This has been a whirlwind month of Presidential announcements. Since December 31st Democratic hopefuls have started announcing they are running for the candidacy.
Of those who have announced, few have made the most of the opportunity. Senator Elizabeth Warren has been bogged down by allegations of a false claim to Indigenous ancestry. Senator Cory Booker, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro post-launch responses have been lack lustre. Representative Tulsi Gabbard is grappling with her involvement in Anti-LGBT organizations. Senator Amy Klobuchar is having to fight allegations of abusing her staff although she has pulled in more than a million dollars in donations. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand had a solid launch, but many prominent donors and party officials have vowed to never support her after she led the charge that forced Senator Al Franken to resign over allegations of sexual misconduct.
These poor or mixed starts appear worse when compared to the nearly flawless campaign rollout of Kamala Harris. Harris, the junior Senator from California was first elected in 2016 making her the first African American elected to the U.S. Senate from California, and only the second African American woman ever elected to the United States Senate ( Carol Braun of Illinois being the first). Harris rolled out her campaign by calling back to the legacy of Representative Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman to run for President, embracing a strong mantle of social justice. Her official campaign announcement was attended by some twenty thousand people in her hometown of Oakland. The coverage of her rollout has been overwhelmingly positive, with even Donald Trump, normally petulant in the face of competition, offering some praise.
However, Harris succeeded not only because of her well-organized launch but also due to her ability largely neutralize her largest vulnerability, her “tough on crime” record. As Attorney General of California, Harris was seen as effective but overly aggressive, often criticized as adding to the mass incarceration crisis in the United States. Harris has admitted to having made mistakes while making it clear that as Attorney General she was compelled to enforce the law, even those with which she didn’t agree. This reasonable explanation ( if not particularly specific), alongside her campaign’s clear commitment to social justice, has allowed her to conveniently sidestep what could have been an issue that hobbled her campaign from the start. While she still will have to provide a clearer explanation further into the campaign, she has largely been able to define herself, while the other candidates have been defined by the media or have gone unnoticed.
This was Harris’s introduction to the American people. I don’t know if she will become President, but this launch has ensured that she is a serious contender.
Jonah Van Driesum is a third year Politics student, and Councillor on the Acadia Students’ Union