On Monday, Jan. 21, after months of speculation, California Senator Kamala Harris officially declared her candidacy for president of the United States.
With her announcement, Harris, a former federal prosecutor and California’s first African American female attorney general, will enter what is expected to be one of the most competitive party primaries in modern political history.
Harris joins a Democratic primary field that now has over 35 speculative candidates, including governors, senators, former vice presidents and billionaire CEOs. Given this, many wonder what Harris’ path to the nomination would look like given the rapidly changing Democratic Party electorate.
But even in a crowded field of experienced candidates with little national name recognition, Harris sits at the top of expert rankings and political betting markets to win the Democratic nomination in 2020.
So why is a first-term senator with little legislative accomplishments the current frontrunner to oust Trump in 2020?
The answer is fairly clear.
Harris represents the modern Democratic Party perhaps better than any of her competitors. She is young, diverse, unapologetically liberal and most importantly, likable.
According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 41% of likely Democratic voters had a favorable view of Harris while only 4% did not. However, the same Quinnipiac poll displayed what may be one of Harris’ biggest weaknesses: 54% of likely Democratic voters have never heard of her.
The 2020 Democratic primary field will likely be stacked with big-name Democrats such as former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. It will be crucial for Harris to garner enough media attention to get her name out there in order to attract potential Democratic primary voters.
Another issue for Harris that will be brought up throughout her campaign is her general election electability.
The majority of Democratic primary voters have made it clear in recent polls that they don’t just want a candidate that agrees with them on the issues but someone who can defeat President Trump.
Although Harris’ liberal views on guns, taxes, and immigration may be applauded in a Democratic primary, they could cost Democrats the White House if she is the nominee.
Harris’ focus on identity politics and her somewhat radical views一 like her call to abolish U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement一 will make it difficult for her to win over moderate voters in a general election.
The fact of the matter is that the crucial votes in the 2016 presidential election were decided by working-class voters in rust belt states like Michigan and Wisconsin, not in the liberal streets of San Francisco where Harris has spent the majority of her life.
A major problem for Harris is she is likely not the best messenger to resonate with blue-collar citizens.
Harris epitomizes everything that Donald Trump’s base sees wrong with politicians. She will likely be seen by rural voters as just another coastal, elitist politician, and she will have a hard time convincing blue-collar workers – many of whom are attracted to President Trump’s anti-globalist rhetoric – that she deserves their vote.
In order to have a chance to take back the White House, Harris, or whoever the eventual Democratic nominee is, will have to make a concerted effort to target the millions of blue-collar workers who showed up in flocks to vote for Donald Trump in 2016.
Senator Kamala Harris seems like a Democratic dream candidate on paper. However, Democrats may be better off selecting a more moderate, populist candidate if they want to defeat Donald Trump and reclaim the White House in January of 2021.
David Gordon is a freshman majoring in business.