by Chris Reed | October 23, 2017 9:26 am
California Sen. Kamala Harris’ splashy first year in Washington has made her a fixture on lists of potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidates – and not as an interesting long shot but as someone with a strong chance.
While the California Legislature’s recent vote to move the state’s 2020 presidential primary from June to March was seen in the Golden State as yet another attempt to make America’s most populous, richest state more of a factor in deciding the presidential nomination, a Newsweek analysis last month saw it as an attempt to boost Harris’ potential White House bid. The Newsweek headline: “Is Kamala Harris Now the 2020 Favorite to Take on Trump?”
In 2016, California had 548 delegates at the Democratic Convention – nearly one-quarter of the 2,382 needed for the nomination that year. The numbers are likely to be similar in 2020, potentially giving Harris a big boost in the nomination race after voting in Iowa, New Hampshire and a handful of other states possibly more inclined to back more familiar Democrats such as former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders or Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
But there appears to be a fair chance that the assumption Harris would be the clear choice in the Golden State faces a huge complication: the presence of another popular, fresh California politician in the Democratic nomination mix.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has hinted that he’s thinking about running for governor in 2018 as well as president in 2020. After his recent appearance at the Sacramento Press Club, a Los Angeles Times account said his coy responses to questions about his political future “did little to dampen what has become a rowdy parlor game among California politicos: speculating on just what Garcetti will do next.”
The idea that Los Angeles residents might be upset about a Garcetti presidential bid because it would take him away from his duties as mayor is undercut by a Loyola Marymount poll released last month. It showed 63 percent of the 914 Los Angeles County residents surveyed were “strongly supportive” or “somewhat supportive” of Garcetti seeking the White House.
A Politico analysis in May offered a look at why a Garcetti bid intrigues some in the upper ranks of the Democratic establishment. It described him as a handsome 46-year-old who “was just re-elected to a second term with 81 percent of the vote, and is half-Mexican (he speaks Spanish fluently) and half-Jewish (he’s an active member of a very progressive L.A. synagogue), a Rhodes scholar and former Navy intelligence reserve officer.”
Harris, who turned 53 Friday, also has an attractive personal story in a Democratic Party on the lookout for candidates who can inspire large turnouts among young and minority voters. She has a Jamaican-American father and Indian-American mother and has been a trailblazer throughout her political career.
But if either Garcetti or Harris seek the White House, rival Democrats will have no shortage of fodder for attack ads.
Garcetti was first elected mayor in 2013 and cruised to re-election earlier this year, facing no serious opposition. He is considered hard-working and an impressive policy wonk.
But Los Angeles has emerged as the epicenter of American poverty in recent years thanks to high housing costs and the departure of Fortune 500 firms and mid-sized businesses alike. A 2014 blue-ribbon report commissioned by the City Council depicted Los Angeles as “facing economic decline, weighed down by poverty, strangled by traffic and suffering from a crisis of leadership,” according to a Los Angeles Times account. Garcetti has not reversed this downward arc, leading to a Los Angeles magazine article in August lamenting how Silicon Valley had far eclipsed the Los Angeles region.
As for Harris, her record during six years as attorney general was more mixed than some national coverage assumes – and at times at odds with now-ascendant Bernie Sanders-style populism. While she achieved high-profile wins in going after corporate malfeasance – starting with shady mortgage lenders – she was not a leader in criminal-justice reform in an era in which the movement built up momentum in California with dramatic changes in sentencing and parole laws. Some editorial writers challenged her description of herself as a “bold leader.” Jacobin magazine, which has a devoted following among progressives, was much harsher, depicting her as having “two faces” on crime and siding with reactionary tough-on-crime policies repeatedly while attorney general. Other liberal voices strongly agree, as the New Republic reported in August.
As California AG, Harris also continued a long bipartisan tradition that appalls good-government advocates: writing slanted descriptions of ballot measures that are meant to help or hurt the proposals. In 2015, for example, the liberal San Francisco Chronicle editorial page blasted Harris for ballot language that effectively killed a pension reform campaign in its infancy.
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