Monday, February 11, 2019




          There’s a tendency among some pundits, political consultants and other so-called “experts” to label the presidential candidacy of Kamala Harris as a fanciful, wishful-thinking effort by a first-term senator better known for hectoring presidential appointees than almost anything else.

          And yet…it might not be smart to simply dismiss Harris, California’s third woman U.S. senator and the state’s former attorney general.

          For one thing, it’s usual to compare the achievements of Democrats who are relative newcomers on the national political scene and have the gall to declare themselves presidential material with Barack Obama, a community organizer, part-time law school professor and ex-Illinois state senator who spent not quite two years in the U.S. Senate before running for president in 2008.

          Obama lacked many solid achievements, other than having written a best-selling autobiography “Dreams From My Father” about 12 years before he began his first run for president.

          Compared with this record, Harris is a virtuoso politician. She beat two-term ultra-liberal incumbent Terence Hallinan to become district attorney of San Francisco in 2003 and was unopposed for reelection four years later. In 2010, she beat the popular Republican Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley in a race not decided until three weeks after Election Day, then was easily reelected four years later.

          She won consumerist victories in both jobs, started anti-recidivism programs for ex-convicts and got California a large share of a national mortgage fraud settlement that followed the Great Recession of 2008-11.

          As a senator, she’s been in the minority party, where it’s hard to get legislation passed, making performances in televised committee hearings a key part of the job. Harris stands out there.

          Her record before becoming a presidential hopeful dwarfs Obama’s.

But at 54, should she wait another four years to run? Probably not, despite the massive Democratic field around her. Among the other known and likely candidates: Former Vice President Joe Biden, ex-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Kirsten Gillebrand of New York, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro is running; so will failed Texas Senate candidate Robert (Beto) O’Rourke and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. There could be more, like California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

          All relish the idea of taking on incumbent Donald Trump, whose ratings both in surveys of popularity and trustworthiness are among the lowest in American history. And yet…Trump was written off as a sure loser in 2016 until the last moment, when he won by a slim Electoral College margin while losing the popular vote. Since then, he’s alienated myriad interest groups from farmers to auto workers.

          So there’s little doubt the Democratic nominee will have a chance. It could be Harris. Said South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, a firm Trump supporter, “Anyone who underestimates her will do so at their own peril.”

          One who downplayed her was former Trump chief of staff John Kelly, a retired Marine Corp. general. Just after Kelly was confirmed in his prior Trump-appointed job as secretary of Homeland Security and was tasked with enforcing Trump’s travel ban on people from several Muslim-majority nation, Harris got hold of his home phone number and called him unexpectedly at night.

          “He was not too happy,” she said. “Later, I learned that’s just not something senators normally do.”

          She seemed to wonder why they don’t.

          So that prospective huge field of Democratic possibilities can be sure of one thing: In their debates starting early this summer, Harris likely will not take a back seat to anyone. As a junior senator, she may have to wait her turn asking questions in Senate hearings. There is no such pecking order in political encounters, something Trump demonstrated while interrupting, insulting and badgering rival Republicans all through the 2016 primary season.

          All of which means Graham is probably right: Taking Harris lightly just because she hasn’t been on the national scene very long could be a serious mistake.

    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns,

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