On Monday, January 21, the 43rd annual celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Senator Kamala Devi Harris declared her bid for the Democratic party’s 2020 presidential nomination. In doing so, she announced her dream: Becoming the first female president of the United States.
Sen. Harris is no stranger to breaking barriers: She is the first person of South Asian or Jamaican descent and only the second African-American woman to serve in the U.S. Senate. In 2010, she became the first woman to be elected state attorney general in California.
Unfortunately, that’s also where her dream may become a nightmare.
While she’s already received support from Rosie O’Donnell and is polling well among the Democrats’ current 2020 nominee list, Sen. Harris is far from a lock for the Democratic nomination, let alone the presidency.
Among the questions that have been raised about her candidacy, here are three of the most pressing:
1. What is she going to do about criminal justice?
Although Sen. Harris now positions herself as a forward-thinking progressive, Her reputation as a prosecutor paints a different picture. While she did push for Justice Department officers in California to wear body cameras and was praised for making statistics on crime and police violence more widely available, her office also pushed back against a federal court ruling that ordered more prisoners to be released on parole. Lawyers from the California Attorney General’s office argued in court that releasing more prisoners would hurt the state’s supply of cheap labor. Sen. Harris later claimed she was unaware her office had made the argument but admitted she was ultimately responsible.
Sen. Harris also pushed for a law allowing parents whose children miss school to be criminally prosecuted and filed legal briefs to deny gender reassignment surgery for transgender inmates. These and other questionable decisions during her time as a prosecutor have given rise to the #NeverKamala movement on social media. Though she may address these decisions, many on the far-left believe they disqualify her from being the face of the party’s new progressive direction.
— Joshua (@joshieecs) January 21, 2019
2. How much will she support cannabis?
It’s true that Sen. Harris recently came out in support of federal legalization, which is unequivocally a good sign. Again, however, her record here is questionable. In 2014, up for re-election as California Attorney General, she laughed at a reporter who asked her about legalizing marijuana. Her opponent, Republican Ron Gold, ran to her left on the issue. Two years later, her office did not announce support for California’s Proposition 64 to legalize adult use — though Sen. Harris (correctly) expressed the belief that legalization was inevitable.
Sen. Harris is one of the many Democratic presidential hopefuls who has progressed on the issue of legalization, and she should be commended for it. But given her record, it’s also fair to question whether she will get behind deeper issues relating to the plant, like taxation and bank financing. This past summer, the California State Assembly killed a bill that would have allowed chartered banks to work with cannabis businesses. Federal legalization is a wonderful start, but much remains to be done.
3. Is the country ready for a mixed-race woman president?
This final question is perhaps the biggest. While Sen. Harris is polling well, it’s still early. Heavyweights like Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Beto O’Rourke are all yet to declare, but many expect them to soon — all three have performed better than Harris in some polls. The field is projected to be crowded, with as many as 20 candidates jockeying for the Democratic mantle in 2020, including potential celebrity wildcards like Mark Cuban and Oprah. Cory Booker, another rising star in the party, could siphon off some of her support among African-Americans, a key demographic that played a large role in Bernie’s 2016 defeat.
And though she has a long record in public office, her time in federal politics is limited – she was sworn into her Senate seat just over two years ago. Dianne Feinstein, her fellow Californian Democratic Senator, said as much after announcing support for Joe Biden in 2020. Asked about whether she would also support Sen. Harris, Sen. Feinstein replied: “I’m a big fan of Sen. Harris, and I work with her. But she’s brand-new here.” Political forecasting site FiveThirtyEight predicted her stance on most issues would be similar to Hillary Clinton. And we all know how well that worked out. That said, Harris’s fledgling national political status means she doesn’t have as much narrative baggage as Clinton did in 2016.
Sen. Harris is likely to be a formidable presence in the upcoming primary season. Only time will tell whether she can successfully overcome the glass ceiling, competitors with more name recognition, and attacks from the far-left questioning her progressive bona-fides.