The Next Obama
Meet Kamala Harris, California attorney general, aspiring senator . . . and future president?
The 2016 race to replace four-term U.S. senator Barbara Boxer of California, one of Congress’s most liberal politicians, appears likely to result in the election of an even more liberal successor: state attorney general Kamala Harris. In an increasingly polyglot state that exalts appearance and symbolism over substance, the ever-stylish and multiracial Harris—she is the daughter of an Indian mother and a Jamaican-American father—finds herself in the right place at the right time. She’s enjoyed a meteoric rise in California politics—the first woman, African-American, or Asian-American elected as the state’s top law-enforcement officer. Whether the Senate will be a political stepping-stone for Harris or a final destination depends on how credibly she portrays herself as a politician with national stature. Her fans compare her with President Barack Obama; her detractors do the same.
Now 51, Harris cruised to reelection as attorney general in 2014, after eking out a close victory over Los Angeles County district attorney Steve Cooley in 2010. (Before becoming attorney general, she served two terms as district attorney of San Francisco, where she unseated popular incumbent Terence Hallinan.) The outcome of the 2010 contest, which took nearly a month to resolve, was decided by just 74,000 out of 8.8 million votes, or a margin of 0.8 percent—one of the closest statewide elections in California history. Cooley, a moderate Republican, had been the front-runner in most preelection polls, and he even declared victory on election night. But the results proved too close to call, and Harris eventually prevailed when all provisional and mail-in ballots were counted. And so a position formerly held by Republican law-and-order stalwarts such as George Deukmejian and Dan Lungren, as well as a relatively tough-on-crime liberal like Jerry Brown, fell into the hands of an outspoken opponent of capital punishment whose campaign drew almost no law-enforcement support.
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