The Campaign Road Eventually Goes Through California Featuring Sen. Kamala Harris and Others

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

If you watched the last presidential debate in Houston along with 14 million other Americans you realize that until now this remains very much a one-sided affair featuring Democrats. 

That’s because Trump has no reason to shine a spotlight on the few GOP members with the temerity to have said they are prepared to oppose him.

Once the Democrats anoint someone to take him on, with the assumption that Trump is all but certain to win re-nomination, the expectation is that he will be invited to meet that individual—whether a him or her—at center stage.

Sen. Kamala Harris could figure large in that reckoning.

Depending upon whom the Democrats choose, the incumbent might be advised not to accept unless his prospects have taken a drastic turn.  However Trump being Trump, it will be difficult to resist the media attention.

Californians will have a bigger say in all this than in past years when its votes coming in June were rendered less meaningful after numerous states had cast theirs much earlier. 

That changes with the states’ primary moved up now to March 3rd  which could influence voters in other places.

If the national and early primary polls are accurate and can hold up the cast of women as of now has been whittled down to three including California’s junior Senator, Kamala Harris. 

At the far end of the Houston platform was Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar who had her best performance but appears to be making little headway. 

Remaining front and center was Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren who easily outpolled Harris for the coveted spot along aside the former Vice President, Joe Biden, still the nominal frontrunner.

Harris’s precipitous fall in the polls—she is now hovering around 6%—is something of a mystery having burst out of the gate with a roaring crowd of over 20,000 on hand in Oakland for her campaign opener in January. It remains a record turnout for any candidate’s debute.

Her meteoric rise was further propelled by a stand-out performance during the first TV debate when she blasted Biden for cozying up to segregationists when he was a Senator.

That bit of drama seems to have cut two ways with many of the long- faithful “Uncle Joe” supporters annoyed at her effrontery and less concerned about his pragmatic alliances five decades ago than with some of his continuing verbal gaffes. 

Campaigning in Iowa a week ago, Biden blurted, “poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids,” not the smartest word selection for someone who needs to burnish his questioned civil rights record.

Harris got a momentary boost after the attack demonstrating her well established prosecutorial skills as the state’s former and first non-white female Attorney General and San Francisco District Attorney.

But any after-glow must be measured against a candidate’s prowess in raising money and any change in the polls.

Since the start of her campaign Harris has raised over an impressive $14 million from large individual contributors, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. That total equals 56% of her $24 million in contributions and She finished raising almost $12 million in the second quarter.

About 45% of Harris’ contributions poured in from the Golden State. Whether she will be able to sustain this pace as the first primary—the Iowa Caucuses—loom only five months away—has yet to be answered.

Historically the most successful road to the nomination for top tier candidates goes through the Hawkeye and Granite states. 

Harris sits in fourth place as of now and could very likely remain in that position or perhaps rise depending upon her showing in the Iowa and  New Hampshire primaries. 

For Biden—the front runner—these could be make-or-break states.

But Harris is not in a bad position at this stage with far more diverse states such as South Carolina, Nevada and especially California coming up soon after which could prove highly favorable.

South Carolina with its very large African-American population could be pivotal as it was in Obama’s campaigns.

However, with the exception of Bill Clinton who did not win either of the first two primaries in1992, both Iowa Democrat winners, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, were elected president. 

Clinton though ceding Iowa to Sen. Tim Harkin, the home state favorite, was dubbed the “comeback kid” after his startling second-place finish in New Hampshire.

No one has won a major party nomination since 1972 when Democrat, George McGovern lost both (and was then trounced by Richard Nixon in the general election) without coming in among the top two in either Iowa or New Hampshire.

The good news for Harris is the diversity of the new electorate which may diminish somewhat the importance of these two states.

It is also the bad news since New Jersey Sen., Cory Booker, another candidate of color and Julian Castro, Obama’s Sec. of Housing and Urban Development of Mexican heritage, Andrew Yang, Chinese, and two other women in the race, are also vying for the honors.

And there is also the younger generations which will control a whopping 37% of the vote in November 2020!

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg is in addition to being the only gay candidate is also the youngest at 37 followed by Beto O’Rourke, 46 and Castro, 47.

Harris is a very mature 54, but has nothing on Elizabeth Warren, a robust and very articulate 70 with the oldest contenders, the preternaturally congenial Biden, 76 and the feisty Sanders, 78, rounding out the current pack.

Harris did nothing in the debate to hurt her standing and there were no homeruns scored by any of the ten candidates, several of whom will not be around for the next cut.

She was wise to stop picking on Biden—leaving others to go after him at their own risk. 

At one point, Castro in an obviously rehearsed script pounced on Biden for having a failing memory when the former Vice President seemed to contradict himself regarding  a question about his position on healthcare reform. Harris knew better this time than to get into the fray.

None of these candidates are bullet-proof and whomever can absorb the most wounds with the least damage should remain standing.

In different ways Harris and Warren along with Sanders and Buttigieg would all make formidable debaters if Trump some day had to face any of them.

But the first hurdles are Iowa and New Hampshire. Whomever wins the hearts and minds of those two states barely one-tenth the size and population of California becomes the one to beat.

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