by Andrea Dew Steele
July 26, 2017
Although the next presidential election is still several years away, Democrats’ excitement over the possibility of winning back the White House in 2020 is palpable. Already, a multitude of names are being put forward as possible contenders for the nomination. It’s obvious that each has their own set of strengths that can help Democrats cross the finish line first. However, a particular criticism I’m seeing pop up again and again for one of these leaders, Sen. Kamala Harris, has me concerned. Once again, I’m seeing people try to create a false narrative that a qualified woman and person of color is not truly “qualified.”
I’ve known Sen. Harris for decades, before she first ran for office and was elected San Francisco District Attorney. I still remember getting a call from her when she was contemplating that run and asking me how to get her campaign started. The lack of resources and training available to her was one of the inspirations for me to start Emerge California, which has since evolved into a national organization, Emerge America, with 22 state affiliates and growing. From watching her career unfold as San Francisco District Attorney, California Attorney General and now Senator, I can say with full confidence that Sen. Harris belongs in the White House in 2020 just as much as anyone else out there.
While many Democrats, myself included, are thrilled to see Sen. Harris gain the support and recognition that she deserves, others still do not believe that she is qualified enough to even consider a run for the White House. It’s the same criticism that was lobbed at then Sen. Obama when he stepped forward to run for the presidency more than a decade ago. And just look how that turned out.
The fact of the matter is that Sen. Harris has been an effective leader and elected official for many years, who has many significant achievements to her name. As the Attorney General of California, which is one-eighth of the U.S. population and one-seventh of the nation’s gross domestic product, she successfully advocated for all Californians. In her first year alone, she helped broker a $25 billion dollar nationwide settlement deal for improper foreclosure proceedings during the housing market crash. She has also proven that she can withstand incredibly tough personal races like the 2003 race for San Francisco District Attorney against Terrence Hallinan, in which she emerged victorious. Those who undermine Sen. Harris’s experience clearly have not looked at her track record in California.
I am not the only one who believes in Sen. Harris. The Hill just reported that many Democratic donors came out to support her at a fundraising event, because “they see the former prosecutor-turned-California attorney general as embodying the qualities a Democratic presidential candidate would need to win the White House in 2020.” Ben LaBolt, former spokesman for Barack Obama, added that “Kamala has come to embody what’s next for our party.”
As only the second Black woman and first Indian American elected to the Senate, Sen. Harris brings a perspective that allows her to better understand the struggles and needs of diverse populations across the country. This includes the most ardent supporters of the Democratic Party over the last few elections—Black women. Exit polling conducted by the Washington Post shows that 94 percent of Black women who cast ballots in 2016 voted for Clinton, and Black women voted 90 percent or more for Democratic candidates in each of the last five presidential elections. By contrast, 82 percent of Black men voted for Clinton in 2016, and a majority of both white women and men voted for Trump. Black women and other women of color were solely responsible for Clinton’s 13-point win among women.
Women of color don’t need to wait their turn. After the 2016 election, there are more Black women in office than ever. Black women are moving from the voting booth to the ballot in record numbers and are harnessing their political power—something we should be wholeheartedly encouraging.
As the Democratic Party continues to grapple with an ongoing branding crisis, they should heed the advice from a group of Black women, who wrote an open letter to DNC Chairman Tom Perez last month about the party not appreciating them. The letter says that Black women have consistently supported the party, but have been ignored by Democratic leaders who seem to be more focused on winning back white voters who rejected Hillary Clinton. It’s a losing strategy and one that the Democratic Party would be smart to avoid.