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Column: There’s no home field advantage in California for Vice President Kamala Harris


Politicians with ambitions in the White House who don’t have strong support in their home state probably shouldn’t run for president.

And their national party should be hesitant to nominate someone who can’t even excite home state voters.

Especially if the state is the nation’s most populous, one that provides nearly one-fourth of the congressional delegates needed to nominate a presidential candidate.

I am referring here to Vice President Kamala Harris, the Californian who has been constantly mentioned in the news media as a potential top-ranking replacement for the 80-year-old President Biden if he does not run for re-election next year.

Biden, of course, has indicated that he plans to seek a second term in 2024 and will announce it shortly. But that has led to speculation about “what if?”

Biden will run and Harris will be back on the Democratic ticket. And regardless of whether the president wins or loses, the 58-year-old Veep is automatically seen as an early front-runner for the party’s 2028 nomination.

Harris, the daughter of immigrant parents – a father from Jamaica and a mother from India – stands out as several “firsts.” She is the first woman, first African American and first Asian American vice president. Ditto the Attorney General of California. She was the first black U.S. senator from California. And she was the first person of color to be elected district attorney in San Francisco.

She looks good on a resume – electives at the local, state, and national level. Harris had a rapid, uninterrupted climb up the political ladder.

“There’s a sense that she may have come too soon,” said Darry Sragow, a veteran Democratic adviser who publishes the California Target Book, which chronicles the state election.

Perhaps too fast to gain much political insight along the way.

The headline of a recent Washington Post analysis read: “Some Democrats are concerned about Harris’s political prospects…. Many party activists are not sure whether the vice president has shown that she is capable of winning the top job.”

That concern was justified by one Poll in California last week. It was bad news for Harris. It showed that she leaves many voters in the home state indifferent — and not just Republicans, but many independents who represent 23% of the electorate.

Independents – officially labeled as “no party affiliation” – vote in California’s Democratic presidential primary.

The survey of California registered voters was conducted by the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies and sponsored by The Times.

Voters were asked how they would feel if Harris ran for president next year if Biden did not. Their answer: 59% wouldn’t be thrilled about it; would be 37%.

56% of Democrats would be enthusiastic, but 63% of Independents would not. Black voters were the only major demographic to be enthusiastic.

“Californians have never been more excited about her presidential ambitions or prospects,” said Mark DiCamillo, the veteran IGS poll director.

Dancing. Harris ran for president four years ago, but dropped out before the first primary votes were cast. An IGS poll then found that 61% of voters thought she should give up. In polls leading up to the California primary, she ran fifth with only single-digit support.

In the poll released last week, voters were asked about their impression of Harris. It was so-so: 46% favorable and 46% unfavorable. Among Democrats, it was 72% favorable. But the opinion of independents was 51% unfavorable.

Most importantly, Harris’ impressions have plummeted across the board since she became vice president — by 10 percentage points among all voters, 11 percentage points among Democrats and 16 percentage points among Independents. Black voters take a positive view of Harris, but their image of her has fallen by nine points.

Biden’s voters in 2020 now look at her less favorably by 15 points.

Meanwhile, Biden’s job rating in California has jumped to 57% approval, up 10 points over the past year. Thus, Harris is not dragged down by her boss.

“When she became vice president, her image went up,” says DiCamillo. She was vice president. People in the state were somewhat proud of her. But they really don’t want her as president.”

The pollster says he sees independent voters as signposts.

“I’m looking to see which way the wind is blowing,” says DiCamillo. And the wind isn’t blowing at her back. It’s in her face.

“There is relatively little enthusiasm for her among those voters. They are more negative than positive. That’s an indicator. It is an ominous sign for her.”

I called Fred Smoller, a political science professor at Chapman University.

“She has a kind of lack of charisma that I don’t understand,” he says.

Sragow puts it this way: “A fair number of people think she doesn’t sound authentic.”

Smoller: “Vice presidents should not be seen and certainly not heard. They cannot prove themselves to the public.”

I would say Biden has given Harris opportunities to shine.

Harris didn’t shine as a senator either, as shortly after arriving in Washington in 2017, she began running for president. Before that, she was a risk-averse attorney general who didn’t stand out.

“In our society, being a woman is often an attack on her,” says Smoller. “And she’s a woman of color.”

But Los Angeles and San Francisco have black female mayors. Californians had two female senators for many years. And Harris was elected to the Senate. However, California still has not elected a woman or black governor.

“Californians have never embraced Kamala Harris as a national candidate,” said Rose Kapolczynski, former political strategist for Senator Barbara Boxer.

“She is worse in the polls than Biden because when there is good news, the president wants to be the one to bring it. She’s not very visible.”

Harris’s future appears to be that of Biden’s vice president. And I suggest she runs for president of a university one day.

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