Republican on the ballot in November,” Zilber said. “There are three weak Republicans on the ballot currently who are splitting the Republican vote three ways. If Harris faces Loretta Sanchez, a fellow Democrat, in November, the two will have to compete not just for Democratic and independent votes, but for Republican votes as well. Sanchez is perceived by many to be the more moderate candidate, and could benefit from this by picking up Republican votes.
However, if Harris or Sanchez faces a Republican in November, she will win in a walk.”
Hutchinson agrees. He thinks winning the Democratic nomination will be Harris’ biggest test. “California is a lockdown Democratic state, a GOP candidate will pose no real challenge to her,” he said.
But first things first. She’ll have to demonstrate a legislative competence in Congress before she can ever think about making a move for the White House.
“The one drawback here for a presidential run is she's from California, which she'd win. But what kind of voter appeal she'd have in moderate to conservative swing states would be problematic,” clarifies Hutchinson.
Zilber says Harris needs to also prove herself on a national level, before thinking of a White House run.
“Kamala hasn't made any public comments about running for President— that would be the essence of putting the cart before the horse,” said Zilber. “I think she is solely focused right now on winning her U.S. Senate race, but anybody who represents California in the Senate or as governor will be elevated into presidential conversations.”