Kamala Harris has been generating a lot of buzz over the past few years, fueling endless speculation about whether the California senator plans to run for the White House in 2020. On January 21, Martin Luther King Day, Harris made it official, announcing she’s jumping into what’s expected to be a wide open race for the Democatic nomination. “I’m running for president of the United States, and I’m very excited about it,” Harris told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Harris’s husband, Douglas Emhoff, was waiting behind the scenes as Harris appeared on Good Morning America and has been vocal about his strong support for her campaign.
The California senator also released a video in which she talked about the values she says will be the hallmark of her White House run. “Truth. Justice. Decency. Equality. Freedom. Equality. Democracy. These aren’t not just words. They’re the values we as Americans cherish. And they’re all on the line now,” Harris says, addressing the camera.
Harris, a former prosecutor and daughter of immigrants, has often been compared to Barack Obama, another relatively inexperienced politician who seemed to come out of nowhere and win the presidency. But recent polls show that Harris has been lagging behind Democratic stalwarts Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. A recent CNN poll — published on December 14 — showed the California Senator down at fifth place in a list of possible Democratic contenders for the White House in 2020. The poll put former vice president Joe Biden in first place, with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders in second place. Beto O’Rourke, who garnered national attention in his failed race against Ted Cruz, came in third in the poll. Harris came in fifth place, behind New Jersey senator Cory Booker.
Harris has just wrapped up a media blitz, promoting both her new book — a memoir titled “The Truths We Hold” — and her candidacy. It may be too early to tell whether Harris has a real chance at winning the White House, but here’s what you need to know:
1. Harris’s 2020 Campaign Will be Headquartered in Baltimore
The Baltimore Sun has reported that Kamala Harris will headquarter her presidential campain in Baltimore. The Sun’s sources, who spoke anonymously, said Harris had selected Baltimore because of the city’s diversity and its location; Baltimore is close to Washington DC, and it is also in the Eastern time zone. The city’s airport, BWI, also offers cross-country flights to California, Kamala’s home state. Politico reports that Harris will have a second campaign office in Oakland. Harris campaign aides told Politico that the arrangement will give them a “foothold” in “two diverse cities” while still positioning them within easy reach of the nation’s capitol.
Even before Harris announced plans to run for the White House, Democrats were already comparing the California senator to Barack Obama. Harris toured Iowa this fall, in what was widely seen as an exploration of a possible White House run. Harris wowed the crowds and inspired comparisons to Obama — another freshman senator who ran for election with relatively little political experience under his belt. “I haven’t seen that kind of energy since Barack Obama,” Sean Bagniewski, the chair of the Polk County Democrats, said after Harris gave a rousing speech in a downtown Des Moines ballroom.
The late journalist Gwen Ifil first compared Harris to Obama back in 2009; Ifil said, in an appearance on David Letterman, that Harris was “the female Barack Obama.” In fact, Harris volunteered for Obama’s 2008 election campaign in Iowa. Harris, a San Francisco DA at the time, delivered pizzas to caucusgoers and knocked on doors to pursue voters.
2. Harris Is Expected to Hire Juan Rodriguez as Her Campaign Manager
Juan Rodriguez was Harris’s campaign manager during her bid for the US Senate, and Harris’s allies have told CNN she’s likely to hire him as campaign manager for her White House race also.
Rodriguez, the son of Central American immigrants who arrived in the United States illegally, got his start in politics when he went to work as an intern for then-mayor of Los Angeles Antonio Villaraigosa. He eventually became the mayor’s liaison to city and state leaders.
Harris said she chose Rodriguez to be her campaign manager at a rough point during her Senate campaign, in part because she valued his financial acumen, his business school background, and his steady calm.
3. Harris Portrays Herself as a Beltway Outsider Who Doesn’t Pull Her Punches
Kamala Harris is a newcomer to the US Congress. The California senator, who was sworn in just two years ago, portrays herself as a progressive and an outsider. She often talks about her past as a prosecutor and presents herself as a tough, pull-no-punches fighter. And she often rallies liberals to handle their anger at the president by becoming what she calls “joyful warriors.”
Harris made a name for herself fighting against the Trump administration’s immigration policies; she repeatedly compared the child separation policy to “ripping babies from their mothers,” and vowed to fight on until all the families that were separated at the border were re-united. Harris was also a vocal opponent of Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. She championed the cause of Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Kavanaugh of having raped her when they were both students in high school. After Kavanaugh was confirmed, Harris called the hearing a “sham and a disgrace.”
4. Harris Knows How to Appeal to Centrist & Even Conservative Voters
Harris portrays herself as a progressive and as a staunch opponent of the Trump administration. But the California senator also knows how to strike the right notes to appeal to centrist voters. She often reminds people that she got her start as a district attorney. She has presented herself as tough on crime and touted her willingness to lock up violent offenders.
She has also said she believes in the need to cut “wasteful spending” and carry out tax reform. “I agree we must be talking about wasteful spending in our country … we must be talking about tax reform,” Harris told an audience back in 2017.
5. Harris, the Daughter of 2 Immigrants, Often Talks About Her Personal Story
Harris is widely seen as one of the best advocates for immigrants on Capitol Hill. She has championed the cause of DREAMers and has railed against the Trump administration’s separation of families at the US-Mexico border. Harris draws on her own personal story to explain why she feels passionately about the rights of immigrants. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, was a cancer researcher who came to the US from India in 1960. Her father, Donald Harris, emigrated from Jamaica in 1961.
In her maiden speech on the Senate floor, Harris said she was “channeling” the spirit of her mother in taking up the cause of the DREAMers. The freshman senator said she could imagine her mother “looking down on us today” and giving her opinion about what Kamala should do. Harris said, “knowing my mother, she’s probably saying, “Kamala, what on earth is going on down there? We have got to stand up for our values! So in the spirit of my mother, who was always direct, I cannot mince words.”