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Kamala Harris generates most buzz among 2020 Democrats

November 7, 2018

Sen. Kamala D. Harris was one of the first to ride to the rescue after Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Donnelly announced that they would vote against the confirmation of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, firing off a plea to her supporters to open their wallets and donate to her embattled Democratic colleagues.

The Heitkamp email alone raised a reported $400,000, signifying just how big of a player Ms. Harris has become, using the midterm elections as a possible springboard to a 2020 presidential run.

She is just one of the potential candidates in what is shaping up as the highest-octane field in modern history, with a former vice president in Joseph R. Biden, former first lady and two-time presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, former Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and Sens. Bernard Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Corey A. Booker and perhaps a half-dozen other senators all taking stock.

In Manchester, New Hampshire, though, Ms. Harris is generating the most buzz.

“I think that is the one person who hasn’t stepped foot here, but I think people are very interested in her,” said Gene Martin, chairman of the Manchester Democratic Party. “People often ask me: ‘When is Kamala going to come to the state?’

“I am going to be very surprised if we don’t nominate another woman to take on Trump,” Mr. Martin said. “I would be shocked.”

The 2020 nomination race is certain to spark a debate over who is best-positioned to sustain the coalition of women, young voters and minorities who helped elect Barack Obama to the presidency without getting wiped out among the working-class voters who drove Donald Trump’s win.

Ms. Harris and Mr. Booker are part of a new generation of leaders, but they could be on a crash course with baby boomers from the Obama and Clinton years who have yet to give up the reins of the party.

Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Biden have refused to shut the door on presidential bids.

Mr. Holder also has been testing the waters, traveling across the country as head of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, an Obama-backed effort to stop Republicans from controlling the drawing of congressional districts after the 2020 census.

“Our democracy has been rigged with racial as well as through partisan gerrymandering,” said Mr. Holder, testing his own campaign message at a rally in Georgia last week.

Some unlikely figures also have emerged most notably Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for former porn actress Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford), whose confrontational approach to Mr. Trump has left some Democrats concerned.

Mr. Sanders, Mr. Biden, Mr. Avenatti, Ms. Warren, Ms. Harris and Mr. Booker have received the most media attention, according to a study from Meltwater that Politico released last week.

Also on the list was former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who snagged headlines last month when he announced he had registered as a Democrat and again this week when he announced plans to run $5 million in anti-Trump ads ahead of the midterm elections.

Rep. John K. Delaney of Maryland is the only officeholder who has declared his campaign. He has been running campaign ads in Iowa and helping candidates there and in New Hampshire.

Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti also have made favorable impressions on the early states that pride themselves as gatekeepers.

Jim Demers, a veteran New Hampshire-based Democratic strategist, said it could be tough for some of the lesser-known candidates to make a splash.

“When you have so many big names running, it makes it extremely difficult for people to break out of the second-tier pack, and I think it makes it extremely difficult to raise the type of resources you will need in 2020,” Mr. Demers said.

That theory is holding up so far.

“Biden created the most recent buzz in the state with his visit to Cedar Rapids last week,” said Jeff Link, an Iowa-based Democratic Party strategist. “His speech was well received, and Iowa Democrats were energized. Booker and Harris also had strong trips in October.”

Bret Niles, chairman of the Linn County Democrats, said Mr. Biden’s visit drew a big crowd and “had the most interest to date.”

“He must have drawn 1,400 people or so, and Kamala Harris, she had a pretty big crowd too [300 to 400] people,” Mr. Niles said. “Those two seem to be the ones who have sparked people’s interest the most right now.

“I think it is having a new face with Sen. Harris and that she is somebody that people have not had a chance to meet or see here in person, and I think with Biden it is his ties to President Obama and the big-name identity that he has,” he said.

George Goehl, director of People’s Action, said Mr. Sanders’ base remains relatively consolidated.

“His people are still his people,” Mr. Goehl said. “That is a pretty loyal bunch.”

Mr. Sanders held a rally at the University of New Hampshire over the weekend as part of an aggressive get-out-the-vote push that included stops in Iowa, Florida, New Hampshire and Nevada.

Thom Hart, chairman of the Scott County Iowa Democratic Party, said Mr. Sanders remains a force in Iowa, but he added that activists for now are more interested in hearing from Mr. Biden and getting to better know Ms. Warren, Ms. Harris and Mr. Booker, who headlined the Iowa Democrats’ fall gala last month and made a campaign stop with congressional candidate J.D. Scholten.

“I would say those four,” Mr. Hart said. “I would say there is interest in Bernie, but we also saw a lot of Bernie in ’15 and ’16, so I would say he would be special.”

Mr. Demers said he thinks Mr. Booker and Mr. Biden have made the biggest impacts on the midterm elections but added that Ms. Harris is generating a lot of interest.

“There is curiosity because I think a lot of activists kind of know about Biden and Warren and Sanders and Booker, but they have never met Harris and they don’t know a lot about her, so there is some curiosity and interest in seeing her and figuring out if that is someone people would support,” Mr. Demers said.

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