President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday, July 19, announced they are backing California state Attorney General Kamala Harris, a longtime political ally of the president, in the historic Democrat-on-Democrat U.S. Senate race.
The president praised Harris as a “lifelong courtroom prosecutor” who fought international gangs, oil companies and the big banks responsible for the mortgage crisis. “Kamala’s experience has taught her that if you’re going to give everybody a fair shot, you’ve got to take on the special interests that too often stand in the way of progress,” Obama said.
“Kamala Harris fights for us. That’s why I’m so proud to endorse her for United States senator,” the president said in a statement released by the Harris campaign and Democratic National Committee. “And if you send her to the Senate, she’ll be a fearless fighter for the people of California — all the people of California — every single day.”
President Obama is popular in the Democratic-leaning state, and his involvement could provide a boost for Harris in a race that represents a historic first in California — two minority women, both Democrats, in a runoff to replace retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer.
Biden said the Senate “needs people like her — leaders who will always fight to make a difference and who never forget where they come from.” The dual endorsements represent a political coup for the Indian American candidate, who faces fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez, a 10-term congresswoman, in November.
The president’s nod caps a string of major endorsements for Harris, the candidate of choice among the Democratic Party’s power barons and some of the left’s most influential interest groups. It also sends a clear signal to Democratic donors, many of whom have stayed on the sidelines this election.
Sanchez supporters expressed dismay that the administration would attempt to tip the scales in this intra-party contest. “In this historic Democrat versus Democrat race, we have two strong, qualified women of color and it is unfortunate that instead of letting the voters decide, the Democratic party along with President Obama are picking sides,” said Martín Diego Garcia, Director of Campaign for Latino Victory Fund, a political action committee that supports Latino candidates.
Lori Cox Han, a political science professor at Chapman University in Orange, said the endorsements by Obama and Biden just solidified the message that Harris was the Democratic Party’s chosen one from the get-go. “It just kind of says that it’s really not going to be that competitive going forward,” Cox Han said.
The matchup marks the first time since voters started electing senators a century ago that Republicans will be absent from California’s general election ballot for the Senate. Under California election rules, only two candidates — the top vote-getters — advance to the November election, regardless of party affiliation.
If elected this fall, Harris, the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, would set historical marks. She would become the first Indian American woman to be elected to the Senate.