Kamala Harris joins 2020 women as male Democrats hedge

January 22, 2019 GMT

Sen. Kamala D. Harris announced Monday that she is running for president, adding another woman and the first black contender to the 2020 Democratic race, which is poised to be more diverse and more liberal than any previous field.

Ms. Harris batted aside questions about how she will stand out among others looking to take on President Trump, saying “the voters will decide” the answers to those questions.

But the California lawmaker did say the Democratic Party needs to cast a wide net as it seeks to rebuild the enthusiasm that carried Barack Obama to two victories.

“The future of our country depends on you and millions of others lifting our voices to fight for our American values,” Ms. Harris said in an online video Sunday previewing her official announcement in Oakland, California, where she was born. “That’s why I am running for president of the United States.”

She is the fourth major female candidate to take steps toward a run for the White House, following fellow Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who announced an exploratory committee, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, who also have announced full-fledged campaigns.

The men considering a run have been slower to enter, with only a few major contenders taking formal steps.

“Fear is in the air,” said Steffen Schmidt, professor of political science at Iowa State University. “Women are scaring the crap out of the men because they’ll need to beat up the women or other men to climb over the huge field, and in the era of ‘me too,’ that is bad news.”

Ms. Harris is the strongest female candidate, according to BetOnline.ag oddsmakers, who say she has an 8-1 chance of winning the same odds as former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas.

Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden and Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont round out the top Democrats on the list, coming in at 14-1 and 16-1, respectively. Mr. Trump is the favorite with 7-4 odds.

Mr. Biden, Mr. Sanders and Mr. O’Rourke dubbed the “three B’s” by some activists have yet to announce their plans, but analysts are awaiting their decisions before assessing the chances of those already in a race that Democrats say will be a test of the “new American majority.”

Yvette Simpson, chief executive officer of Democracy for America, said that means selecting a nominee who can connect with the rainbow coalition of minorities, liberals and young voters.

“Black women have long been the backbone of the Democratic Party, and having a progressive trailblazer like Sen. Harris in this race will play a crucial role in ensuring our voices are heard loud and clear in this primary,” she said.

Ms. Harris, the daughter of a Jamaican father and Indian mother, on Monday brushed aside a question about how she would define herself in ethnic terms.

“How do I describe myself I describe myself as a proud American,” she told reporters at a kickoff press conference at Howard University, her alma mater.

Rep. John Delaney of Maryland, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, businessman Andrew Yang and West Virginia state Sen. Richard Ojeda also are running.

Other possible contenders include Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Cory A. Booker of New Jersey.

Mr. Booker, who also is black, headlined an NAACP event Monday with Mr. Sanders in South Carolina, home to the first-in-the-South primary and a deep pool of black voters.

Rep. Eric Swalwell of California; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Peter Buttigieg; Washington Gov. Jay Inslee; former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe; and former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg also are flirting with presidential bids.

Billionaire activist Tom Steyer, a top advocate for impeaching Mr. Trump, took his name out of the running this month, as did Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania, putting a major dent in the party’s chances of fielding a pro-life candidate.

Others have started to test-drive their messages.

“It gives me no pleasure to tell you that we now have a president of the United States who is a racist,” Mr. Sanders said at a South Carolina event. “We have a president intentionally, purposely, is trying to divide us up by the color of our skin, by our gender, by the country we came from, by our religion.”

Other Democrats eyeing the White House also made pitches related to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Ms. Gabbard issued a fundraising plea citing King’s famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

Ms. Harris and some of the party’s other newer faces probably will have to go through battle-tested veterans, including Mr. Biden and Mr. Sanders, who ran a stronger-than-expected campaign against Hillary Clinton in the ugly fight for the 2016 nomination.

It has added to the suspense in Iowa, where the nomination race will kick off next year.

“I’ve been a little surprised that there hasn’t been more talk about the other high-profile male candidates announcing,” said Bret Nilles, chairman of the Linn County, Iowa, Democrats. “It might be a matter of them not wanting to step over the message of the women making their announcements the past couple of weeks.”

Dante Scala, a professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, said they may be rethinking their intentions.

“I would think twice if I am a male candidate ‘Is it really my time?’” Mr. Scala said. “Whereas in the past that would not be a consideration and it would be female candidates thinking, ‘Is it my time to run?’ Now I think we are on the other side of that.”

Ms. Harris has been seen as angling for a presidential bid from her first moments in the Senate in 2017. Her run for the White House after just a couple of years in national office is reminiscent of Mr. Obama, who began serving in the Senate in 2005 and was running by 2007.

She is slated to to appear Thursday on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and hit the campaign trail Friday in South Carolina, according to CNN.

After kicking off her campaign in California, she plans to travel to Iowa to field questions from voters at a CNN-sponsored town hall at Drake University in Des Moines.

⦁ Gabriella Muoz contributed to this report.