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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 has just announced that she will be running in the 2020 election.

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

Of those eight presidential hopefuls, four are women: Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and, as of 21 January, Senator Kamala Harris of California. 

The politician from Oakland in northern California is the latest Democrat to throw her hat in the ring. But who is Kamala Harris, what does she stand for, and how likely is she to win against Trump in 2020? 

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 sexual assault, education, marriage equality and housing. 

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 

While eight Democrats have announced they will look into running, only Warren, Gillibrand, Gabbard and John Delaney have officially confirmed that they will compete for the party nomination. Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke and maybe even former Vice President Joe Biden are also expected to announce their intention to run for the nomination in the coming weeks.

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 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, especially among women of colour. With them, she has a 71% approval rating compared to Beto O’Rourke (38%) and Joe Biden (25%). The sample size in that straw poll was small, just 264 women, but it’s a promising sign for Harris as she moves towards the Democratic Primary and the nomination in July.

She’ll be 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. 

For now, we’ll just have to wait until 3 March, when nine states (Alabama, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Harris’ home state of California) will vote in the primaries for their chosen candidate for the Democratic party’s nomination. After then, the race for President will be a lot clearer. 

Images: Getty

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer, podcaster and recent Australian transplant in London. You can find her on the internet talking about pop culture, food and travel.

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