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Harris’ Senate Race is Now a Woman’s Race

Rep. Loretta Sanchez, left, and Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris. Source: Associated Press, 2015

Could Gavin Newsom be afraid of Kamala Harris? Just before California Attorney General Harris formally announced her bid to run for the United States Senate on Tuesday, January 13, Newsom dropped his potential candidacy for the senate position. He instead announced his three year campaign in his bid for the 2018 gubernatorial race. According to Newsom, he informed Harris personally that he would not be running for the Senate on the night of January 11. The extremely close timing of the two announcements may suggest some agreement not unlike the one that took place at the Bohemian Grove in 1967, where it was decided that Ronald Reagan would run for California Governor and Richard Nixon would run for Senate.

Regardless, Newsom’s decision seems to be a wise one. With primary elections taking place in July 2016, Harris is staying at the forefront of the 2016 Senate race, polling at 26% among registered voters, according to the LA Times. Many newspapers and publications have called Harris “the sole major candidate” in the race to replace Boxer. Other notable contenders include Rep. Loretta Sanchez of Orange County, former state Republican chairman Tom Del Beccaro, and Assemblyman Rocky Chavez of San Diego County. Harris also leads in campaign funds, reporting just over $4 million dollars in her campaign treasury as of October. Robert Smith, a San Francisco State University professor and expert on African-American politics and Congress, said in a statement, “The political establishments are united around Kamala Harris, and therefore she doesn’t have to do anything except not make any mistakes.”

Meanwhile, Sanchez, coming in a solid second, should work in order to not commit any more mistakes. In May, she was criticized by the media and Native American societies when she imitated a Native American war cry at a convention with Indian Americans. As of now, she is polling at 17% among registered voters. The second-ranking Democrat on the House Homeland Security Committee has been attempting to make up for her late start in announcing her run and her main focus has been campaign contribution funds with over $1.1 million in her campaign vault. Sanchez also has a powerful group of supporters: Latino voters. 34% of Latino voters prefer the former Congresswoman while only 18% support Harris, according to a USC Dornsife poll. With Latinos now the the largest ethnic group in California’s population, she has the potential to present a major threat to Harris’ campaign in the general election if both Democrats advance through the open primary. Sanchez plans to emphasize her relative experience in foreign relations, her commitment to her community, and her connection with organized labor and unions.

Even with her steady increase in the polls and popularity, there are skeptics that consider her a minor contender to Harris’ race. Smith stated, “I doubt that she can become competitive in terms of money and media.” Harris or Sanchez, Boxer’s seat will likely be filled by a Democratic woman, with the closest male competitor being Del Beccaro with 10% in the polls. In contrast, Newsom’s gubernatorial race will likely be dominated by men, with the only campaigns in motion right now from male candidates. Newsom’s move out of the senatorial race may have been his best chance at attaining the female vote.

Harris’ illustrious career in California politics has put her ahead thus far. Her stances have shaped the current issues in debate. In January 2015, Harris issued an information bulletin to California law enforcement agencies, higher education administrators and campus security personnel, providing enforcement guidance on new and amended sexual assault and campus safety laws. This bulletin gives enforcement guidance in the context of existing state and federal statutes and encourages increased collaboration between law enforcement and campus authorities. Harris stated that “the threat of sexual assault is real and pervasive.” Her commitment to reducing sexual violence can be seen from her early days at the DA’s office, when she eliminated a backlog of untested rape kits in state-run labs.

As for social justice issues, she refused to support Proposition 8, making her dissent a clear part of her platform when running for attorney general and has vocally opposed the death penalty and advocated environmental law enforcement.  

Harris has demonstrated herself to be a “woman for women.”