Kamala Harris' big challenge

During a CNN town hall in Iowa, when Democratic presidential contender Sen. Kamala Harris was asked how she will stay on message in a debate with President Donald Trump, she stated she will "speak like a leader" rather than "inciting fear."

Posted: Jan 29, 2019 12:00 AM
Updated: Jan 29, 2019 12:00 AM

Kamala Harris has a theory of the case about the Democratic presidential nominating process. If she's right, she could well be standing on a debate platform with Donald Trump in 2020.

Plainly, her announcement and effective rollout on Martin Luther King Jr. Day wasn't a casual scheduling decision. Nor was her decision to visit South Carolina even before her highly produced kickoff rally Sunday in Oakland, California.

While not explicitly capitalizing on her status as the only woman of color in the race, the symbolic timing of her declaration and the nature of these events were impossible to ignore.

Too little attention has been paid to the way the nominating process unfolds, first in mostly white Iowa and New Hampshire but then moving quickly to more diverse states where African-Americans play a much larger role.

Hillary Clinton was able to shake off Bernie Sanders in 2016 primarily because of her advantage among black voters. That same edge helped Barack Obama prevail over Clinton in 2008.

African-American voters are a strong part of the Democratic base. And under party rules, congressional districts with overwhelming Democratic performance receive additional delegates, multiplying the value of black support.

Harris' challenge is to be a top finisher in the early states that traditionally narrow the field, to get to those contests that start with the crucial South Carolina primary, where she may have a decided advantage. She'll be in Iowa tonight for a CNN Town Hall hosted by Jake Tapper. (It airs at 10 pm on CNN.)

There are many reasons to believe Harris could break through.

The daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, an economist and a medical researcher, she is a smart, charismatic and contemporary candidate with broad and diverse appeal.

The power of women on the ballot was manifest in 2018.

In a race that may require more than $100 million just to do well in the early states, Harris has a solid fundraising base in California and through social media. She raised an impressive $1.5 million online in just the first 24 hours after announcing her candidacy.

Her California supporters have built in an additional advantage, moving the date of the state's presidential primary from June to March, with early voting beginning the day of the Iowa caucuses. The nation's largest state will send 11 percent of the delegates to next year's Democratic National Convention.

Harris' profile, as a potentially barrier-breaking candidate, has drawn comparisons to another first-term senator who went on to win the presidency. But glib comparisons to Obama mostly miss the mark.

Blessed with prodigious political skills still unproven in Harris, Obama stood apart from all the Washington-based candidates as an early opponent of the war in Iraq. His distinctive message was a clear challenge to both parties and the conventional, divisive small-bore politics that many Americans felt had failed the country.

Though born in Hawaii, Obama was rooted in the middle of the country. His home and political base was Illinois. His family's ties to Kansas were woven into the fabric of his story. In the small towns and rural communities of Iowa, he felt very much at home.

Harris' base is the Bay Area, not a natural fit for the heartland. California campaigns, which play out mostly on TV, are not the best training for the intimate campaigning required in the early primary states.

Voters there expect genuine interaction, which is why some locals may view it as a bit peculiar that Harris' first major candidate event in Iowa is a nationally televised town hall. (The campaign added a stop in anticipation of that blowback.)

Harris and the cavalcade of Democratic contenders will learn that voters judge on a different scale in a presidential race than any other. They want to know who you truly are, and punish the cautious or unrevealing. This, too, could pose a challenge for the sometimes guarded Californian.

There are other dynamic women in the race, and it very likely will include another prominent candidate of color, US Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey.

If Beto O'Rourke runs, the former Texas congressman would enter with a galvanized following among the young. Former Vice President Joe Biden would begin as the front-runner.

The best campaigns are tactically sound and strategically clear. They share a coherent and compelling narrative about the candidate, campaign and the country.

Harris' nascent message lacks the crystal clarity of, say, US Sen. Elizabeth Warren's. Why is Harris running? What is her vision for a rapidly changing world? Her announcement speech was powerfully delivered but laden with anodyne Democratic applause lines any candidate might offer.

Her provocative slogan, "Kamala Harris, For the People," derives from her career as a state and local prosecutor and speaks to her toughness and advocacy. But her record is a double-edged sword, providing potential fodder for opponents in an era and a party in which criminal justice reform has emerged as a central issue.

Still, Harris brings enormous assets to the race that make her an instant top-tier candidate.

She is not the first woman of color to run for President. Her campaign logo is an homage to Shirley Chisholm, the late Brooklyn congresswoman, who broke that ground with a symbolic campaign in 1972.

But nearly a half century later, Harris is the first woman of color with a legitimate chance to win.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 156868

Reported Deaths: 3851
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto10409104
Hinds10279202
Harrison7313112
Jackson6566128
Rankin5887106
Lee529496
Madison5014107
Forrest389786
Jones369088
Lauderdale3594147
Lafayette338253
Washington3246108
Lamar297850
Oktibbeha252362
Lowndes247064
Bolivar244384
Panola232653
Neshoba2249121
Marshall222851
Leflore208591
Monroe206778
Pontotoc204231
Lincoln197366
Sunflower192655
Warren180258
Tate177751
Union171926
Copiah167940
Pike165359
Yazoo160140
Scott159430
Itawamba157635
Alcorn155628
Pearl River155368
Coahoma152743
Simpson152653
Prentiss151331
Adams144752
Grenada143345
Leake139744
Holmes133461
Covington128639
Tippah128430
George128325
Winston125526
Hancock124341
Wayne121323
Marion119446
Attala119334
Tishomingo112443
Chickasaw109432
Newton108229
Tallahatchie98127
Clay94727
Clarke93653
Jasper85223
Stone80615
Calhoun78713
Walthall77629
Montgomery76926
Carroll74115
Lawrence73814
Smith73216
Yalobusha73128
Noxubee72717
Perry68326
Tunica62619
Greene61522
Jefferson Davis59017
Claiborne58916
Amite56615
Humphreys54719
Benton50018
Quitman5007
Webster46714
Kemper45018
Wilkinson40522
Jefferson37112
Choctaw3617
Franklin3555
Sharkey32417
Issaquena1204
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 252900

Reported Deaths: 3638
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson33526501
Mobile20103365
Madison13723151
Tuscaloosa13366154
Montgomery12552236
Shelby1079677
Baldwin9051137
Lee787266
Morgan696451
Calhoun6598121
Etowah656167
Marshall647357
Houston541038
DeKalb498137
Cullman462443
St. Clair441956
Limestone440445
Lauderdale426754
Elmore421164
Walker3735111
Talladega370157
Jackson340423
Colbert332042
Blount306140
Autauga281842
Franklin257434
Coffee250015
Dale239054
Dallas231532
Chilton228939
Russell22663
Covington225034
Escambia202331
Tallapoosa187291
Chambers182750
Pike161514
Clarke161019
Marion144736
Winston137523
Lawrence133436
Pickens126518
Geneva12508
Marengo123424
Bibb120418
Barbour118911
Butler118642
Randolph105522
Cherokee105124
Hale98131
Fayette94616
Washington93219
Clay92824
Henry8896
Monroe83011
Lowndes80929
Cleburne78814
Macon75522
Crenshaw72230
Bullock70119
Lamar7018
Conecuh70014
Perry6916
Wilcox64818
Sumter58622
Greene43518
Choctaw43114
Coosa3664
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