Running Against Kamala Harris

There have been quite a few stories about Kamala Harris’ low approval ratings. This is relevant with someone obviously set up as the future of the party.

Don Winslow, and aothers, have called the criticism racist and misogynistic, without clarifying why. We treat people who say racist and misogynistic things with opprobrium. Given that this is a charge with significant moral weight, we should believe opprobrium is merited for anyone who make the accusation incorrectly.

Vice Presidents are often unpopular, so criticism of Kamala Harris is normal, just as it was against Dan Quayle, Dick Cheney or Mike Pence. She has less Washington experience than any Vice President in generations (probably since Spiro Agnew.)

If Joe Biden does not run for reelection, Kamala Harris is obviously very well favored to win the presidential primary due to the advantages of being Vice President as what it means for diversity, which will affect how primary voters act.

If Biden decides not to run for another term, there will certainly be an open primary. But it would be tough for any Democrat to beat Harris, considering the institutional advantages of sitting Vice Presidents, the optics of running against the first woman of color elected to national office, and the punishing delegate math given the strength of African-American Democratic primary voters.

There are multiple constituencies within the Democratic party, so you could very well have someone running to Harris’ left and another running to the center.

We could see from Sanders’ campaign that the left doesn’t care as much about historic firsts. Granted, the most prominent really left-wing Democrats are the squad, most of whom would represent a first, so they do have that advantage. Though that group has yet to win competitive statewide races, let alone a national primary.

Buttigieg is probably seen as one of the greatest political talents in the party, so he might be able to run on the idea of executive competence. The Iowa Caucuses are sticking around, which does allow him to get early primary wins. It would make sense for him to run. He did pretty well in 2020, and this time he’ll have overcome some of his disadvantages. As a consequential cabinet secretary, he now has decent qualifications for national office. And he has kids, which is an advantage for candidates. Even if he enters 2024 as an underdog, one consideration for him would be that he doesn’t want someone else raising their profile. So he may want to run just for that. His main problem last time around was a lack of appeal to minority voters, which can likely remain a problem if he’s running against the first African-American Vice President.

It would still be hard for him to win the nomination. There are plenty of Democrats who would love to see a historic gay President, but it seems that more want to see a woman finally take the office, especially with Buttigieg positioned for a later run. Younger voters might like a historic candidate in his early 40s, but may also see him as too centrist. Kamala Harris would presumably do well among the African-American primary voters who decided the last few primaries. And she has fans among the media (a major example is how Biden wasn’t the Time Magazine person of the year in 2020; it was the Biden/ Harris ticket.)

Eric Adams could be a powerhouse in a primary as someone with appeal to African-American and moderate voters. However, I think his best cycle would be 2028 after a candidate associated with the left like Kamala Harris loses a general election. 2024 may be too soon for him, unless there’s some way for him to become a national figure. Obama had the 2004 keynote and the book tour to raise his profile. It will be tough for a second-year mayor.

The midterms may be relevant. If Stacey Abrams wins the race for Governor, that can change the presidential race. But she may very well lose, or decide not to run for President as a second-year Governor. Beto O’Rourke would also go from a has-been to a major contender with a presidential win.

Warren would have slightly better optics as an accomplished Senator in her 70s than other challengers. It would be hard to suggest that she should wait her turn. The big question is whether she would have enough of a constituency. There was an interesting trend over the primary that she had outsized support among some corners of the media. She also has a lot to lose in a failed bid. It would come at the same time as a decision to run for a third term in the Senate, which is a delicate dance for presidential contenders. She’ll also have to work with the White House to get stuff done, which can be complicated when she’s running against them. Finally, she didn’t do very well last time. She finished third in her home state, before she dropped out.

It’s certainly possible Biden runs in which case Democrats will have very different considerations. His numbers could go up. It’s possible that he hits electoral college sweet spots in a way no other Democrat can (He’s seen as moderate so he doesn’t need to attack/ turn off progressives to appeal to centrist voters, He was born in a key swing state, He has high approval ratings among African-American voters thanks to his work as Obama’s VP.) But it’s also a possible an 80 year old will decide he’s not sure he’s up to being President five years later.

I don’t see Harris as an impressive general election candidate, but I see less of a strategy in defeating her in the primaries. The main hope may be in some executive doing something impressive, or someone using a major success in the midterms to launch a presidential bid.

About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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