Kamala Harris to run for U.S. Senate

Kamala Harris to run for U.S. Senate

Kamala-Harris-handsToday California Attorney General Kamala Harris will announce her candidacy for U.S. Senate. She seeks to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer, who last week announced her retirement. Both are Democrats.

Even though the election is more than 21 months away, it’s a smart move by Harris — whose career has been market by smart moves, beginning with her being elected attorney general of San Francisco. The early announcement gives her momentum against any potential Democratic rivals, such as former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa or hedge-fund manager Tom Steyer.

Steyer is a billionaire and certainly could out-spend Harris — or just about anybody else. But as the ill-fated campaign of airline executive Al Checchi showed in 1998, an open checkbook isn’t necessarily the path to higher office. He spent $30 million in a bid for governor, but was defeated in the Democratic primary by Lt. Gov. Gray Davis, who went on to become governor.

Even though California is gigantic and statewide candidates depend on TV ads, grassroots organizing still matters. Davis had spent decades cultivating such powerful interest groups as the unions for teachers, guards and police. They formed the bulwark of his campaign.

Even for Republicans, last fall’s victories at the local level in California depended to a great extent on the “ground game” state GOP Chairman Jim Brulte instituted when he was given that post two years ago.

Borrowing from football, in political parlance a “ground game” is such things as registering voters and getting them to show up at the polls, as opposed to TV ads.

Issues

Likewise, Harris’ early start gives her almost two years to cultivate the unions more than she already has, while also giving her national exposure from which to raise funds across the country. Following Davis’ cue of almost two decades ago, she has taken liberal positions on such issues as same-sex marriage and health care reform, while cultivating a “tough on crime” record.

When running for attorney general in 2010, she highlighted her “71 percent success rate in obtaining felony convictions” as San Francisco’s DA. She also has opposed legalizing marijuana, although last year she was coy about her stance.

The next election will siphon off a lot of money from rich donors to the presidential campaigns. It makes sense now for Harris to start making appeals for funds before Hillary Clinton and other Democratic hopefuls for the White House announce their own campaigns.

For Republicans, Harris’ gubernatorial candidacy will prove a serious obstacle. When she ran in 2010, she barely beat Steve Cooley, the Republican nominee and at the time the district attorney of Los Angeles County, 46 percent to 45.5 percent. But in 2014, she handily beat Republican Ronald Gold, 57.5 percent to 42.5 percent.

It’s still early. And anything can happen. But Harris has to be considered the odds-on favorite to win Boxer’s seat.

Which brings up another situation. If she’s elected to the Senate, whom will Gov. Jerry Brown replace her with as California attorney general?


Tags assigned to this article:
Barbara BoxerJim BrulteJohn SeilerKamala Harris

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