Kamala Harris shows potential strength in 2020 primary

California Sen. Kamala Harris has placed number one ...

Posted: Dec 24, 2018 11:09 AM
Updated: Dec 24, 2018 11:09 AM

California Sen. Kamala Harris has placed number one in our 2020 power rankings for the last few months. Yet, she has lagged in public opinion polling for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

A look at the early signals in the endorsement part of the invisible primary, however, point to Harris as a force to be reckoned with in 2020.

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Like public opinion polls, the endorsement primary suggests a contest that is still wide open. That's not much of a surprise. We're still more than a year away from the Iowa caucuses. Still, the endorsement primary will be important to keep an eye on it. Candidates who receive a lot of endorsements from party actors (politicians, activists, etc.) tend to do well. Even six months out from Iowa, the candidate ahead in the endorsement primary has won 9 of last 14 presidential primaries without an incumbent running in it.

Without many actual endorsements to count, it's a bit difficult to gauge where things might end up in 2020. There's no real way to conduct the type of scientific poll we do for the public at large. We're stuck reading tea leaves. Those tea leaves, though, suggest that Democratic activists seem most open to voting for someone like Harris at this point.

Iowa Democratic county chairpeople, for example, want a young person who hasn't run for president before. That was the opinion of 43 of 76 county Iowa chairpeople asked by the Wall Street Journal. Harris, who is only 54 years old, received strong reviews compared to polling leaders like Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders.

A separate measure of the endorsement primary from political scientist Seth Masket finds similarly. Masket has been interviewing activists who have traditionally been involved in primary politics. Masket notes that the vast majority of them in Iowa and nationally he spoke to are uncommitted, and, of course, interviews of this nature are not guaranteed to be representative of the larger activist pool.

Still, more Democratic activists from Iowa interviewed say they are open to considering Harris than any other candidate. In-line with the Wall Street Journal interviews, Masket's interviewees placed young candidates Sen. Cory Booker second and Rep. Beto O'Rourke third for consideration.

Nationally, Masket's interviews reveal the breadth of potential Harris support. A majority of activists said they were considering backing her in the combined results from Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Washington, D.C. No other candidate (of more than a dozen) is at this point receiving consideration from a majority of the activists asked.

Masket isn't the only one to find broad potential appeal for Harris in the endorsement primary. Interviews by the progressive women of color group We The People point in the same direction. In a survey with women of color in politics (from elected officials to those who work at political organizations), Harris was the only candidate listed by a majority of respondents when asked to give their top three choices for 2020. O'Rourke placed a distant second for top three support.

It's hard to find a more important primary group than women of color. They are by far the most Democratic aligned major demographic group. Women of color powered Hillary Clinton's sweep of the Southeast in the 2016 primary. Just last year, they were the base for Democrat Doug Jones's shocking victory in the Alabama special Senate election.

Will the early positive signals for Harris in the endorsement primary end up leading to success when it comes to the actual primary next year? That's impossible to say. Even if Harris eventually earns the endorsements from a plurality of activists, it's no guarantee that voters will follow the activists' lead.

A Harris nomination makes a lot of sense though. The Democratic Party is becoming increasingly non-white and nominated women in record numbers in 2018. As Harris is the only women of color anywhere near the top tier for the 2020 Democratic nomination, it shouldn't be surprising at all if she ends up winning.

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