Kamala Harris Upstages Civil Rights Icon with MLK Day Campaign Announcement

‘Harris, among the Democratic candidates announced so far, is probably the strongest study in contrasts with Trump…’

Kamala Harris Won't Vote for Kavanaugh Because It's 'the Swing Vote'

Kamala Harris/IMAGE: PBS via YouTube

(Melanie Mason, Los Angeles Times) On a day intended to reflect upon the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., wasted no time upstaging slain civil rights icon by making official her widely anticipated bid to become the nation’s second African–American president and first official female occupant of the Oval Office.

Harris—a first-term senator who vaulted herself into the spotlight with her stone-faced, prosecutorial grilling of Trump administration officials and her disruptions during the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh—entered the 2020  fray on Monday, casting her candidacy as a campaign to preserve American ideals.

Stressing her experience as a prosecutor, Harris drew a clear contrast with President Donald Trump, without mentioning his name.

“The American people deserve to have somebody who is going to fight for them, who is going to see them, who will hear them, who will care about them, who will be concerned about their experience and will put them in front of self-interest,” she said as she made her announcement on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Ironically, Harris received several dubious distinctions in 2018, such as “Porker of the Year” and inclusion as one of Congress’s top ethics violators, suggesting that she was not altogether disinterested in her own personal gain.

She also released a corresponding online video laying out her opening pitch.

“The future of our country depends on you and millions of others raising their voices to fight for our American values,” Harris said in the video. “That’s why I’m running for president of the United States. To lift those voices. To bring our voices together.”

Harris, 54, is the fourth female member of Congress to dive into the increasingly crowded Democratic presidential primary field and the first woman of color to be a top-tier candidate. She launches her campaign in the same week that Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to run for president, started her bid 47 years ago.

“Harris, among the Democratic candidates announced so far, is probably the strongest study in contrasts with Trump,” said Karthick Ramakrishnan, professor of public policy at UC Riverside.

Harris worked 13 years as a prosecutor in Alameda County and San Francisco before running for San Francisco district attorney. That first foray into electoral politics 15 years ago was a bruising battle against a Democratic incumbent who was her former boss. In 2010, she became state attorney general in one of the closest statewide elections in California history.

Her history of winning taxing campaigns may serve her well in her White House bid, said Katie Merrill, a Democratic strategist based in the Bay Area.

“She’s been there. She’s run tough races,” Merrill said. “So much of what happens to candidates when they move to the national stage is they’re not used to being in the spotlight, they’re not used to the grueling schedule, and they crumble. She has proven she’s got the goods to run this race.”

Harris handily won her Senate race in 2016, beating Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a fellow Democrat. In the Senate, her seats on the powerful Judicial and Intelligence committees have let Harris display her cross-examination know-how.

Her prosecutorial experience will likely be central to her pitch for the Democratic nomination, and her record could prove alternately appealing and alienating to those across the political spectrum.

She has faced criticism from the left, with some advocates of overhauling the criminal justice system saying she was tepid in pursuing reforms. Others have pointed to the fact that Harris’s ambitions may have kept her from effectively fulfilling her duties as the top cop in San Francisco, which since her tenure has become as much associated with the scourges of crime and homelessness as with cable cars and the Golden Gate Bridge.

With demonstrated fundraising ability and a sizable social media following, Harris enters the race as a top-tier candidate. But in a notable slight, her fellow senator from California, Dianne Feinstein, said earlier this month that she’d back former Vice President Joe Biden should he run for president.

Asked if she’d support Harris’ presidential bid, Feinstein called herself a “big fan” of her colleague but noted “she’s brand-new here.”

Harris joins a growing field of Democrats eager to challenge Trump. They include fellow Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, House members Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and John Delaney of Maryland, and Julian Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio and Housing secretary under President Obama.

Harris has spent most of January on a promotional barnstorm for her new memoir, providing the senator a chance to acquaint the public with her biography and resume.

She’ll head to South Carolina on Friday for a gala hosted by a local chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first college sorority founded by African Americans, which Harris joined as a student at Howard University. The visit offers some face-to-face exposure with early primary voters—South Carolina will hold the fourth presidential nominating contest in 2020.

“You have to retail campaign in a lot of these states. That’s not how we campaign in California—we’re too big to do that,” Merrill said. “That’s something she has to get used to—the personal campaigning.”

Harris also announced a rally to launch her candidacy in Oakland next Sunday. Her campaign will be headquartered in Baltimore, with another office in Oakland. Her campaign manager is Juan Rodriguez, a Los Angeles-based strategist who ran her 2016 Senate race.

Liberty Headlines’ Ben Sellers contributed to this report.

(c)2019 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.