Kamala Harris: She offers experience, diversity — and a double-edged position on law and order

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Kamala Harris, the first term United States senator from California, started her campaign for president with a big bang. Her announcement was a great success and it vaulted her into the second tier of Democratic nominee wannabees, right behind Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. To win the Democratic nod though, she will need to deal with her progressive critics who oppose the tough law and order stands she took during her eight years as California’s attorney general.

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Harris generated a crowd of about 30,000 supporters in her home town of Oakland, California and she followed that up with a “must-see TV” appearance on a CNN town hall, which was the highest rated episode ever on the CNN political showcase. She proved before a big national audience that she’s articulate and quick on her feet.

Experience still matters

{mosads}House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) proved that experience leads to performance during the battle over the wall with political greenhorn President Trump. And Americans like to do a 180 turn when they replace a president. Nixon’s imperiled presidency begat  Jimmy Carter, who carried his own suit case. A classic outsider, Bill Clinton moved into the White House vacated by the ultimate Washington insider George H. W. Bush. Will an experienced political figure like Kamala Harris succeed the political novice, Donald Trump. Time, many tweets and much turmoil will tell.

Someone suggested to me, in reaction to Trump’s rookie mistakes, that there should be a constitutional requirement that only candidates who have served a full term as a governor and a senator should be eligible for the presidency. Although that raises other issues, it speaks to the experience many Americans are craving in 2020 candidates. Harris comes close with experience at the local, state and national level. She’s only 54 but she has a great resume and even better most of it has been way outside of Washington. Before she was elected U.S. senator, she served as the attorney general of California for eight years and before that she was the San Francisco district attorney. If she becomes president, she will have served four years in the Senate, like Barack Obama, by the time she’s inaugurated.

Politics of identity

She like the former president has a mixed race heritage. Her mother is Asian who came from India. Her father is black and from Jamaica. Obama never made a big deal of his background but it appears to be a bigger part of the Harris campaign. She announced on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Her first stop after her announcement was to South Carolina, which has a large black voter presence in the early presidential primary. She frequently invokes the name of Rep. Shirley Chisolm (D-N.Y.) who was the first black woman to run for the Democratic presidential nod.

The victories of female Democratic candidates in 2018 Democratic congressional primaries tell me that a successful 2020 dark horse candidate could be female. There could be four female senators in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination: Harris, Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). They are the first #MeToo era female candidates for president. Based on visibility and the ability to raise money, Harris and Warren have the best chances.

Political prospects

The campaign calendar and Harris’ proven ability to raise money give her a big advantage since California has moved its primary up to Super Tuesday only 21 days after the New Hampshire primary and 29 days after the Iowa Caucuses. If she reaches black voters, she could do well in South Carolina which also has an early primary.

California voters will begin to cast absentee primary ballots the same day that Democrats caucus in Iowa. California sends 495 delegates to the Democratic National Convention, so a big win in her home state could put Harris in the lead in early delegate commitments which would give her momentum over the other Democratic candidates. 

Issues and ideology

Harris is one of the most liberal members of the Senate and she has a solid progressive voting record which will appeal to some liberal Democratic primary voters. GovTrack rated her the eighth most liberal member of the Senate for 2017 based on bills she sponsored or co-sponsored. 

Among the likely presidential candidates only Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Gillibrand had higher liberal ratings. Harris had a better liberal rating in the Senate than three other hopefuls, Warren, Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

Despite her record in the Senate, there are some progressive Democrats who have problems with her candidacy. She endorsed Sanders’ Medicare for All plan during her CNN town hall appearance but appeared to back away from it after the show. A fuzzy issue position is a problem in a ideologically heated nomination campaign.

As attorney general, Harris also filed to prosecute Steven Mnuchin who now is secretary of Treasury when he was the CEO of OneWest Bank. A memo on the investigation of OneWest by her office cited the firm for more than a thousand violations of California foreclosure laws. The investigation also cited the bank for “widespread misconduct.”

Harris appeared to distance herself from the decision not to prosecute Mnuchin and OneWest when she said, “It was a decision my office made.” This could be a big problem when Democratic primary voters are livid over the ethical failures of Trump and his associates.

{mossecondads}Harris’ law and order positions, while she was California attorney general, are also a problem for some liberal Democrats. As the California attorney general, she pushed to use the death penalty and threatened to punish the parents of truant school children. She claims those positions were required in the role, upholding California law. Regardless, these positions may hurt her in the nomination campaign. But desspite law and order stance, she managed to win Democratic primaries in the biggest and most progressive state in the union and in San Francisco. 

Harris’ tough law and order positions may even be an advantage in the general election campaign and insulate her from terribleTrump tweets attacks on her for being soft on crime. But that’s a story for another day.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also a senior adviser to, and editor of, the blog at MyTiller.com, a social media network for politics.

This is the first piece in a series of profiles by Bannon on 2020 Democratic hopefuls. Read the second piece on Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

Tags 2020 election Amy Klobuchar Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Bill Clinton Brad Bannon Cory Booker Democrats Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Identity politics Joe Biden Kamala Harris Kamala Harris Kirsten Gillibrand Nancy Pelosi Sherrod Brown Steven Mnuchin

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