Is Kamala Damaging Her California Future?

Joe Mathews
Connecting California Columnist and Editor, Zócalo Public Square, Fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University and co-author of California Crackup: How Reform Broke the Golden State and How We Can Fix It (UC Press, 2010)

The presidential campaign of Kamala Harris is on life support. The New York Times and Washington Post recently published obituaries for her White House prospects. And she’s earned a reputation as a poor manager of the campaign who can’t deliver a consistent message.

If her campaign fails and shuts down, will it damage her in California?

The conventional wisdom about that question is: No. Because people’s memories are short. And because, presumably, she’ll lose before she has to run and lose in the California primary.

But Harris may be at greater risk of reputational damage because she wasn’t all that well known in California before her campaign.

Indeed, her presidential run has given Harris far more media coverage in her home state than she got over six years as attorney general or her first couple years in the U.S. Senate. With state coverage on the decline, running for national office is how she was introduced to many of us. And that national coverage has been very negative.

But what will the impact be? She will have to return to the Senate and get some things done—or more likely, things stopped—on behalf of California. And unless she gets selected as vice presidential nominee (a possibility, given the likely need to balance a ticket), she shouldn’t be running for national office for a while.

Would she be vulnerable to a challenger? It’s hard to see Californians electing a Republican as U.S. senator anytime soon, after relentless Republicans attacks on the state under Trump. There’s been speculation that billionaire Tom Steyer, who has done better in the presidential race than Harris, could bring a Democratic challenge from the left in 2022. But such challenges are uphill bills, and Steyer’s better bet may be waiting for 86-year-old Dianne Feinstein to depart her seat.

She will still be sought after as an endorser for more liberal causes. And she may be better at getting attention, now that she’s nationally known. If she can turn that attention into a record of accomplishment, Harris may be able to say some day that she won by losing.

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