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Forget the Early Polls. Is This Democrats' 2020 Frontrunner?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

For months, when friends ask me about the upcoming Democratic presidential primary -- which is very much underway, as two more candidates have waded into the fray since our last analysis -- I've often raised the same name as the person I suspect is best-positioned to prevail: Kamala Harris, the freshman Senator from California.  I fully recognize that early conventional wisdom and political game theory is often exposed as amusingly wrong when voters actually start going to the polls, but Harris isn't a bad bet, even in spite of her (nearly meaningless) polling position.  Why?  


Democrats wanted someone who personified the opposite of George W. Bush in 2008.  They picked Barack Obama.  Then, after eight years of languishing under the 44th president, Republicans nominated someone who was, in many ways, diametrically unlike the man they'd strongly opposed for the better part of a decade.  If this pattern of wild policy, personality and identity fluctuation continues, Democratic primary voters may well be looking for a very liberal woman of color to stand in striking contrast with, and opposition to, the current incumbent.  Others are noticing Harris, too:

At 54, Harris is two decades younger than some of her septuagenarian competitors – an age that enables her to appeal to the Instagram crowd without being painted as inexperienced. A child of immigrants, she brings diversity to a party obsessed with racial and gender politics...Harris has been in the Senate only two years – not long enough to amass a voting record on thorny issues or carry the stench of Washington. She has used her perch on the Senate Judiciary Committee to filet Trump nominees and earn plaudits from liberals. Harris represents California, whose nearly 40 million citizens account for 12 percent of the entire country’s population. Typically an afterthought in the voting process with its June primary, the Golden State moved its date up to March 3. The leap-frogging means it will play an outsized role in the nomination, and its hometown representatives stand to benefit.


Harris has demonstrated an appetite for cynical demagoguery and calculation as a legislator, but then again, so did the last Democratic president.  She's also displayed a concerning zeal for certain flavors of religious bigotry, but then again, the last Democratic president was also hostile to certain people of faith.  For large elements of the lefty base, those are features, not bugs.  Harris is establishing very liberal bona fides, has won statewide federal and state-level offices in the nation's largest state, and her very existence as a black, female, product of immigrant parents will be viewed by many as a walking, talking rebuke of Trump.  These are obvious advantages.  It's true that she's not yet an official candidate, but that step is an anticipated formality that is coming -- and probably very soon.  In case you need any more convincing that she's running, look no further than this forced "look, I'm fun and relatable!" video she shared:

This clip came courtesy of a CBS show, further cementing the unshakable alliance between late night comedy and the Democratic Party.  But are there substantive strikes against Harris that could jeopardize her chances with both primary and general election voters?  National Review's Jim Geraghty looks at her record in the Golden State and mines some interesting nuggets:


Some of Harris' tough-on-crime stances may not sit well with leftists and civil libertarians, while her immigration views are hard Left.  In addition to advocating on behalf of an illegal immigrant seeking a license to practice law (!) in California, she's come out not just against border barriers, but also against other forms of enforcement: "In April 2018, Harris urged the Senate Appropriations Committee to 'reduce funding for beds in the federal immigration system,' reject calls to hire more Border Patrol personnel, and 'reduce funding for the administration’s reckless immigration enforcement operations.'"  Click through for other tidbits ranging from eyebrow-raising episodes from Harris' personal life, to an 'unprecedented' arrangement involving Los Angeles taxpayer dollars being directed to cover her security as she traveled across the state.

I have no special insight into how Harris will perform as a retail politician, as a nationwide fundraiser, or as a debater.  But I can guarantee you this: As other high-profile, would-be candidates are plotting their path to the Democratic nomination, Sen. Kamala Harris is being discussed as a very serious obstacle to their ambitions.  With a new book out, and trips in or on the books in states like South Carolina and Iowa, she's all but in.  We are off to the races.  I'll leave you with a reminder that when Harris gets in, her Senate colleague from her home state likely won't be racing to endorse her:


UPDATE - As Gillibrand gets in, another Democratic Senator inches closer to entering the field.

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