Sat | Mar 23, 2019

Norris McDonald | Does Kamala Harris stand a chance?

Published:Sunday | February 10, 2019 | 12:13 AM

Kamala Harris has shocked the American political establishment. She launched her 2020 US presidential campaign bid with her very clear-eyed, bold, progressive vision that forced President Donald Trump to grudgingly call her presidential bid “one of the best launches so far”.

President Trump does not normally have very nice things to say about women or minorities, so even he was clearly shocked by Senator Harris’ impressive start.

Kamala Harris radiates political energy. She represents the aspirations of many people to elect a woman president, and she told her audience, and America, why she is the best choice.

“I am running to be president, of the people, for the people, by the people,” Senator Harris told a very excited 20,000-strong crowd that gathered in Oakland, California, on Martin Luther King Jr Day, January 27, 2019, in support of her presidential bid.

“When we have leaders who bully and attack a free press and undermine our democratic institutions, that’s not our America,” the Democratic presidential aspirant said.

Senator Harris has outlined a progressive agenda that includes Medicare for all, universal pre-kindergarten, increased minimum wages, the right to unionise and gun control. The rights of immigrants, women, and other minorities were also stressed.

Kamala Harris is a former attorney general of California. She was born on October 20, 1964. Her Jamaican father, Donald Harris, is a professor of economics, emeritus, at Stanford University in Oakland, California. Her mother, the late Shyamala Gopalan Harris, was an eminent cancer researcher of Tamil Indian roots.

POLITICAL BUZZ

Kamala Harris’ political message has a moral content – “We are better than this” – and a progressive, populist posture advancing bread- and butter-issues that resonate with the voters.

CNN hosted a town hall meeting with Senator Harris on January 27, 2019, the same tumultuous night she launched her presidential run. Data published by CNN showed that it was a smashing success.

The network pulled in a viewership of 1.96 million in the key demographic, marketing target group, age 25 to 54, which matters most to advertisers, the advertising rating group Nielson, CNN said.

Popular political pundits such as Chris Matthews and Joe Scarborough praised Senator Harris for the clarity of her vision. Scarborough said that Kamala Harris, in one breath, clearly defined herself, and her presidential campaign, “something that the last Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton failed to do in two years” of her political campaigning.

This is a very positive political buzz being created by Kamala Harris.

THE POLITICAL LANDSCAPE

There are many issues affecting voters in this election cycle.

- First, President Donald Trump has not offered Americans any clear vision of America and its place in the world. Apart from immigrants-bashing – and his demand for a wall to keep out Mexicans – neither President Trump nor the Republicans have offered any bold ideas that can appeal to the American electorate.

- Second, despite claims that the American economy is growing, workers’ wages have remained stagnant. More and more middle-class and poor people are feeling left behind by this so-called economic progress.

- Third, the large tax cut aimed at the richest one per cent increased the American budget deficit, creating the argument that ‘social benefits for the poor,’ such as Medicare, must be cut, something Senator Harris opposes.

- Fourth, President Trump’s and the Republicans’ destruction of ‘Obamacare,’ a low-cost health insurance programme – as shown in the 2018 mid-term elections – incurred the wrath of the electorate.

- Finally, given the perceived, racist, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant stance of the Republican Party and President Trump – images of immigrant babies being snatched from their mothers and other outlandish behavior at the US-Mexican border – many suburban white women, many of whom traditionally voted Republican, shifted their loyalties to the Democratic Party.

The seismic shift in the American political landscape in 2018, ‘the year of the woman’, led to the uprise of some 100 Democratic women, 17 of them being elected to the US Congress.

CAN HARRIS WIN?

Barack Obama, who, like Kamala, was a junior senator and political neophyte, was told that he could not win. And yet Obama gave a political thumping to Hillary Clinton and went on to become the 44th president of the United States.

Kamala Harris has an even stronger chance, even more than Barack Obama had at the outset. She has brought a clarity of vision and a willingness to boldly take the side of the poor, the middle class, immigrants, and those being left behind by economic progress.

‘Odds Shark,’ a popular election betting site, gives Harris a 10/7 odd. Democrat Beto O’Rourke’s odds are roughly the same.

What this means is that if someone puts $1,000 on Harris or O’Rourke, it would yield a return of $700. Those are very good odds when one considers that Kamala Harris is a newcomer who is running in a very crowded field of more than 20 Democratic nominees.

Among her rivals, Joe Biden does not even know if he is running. Cory Booker and Sherrod Brown are using poll-tested slogans. Elizabeth Warren, while running as a Progressive, in my opinion, lacks the charisma to excite voters.

In the rest of the political field, only Beto O’Rourke appears to have the same fire-in-the-belly, fiery, charismatic passion as Kamala Harris. The others are ‘also ran’.

Her strong, clear message, a progressive agenda, her strong support for the trade union movement, being a woman and a minority, give Senator Harris a larger political base than even President Barack Obama had when he launched his presidential bid.

My money, therefore, is on Kamala Harris to win the Democratic primary and, possibly, to win the presidency.

With the 2018 ‘women’s year’ at her back, she may become the first minority woman elected president of the United States.

- Norris McDonald is an economic journalist and social researcher. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and miaminorris@yahoo.com