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Harris vs. Bass is a California battle

Harris vs. Bass is a California battle
© Greg Nash

Two prominent members of Congress from California are in the running to be Joe BidenJoe BidenSuspect in FedEx shooting used two assault rifles he bought legally: police US, China say they are 'committed' to cooperating on climate change DC goes to the dogs — Major and Champ, that is MORE's vice presidential candidate, dividing Golden State politicians into two camps.

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisDC goes to the dogs — Major and Champ, that is Florida nurse arrested, accused of threatening to kill Harris Oddsmakers say Harris, not Biden, most likely to win 2024 nomination, election MORE (D-Calif.), the state's former attorney general, has been seen as the favorite to be Biden's running mate for some time. 

But now one of her top rivals is another Californian: Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassSunday shows preview: Russia, US exchange sanctions; tensions over policing rise; vaccination campaign continues Lawmakers demand justice for Adam Toledo: 'His hands were up. He was unarmed' Shocking killing renews tensions over police MORE (D), a former state House speaker and the chief of the Congressional Black Caucus.

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While Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenWorld passes 3 million coronavirus deaths Poll: 56 percent say wealth tax is part of solution to inequality Democratic senators call on Biden to support waiving vaccine patents MORE (D-Mass.) and former national security adviser Susan Rice are among the other candidates in the running, the two Californian lawmakers have been viewed as top contenders in recent days. 

Stories about the vice presidential race have also been cast in personal terms, with reports of California House members lobbying for Bass — and implicitly against Harris. Supporters of the senator have also been making their views known in Biden’s orbit. 

“It’s got to be awkward for both of them in some sense,” said one Democratic strategist. “You have one who is a senator, has run a national campaign, has some name ID and along comes this congresswoman, seemingly out of nowhere who steals some of her attention and buzz."

“It’s peak politics,” the strategist added.

Another Democratic strategist, Chris Lehane, who is based in San Francisco, said divisions in the state are between “Democrats in the north and Democrats in the south.”

He compared it to a subway series of sorts.

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“So for many this is a bit like if the Chargers were to play the 49ers in a Super Bowl or the Giants taking on the Angels in the World Series,” he said, referring to California's football and baseball teams. 

Bass is still seen as the underdog in the race, but she had momentum going into the weekend amid reports that other California members — including members of the House such as Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats debate timing and wisdom of reparations vote Biden angers Democrats by keeping Trump-era refugee cap Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones calls on Breyer to retire MORE (D-Calif.) were lobbying for her. 

In the past few days, Bass’s momentum appeared to slow a bit, however, as the congresswoman came under new scrutiny for positive comments she made about Fidel Castro that went down poorly with Cuban Americans in Florida, a key swing state in the presidential race. 

Both women have been jockeying for the post. 

Harris has been quietly working the phones with allies in an effort to seal the deal, sources say. Privately, she has wondered why Bass has gotten so much attention in recent days, worrying about her standing in the process, as a rash of headlines have slammed her. 

“There’s definitely some awkwardness and a little bit of tension,” said one fundraiser in California. “I think they’re both trying to figure out where they are in the process.” 

The fundraiser said while both Harris and Bass are qualified for the job and skilled politicians, Harris should have an advantage given her national stature. 

“Kamala has run statewide and has run in a presidential. I think that says it all,” the fundraiser said.  

Some of the competition has bordered on the personal. 

In an unsigned editorial last week, the Sacramento Bee — where former Harris aide Gil Duran is the opinion editor — urged Biden to select Bass over Harris. 

“If Biden chooses a California VP, he likely won’t pick Karen Bass,” the Bee wrote. “Clearly, however, the community activist whose passion for service led others to draft her into electoral politics is the better choice.”

The two candidates have worked to calm any tensions that might be created by the editorials and blind quotes in news articles.

In an appearance on MSNBC on Tuesday, Harris was asked about the vetting process, which is in its final stages. Biden is meeting one-on-one with the final pool of candidates this week, although it's unclear if those meetings will be in person or virtually. 

"I will tell you this, I'm very honored to be a part of this discussion and whatever decision Joe Biden makes I will support that decision and do everything in my power to help him get elected," Harris said.

Bass has also downplayed any tension and any notion that she is the “anti-Kamala,” as news reports have suggested. 

She recently took to Twitter to praise Harris, writing that “she would be an excellent VP and the same goes for anyone else on the list.” 

Either way, Californians say it’s exciting to see California play such a big role in the process. 

“I’ve never seen so much excitement in California for a vice presidential pick in my entire life,” said Michael Trujillo, a Democratic strategist based in Los Angeles.