Sanchez-Harris race makes national waves

Kamala SanchezCalifornia’s battle between Democrats vying to replace Sen. Barbara Boxer took on national proportions at the state party’s annual convention, thanks to a heavyweight endorsement and a classic unforced misstep.

Although the two did not directly trade barbs, Harris and Sanchez faced their first high-profile matchup at the convention, where their differing styles and rival camps were put on plain display. But it was featured speaker Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Ma., who gave a powerful edge to Harris.

Setting the tone

“When discussing unjust home foreclosures by banks, Warren made clear where her loyalties lie,” the Los Angeles Times observed. “‘That woman was fearless’ in helping combat unscrupulous lending and foreclosure practices in California, Warren said of Harris, whom she endorsed for the Senate seat earlier this year.”

CA Democratic Party Convention: Democrats divided on economic issues, trade pactWarren’s praise for Harris struck a special blow against Sanchez, who has sought to frame Harris as too cautious and calculated to stay ahead of the curve on important political issues — including housing. At her campaign kickoff event, the Sacramento Bee reported, Sanchez asserted “that she was working on the housing crisis long before Harris secured large financial settlements with lenders. Without uttering her name, Sanchez suggested Harris was the hand-picked favorite of the party establishment, and that she has been unwilling to answer questions and too cautious in sharing her positions.”

In the wake of Warren’s pointed opposition to President Obama on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade treaty, Harris stood to strengthen her defense against Sanchez’s line of attack. Warren’s unquestioned ideological credentials with liberal Democrats have made her into a potentially powerful king- or queenmaker. Harris, who can benefit from the strong support of any anti-establishment Democrat, could not do much better than securing Warren’s.

Economic consensus

Warren’s significance, however, may already have been limited by her willingness to lead the left on economic issues. Neither Harris nor Sanchez have appeared willing to depart from establishment Democratic orthodoxy.

At the convention, Sanchez struck a familiar note for Democrats: “I have got to tell you,” she said, according to KQED, “there are a still a lot of people who have lost their homes, who are troubled, who are underemployed, and so we are going to show how we work with the business community to get those good paying jobs into California.”

Harris’s language was remarkably similar. “I’ll tell you, when we were growing up, we talked about opportunity as a ladder, and that ladder of opportunity described America as a place where anyone could lift themselves up, anyone could reach higher, and everyone has a right to the American dream,” she said.

Cultural controversy

With little apparent daylight between the two candidates on economic issues, identity politics quickly asserted itself as a dominant dividing line. From the beginning, Latino Democrats, especially in the Southland, refused to line up behind Harris, giving Sanchez the opening she needed to step into the race. But at the convention itself, Sanchez made national news by letting slip the kind of gaffe guaranteed to ruffle Democrats’ cultural feathers.

Joking around with the state party’s Indian American caucus, Sanchez “let out about two seconds” of what CNN called “a stereotypical Native American ‘war cry.'”

“‘I’m going to his office, thinkin’ that I’m gonna go meet with woo-woo-woo-woo, right? ‘Cause he said “Indian American,”‘ she said, using the gesture to try to discern between Indian Americans — with ancestry from India’s subcontinent — and Native Americans.”

As social media picked up on the moment, Sanchez quickly found herself with a scandal on her hands. A video of the gaffe, captured by a man who turned out to have helped fundraise for Harris, provoked Democratic ire across Twitter and other websites.

“The 10-term congresswoman told reporters she would leave the convention with momentum for her campaign, and her contrite words were greeted with a burst of applause,” CBS Sacramento noted. “But it was clear her caricature at an event that highlights diversity and inclusion unsettled many activists, who said the video had become the buzz of the convention.”

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