The Buzz Around Kamala

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It’s early days but Dems are humming about Sen. Harris snagging the nomination for Commander-in-Chief in 2020

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, gave a rousing speech at the Women’s March held after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. (Photo Courtesy of Kamala Harris’ Facebook Page)

The long-time speculation about Sen. Kamala Harris’ ambitions for the White House got another boost last weekend when the only Indian-American Senator in the U.S. Congress was feted by top donors and fundraisers in an exclusive location in The Hamptons.

According to The Hill newspaper, “The Democratic donor class is abuzz about Kamala Harris” following her schmooze-fest among the movers and shakers at the Bridgehampton event. One top bundler who remained anonymous, told The Hill, the event was the ultimate signal that Harris is “thinking much bigger.” Another unidentified source said, “She’s running for president. Take it to the bank.”

Running for president and competing for getting that nomination are two dramatically different races. And while Democratic heavyweights consider Harris, she will be just one of several in the Hampton pageant over the coming months, observers say.

The Democratic field is currently wide open with no successor anointed or no shortlist as such. That’s a hiatus of 16 years where Hillary Clinton was the odds-on favorite, followed by President Barack Obama, says Professor Karthick Ramakrishnan of University of California, Riverside, and director of AAPIData project, which conducts demographic and policy research on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. “There’s no natural successor,” Ramakrishnan says. He also sees President Donald Trump’s decreasing popularity numbers as encouraging more players among presidential aspirants.

“So among the several who are testing the waters, Harris has built a reputation, in part because of her work in California, and her performance at Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ hearings,” Ramakrishnan says, as did others interviewed by this correspondent. Harris’ office did not get back by press time.

Indian-American lawmakers, of which there is a bumper-crop of five (including Harris), see their colleague’s potential as Harris has caught the national spotlight with her prosecutorial style and ability to get under the GOP’s skin, in the upper chambers. Yet they are keeping their cards close to their chests because the field is wide open and the 2018 mid-terms will winnow the field for sure both in terms of candidates and the narrative their party will fashion for 2020, based on the results.

But some others in the mainstream are not holding back even this early in the game.

“Kamala has come to embody what’s next for our party,” Democratic strategist Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for former President Barack Obama,  told The Hill, adding, “She comes to Congress with immense credentials — a law enforcement official with a smart approach to taking on bad actors and protecting consumers. And she’s already broken through as bringing a unique voice in the Senate that is both substantive and relatable — which is hard to do your freshman year.”

Sen. Kamala Harris (Photo Courtesy of Kamala Harris’ Facebook Page)

Rep. Ami Bera, D-California, told News India Times he did not want to speculate about Sen. Harris’ ambitions for the Presidency. But, “She really has made her mark,” he acknowledged. Politicos (and the nation) have watched her impact at various nomination hearings where she has demonstrated her prosecutorial skills, and her cache was apparent during the women’s march earlier this year. “We have seen her popularity grow nationally,” said Bera.

“I believe she is focused on doing her job as a Senator,” and the best way to get elected is to do the best job in the position one is in, Bera said. “If Sen. Harris has ambitions beyond the Senate, what she’s doing right now is the way to go about it,” the Indian-American Congressman from California said.

Each of the Indian-American lawmakers has made his or her mark in the mainstream – Senior-most among them, Rep. Bera, who is in his third term from a tough electoral district; and freshmen lawmakers – the fiery Washington State Democrat, Pramila Jayapal; Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois; and Silicon Valley’s Ro Khanna, D-California. They have taken the lead or joined in sponsoring critical pieces of legislation to do with job creation, skills training, wages and other steps to help the country’s middle-class. They have spoken out on GOP and President Trump’s stand at every twist and turn.

But what gives Sen. Harris an edge is her experience in California, where the last position she held was Attorney General – heading the law enforcement of a state with the 8th largest economy in the world.

“I like Kamala Harris. She is a fine U.S. Senator,” said Rep. Krishnamoorthi. “The good news is there’s a lot of talent in the Democratic Party and 2020 will be a very interesting year for our country’s politics,” he told News India Times. Democrats need “focus like a laser on the middle class,” he said. “Those candidates who focus on that will find electoral success,” he predicted.

As a candidate with a dual ancestry, Indian-American and African- American, in other words, a ‘woman of color’ Harris’ chances are good, but it depends what the dominant message of the party will be two years from now after the 2018 mid-term elections.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, put up these photos of herself as a toddler with her mother Shyamala G. Harris, and as a young girl, on her Facebook page on June 30, the last day of Immigrant Heritage Month.

Not much has been talked about the minority vote which has played  bigger role in 2016, than in the 2008 or 2012 elections, Ramakrishnan says. “The Democrats may need a person of color somewhere on the ticket come 2020, if they want to sustain that support,” he surmises.

“Let’s see how she works her biography – whether (tapping) both heritages, or not bringing heritage into the equation at all,” Ramakrishnan says.

On her Facebook page, Harris touts her Indian ancestry. Her favorite saying on the site is — ” “You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you’re not the last.” – My mother, Shyamala G. Harris.” Her favorite music includes Ravi Shankar and his daughter Norah Jones, among such groups as The Beatles, Maroon 5, Santana, and Bob Marley.

Coming from California, Harris has strong fundraising abilities especially for 2018 midterms will stand her in good stead; at the same time, she is not tagged as a Californian, both points in her favor, Ramakrishnan says.

According to The Hill, Harris has raised more than $600,000 for Senate candidates since November.

The mid-terms however, are critical according to analysts, in defining the kind of candidates who will be the odds-on favorites. The mid-terms will also define the  messages and narratives the Democratic Party will spin following the successes or failures in 2018.

“So what will be the dominant message of 2018 will determine what Harris runs on,” Ramakrishnan concluded.