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Kamala Harris: A Bid For Boxer’s Seat

Kamala Harris
California Attorney General Kamala Harris. Source: Damian Dovarganes/AP

On Thursday, January 8, 2015, California Senator Barbara Boxer announced she will be retiring following the end of her term, leaving the first open California Senate seat since 1992, The Year of the Woman. Boxer’s leave has nothing to do with her age, she informed viewers of that she is leaving the Senate to return full-time to California, the state that she loves.

The more important concern, however, is not Boxer’s motives in retiring, but who is to replace her. The first open California Senate seat since 1992 presents a sizable opportunity for many Democratic candidates and even offers a shred of hope to the GOP, especially with California’s relatively new open primary system. California now has a runoff primary between the top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation. California is considered a safe Democratic state, but with enough of a battle for Boxer’s Senate seat within the Democratic Party, there is a possibility that two Republicans could end up in the final primary. “If one and only one Republican makes this race, he or she is almost certain of a runoff slot,” wrote Thomas Elias in The Californian. And if a slew of Democrats get in against two Republicans, both Republicans could advance to November, guaranteeing the GOP an improbable senate seat for six years.” However, although the GOP may see a chance to seize the seat due to a divide in the opposition party, California Attorney General Kamala Harris has a good chance of winning Boxer’s seat because of her represented communities, relationships in Silicon Valley, and allies in California government.

In a survey conducted by Public Policy Polling in December 2014, 27% of surveyed Californians answered that they would vote for Kamala Harris, who announced her campaign for Boxer’s seat just days after Boxer’s announcement. This number was matched only by 28% for Republican California Representative Tom McClintock. Other candidates included in the survey were Representative Loretta Sanchez, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and environmental activist Tom Steyer, with the vote split rather evenly between the three (at around 6%). None of these candidates have confirmed their participation in the 2016 Senate race, but Mayor Eric Garcetti has announced on Twitter that he will not be running for the senate. For the Democratic Party, the two clear frontrunners are Attorney General Kamala Harris and Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. However, with Newsom’s recent announcement that he will not be pursuing Boxer’s seat, Harris emerges the sole frontrunner.

Although the GOP hopes to take advantage of the runoff primary system, Harris’s strong lead within the Democratic Party dampens Republican Senate hopes in California. The allies she has made within the state government and her connections to the blooming tech sector during her campaign for Attorney General have provided her with a rather large base of support. Silicon Valley views the newly vacated senate seat as a “gold rush opportunity” for a new leader with an understanding of the tech sector to push both thought and innovation in the American government. As the self-proclaimed “key economic engine” of California, Silicon Valley and its billionaire moguls are valuable assets to a political candidate. In her campaign for top prosecutor of California, Harris received campaign contributions from Yahoo as well as political action committees within Google, Facebook, and Intel. Innovators, such as TechNet President Linda Moore, claim to have a “good relationship” with Harris and trust her to be a supportive leader for this enormous segment of California’s economy. Harris has shown Silicon Valley support in the past by pushing “Do Not Track” rules that inform viewers if they are able to opt out of targeted advertisements, and she has pressed companies to investigate data security practices. Although many tech leaders have said it is a bit early to speculate on Harris’s campaign platforms regarding the tech industry, she seems to have a relatively sturdy foundation in Silicon Valley.

In addition to her connections, Harris represents two communities that are severely underrepresented in Congress as a black woman. As a black woman, Harris will enlarge, though slightly, the position of  highly underrepresented women of color in the Senate.  Although she has not openly announced her campaign platforms regarding these communities, her potential Senate seat would benefit both by increasing representation in Congress. Regardless of any platform, Harris has argued on her website that she has been “fighting crime, fighting for consumers, and fighting for equal rights for all” as California Attorney General, and she has declared she will be “a fighter for the next generation on the critical issues facing our country.” She has thus far promised her allegiance to middle class families, indebted students, and those who lack access to a proper education. Essentially, Harris is a progressive Democratic candidate that would maintain the safe Democratic majority in  California. Although a California voter’s voice in the Senate is minimal compared to that of a resident in a smaller state, keeping a safely Democratic California could perhaps even aid a Democratic takeover of the Senate following the Republican Congressional takeover of 2014.

The 2016 California Senate race will be record-breaking, with top-tier campaigns projected to cost at least $30 million. California has four of the country’s biggest, and thus most expensive, media markets. It has the largest state population, and third largest geographic territory, leaving little doubt as to the grandiose expectations for the 2016 race. Regardless, Attorney General Kamala Harris has placed herself in a clear leading position for the campaign season. Barbara Boxer indicated in her mock-interview her hopes for the Senate seat to remain in progressive hands, and a victory by Kamala Harris would ensure the legacy of Boxer’s leadership in the senate.

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