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Who is Kamala Harris, and could she be the USA’s first female president?

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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The Californian senator and former Attorney General is one of the frontrunners to receive the democratic nomination to run against Donald Trump in the 2020 election. This is everything you need to know about her. 

Almost two years to the day since Donald Trump was inaugurated as President of the United States, some 20 Democrats announced that they will form exploratory committees to run against him in the 2020 election.

Of those 20 presidential hopefuls, five are women: Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, independent Marianne Williamson, and, as of 21 January, Senator Kamala Harris of California. 

The politician from Oakland in northern California was one of the latest Democrats to throw her hat in the ring but since making that announcement she has become a frontrunner in the race to secure the Democratic nomination. After directing her fire at Trump in the third Democratic presidential debate, Harris’ campaign is building momentum, leading many to believe she is the toughest challenger capable of taking on Trump in the 2020 elections.

But who is Kamala Harris, what does she stand for, and how likely is she to win against Trump next year? 

Who is Kamala Harris? 

Kamala Harris is running

Born in 1964 to an Indian mother and a Jamaican father in Oakland, California, Harris grew up in Berkeley near the college where her parents attended graduate school. Her mother was a scientist specialising in breast cancer and her father was an economics professor. She has one younger sister called Maya who later went on to work as Hillary Clinton’s policy director.

Before going into politics, Harris had a long career in the law in California, first as deputy district attorney in Alameda county and then as district attorney in San Francisco. She served as for two terms before running in 2010 to become California’s attorney general, just edging out her Republican opponent to win in a narrow victory. In 2016, she became the second black woman elected to the Senate for the state of California. 

Harris is also the author of two books, the first released in 2009 and the second, The Truths We Hold, forthcoming this year about her life and career. “By reckoning with the big challenges we face together, drawing on the hard-won wisdom and insight from her own career and the work of those who have most inspired her, Kamala Harris offers… a master class in problem solving, in crisis management and leadership in challenging times,” Harris’ publisher Penguin Random House says of the tome.

What does Kamala Harris stand for? 

Harris was outspoken against Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination for the Supreme Court

Announcing her presidential bid on Good Morning America, Harris said: “I love my country, and this is a moment in time that I feel a sense of responsiblity to fight for the best of who we are.”

For Harris, that means spotlighting the same issues that she has prioritised in her career both as attorney general and as a Californian senator, issues that include abortion rights, cracking down on sexual assault, subsidised education, marriage equality, gun control and equal pay. 

Her platform is targeted at the the lower middle class, offering tax cuts, rental support, re-examination of immigration and criminal justice systems and universal healthcare. Staunchly liberal, she has a strong voting record against Trump, voting in line with his policies just 17% of the time. She also opposed the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. 

“The future of our country depends on you and millions of others lifting our voices to fight for our American values,” Harris said in her first campaign video. The video’s logo was a graphic riff on the design used by Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for president, in her own campaign in 1972. 

“I’m running to lift those voices, to bring our voices together,” she added. “Let’s do this together. Let’s claim our future for ourselves, for our children and for our country.” 

Who else is she up against? 

Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Harris 

There are 20 Democrats currently running for the nomination including Harris. The key frontrunners to know, though, are Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, Julián Castro and Beto O’Rourke. 

Of her chances, Harris is confident: “I have the unique experience of having been a leader in local government, state government and federal government,” she told Good Morning America. “The American public wants a fighter… And I’m prepared to do that.”

And according to the BBC’s Washington correspondent Anthony Zurcher, Harris’ chances of nabbing the nomination over her peers are high. “[She] is the kind of Democrat who could stick around and prevail in what is sure to be a gruelling nomination battle,” Zurcher writes. “She is from California, which is rich in both primary delegates and fundraising dollars. As a woman, and from an ethnic minority, she is well positioned to capitalise on her party’s growing diversity.”

Can she really win the presidential election in 2020? 

What are Harris’ chances in the 2020 elections?

Harris faces two major battles on the road to the White House. The first is criticism of her time as district attorney and whether or not she was “often on the wrong side of history” while serving. 

Writing in The New York Times, University of San Francisco professor Lara Bazelon criticised Harris for not being the “progressive prosecutor” that she claims to be, accusing her of bias against defendants. Bazelon writes that Harris opposed the legalisation of recreational marijuana and of body cameras to be worn by police, and she oversaw a high number of wrongful convictions during her time in office. 

The second obstacle is one that faced Barack Obama before her: that Harris has only been in the business of  federal politics for the past two years. Though she spent several years as district attorney and then attorney general in California, Harris was only elected as a senator in 2016. 

This is not necessarily a thorn in her side. After all, Obama was a senator for just three years before he became president in 2008, and indeed, Harris is often called the “female Barack Obama”. Remember, Donald Trump was a senator for zero years before he became president. But she’s up against Warren and Gillibrand, both serving multiple senate terms beneath them. 

Harris calls herself a “fighter”

Harris is already polling well, according to Business Insider’s primary tracker. In the aftermath of the second Democratic debate in which she squared off against former vice president Joe Biden, Harris’ approval rating soared by 13 points, with the percentage of Democratic primary voters who would be “satisfied” with Harris as their party’s 2020 nominee rising from 51% to 64%.

Meanwhile in a recent survey from EPIC-MRA, all of the top 2020 Democratic contenders were shown to have leads over Donald Trump in Michigan. Biden led the group with a had a 51% to 41%, Warren had a 49% to 43% lead, while Sanders, who won Michigan in the 2016 Democratic primary had a 48% to 44%, according to the poll. Meanwhile, Harris had a narrower margin with an edge of 46% to 43%.

She is fierce in debates, strong on policy, and she has the wherewithal to stand up to Trump as demonstrated multiple times in social media tussles between the pair. The biggest hurdle, according to Five Thirty Eight, will be overcoming her lack of name recognition. According to the website’s polling, she’s not the favourite, but they “wouldn’t be surprised” if she won the nomination. That’s not a bad position to be in, if you ask us. 

Still, it’s a long road to the Democratic National Convention in July 2020, which is when the party’s candidate will be announced. And that’s only the first hurdle. After that is the real battle: squaring up against Trump in the 2020 elections. 

How is she performing in the Democratic Debates?

US election 2020: Kamala Harris
US election 2020: Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders

Kamala Harris was straight out of the gates in the first round of the Democratic debates, where she squared off with Joe Biden about his voting record against federally mandated bussing in the 1970s, a move to improve racial integration by transporting black students to desegregated schools.

Harris was less convincing in the second debate. Although she had a whole conversation with Biden about women’s reproductive healthcare, specifically the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funds to be used to pay for abortion except in life-threatening cases, she didn’t mention the word abortion once. 

In the third round of the debates, Harris picked up steam once more, levelling a direct attack at president Trump instead of sparring with her Democratic rivals. 

When the discussion turned to healthcare, Harris took the opportunity to highlight Trump’s efforts to scrap the Affordable Care Act. In her introductory remarks, she launched a direct challenge: “You’ve spent the last two and a half years, full time, trying to sow hate and division among us, and that is why we’ve got nothing done.

“And now President Trump, you can go back to watching Fox News.”

Harris continued her assault on the occupant of the White House by way of a Judy Garland reference, in a clear move to show Democratic voters that she wouldn’t be afraid to take on the president and his “fragile ego” in 2020.

“He reminds me of that guy in The Wizard of Oz - when you pull back the curtain, it’s a really small dude,” she joked. 

This article was originally published on 21 January 2019. 

Images: Getty 

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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