U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris. Photo by Aric Crabb/Bay Area News Group

In summary

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris is wasting no time grabbing for the brass ring of American politics, the presidency. She’s joined a large and growing field of Democrats.

President Kamala Harris?

She thinks so, anyway. After just 1 1/2 terms as California’s attorney general and two years as a U.S. senator, Harris this week declared her candidacy for the White House. She joins a Democratic field that grows larger every day and could eventually reach two or three dozen – all trumpeting their implacable disdain for President Donald Trump.

“The American people deserve to have somebody who is going to fight for them, who is going to see them, who will hear them, who will care about them, who will be concerned about their experience and will put them in front of self-interest,” Harris said as she made her announcement Monday on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

By announcing on the holiday commemorating civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., Harris made it clear that she will capitalize on her mixed-race heritage – Jamaican and East Indian – to appeal to voters of color in her quest to differentiate herself from her many rivals.

“The thing about Dr. King that always inspired me is that he was aspirational, like our country is aspirational,” Harris said, hinting at her strategy for winning the Democratic nomination. It’s predicated on doing well in Southern state primaries early next year, setting the stage for what she hopes would be a big win in California’s March primary.

She’ll begin down that path on Friday in South Carolina by attending a gala event hosted by a local chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first college sorority founded by African Americans, which Harris joined as a student at Howard University. South Carolina will hold the fourth 2020 primary and black voters are an especially influential bloc in that state.

Is it a winning strategy?

At this stage of the game there are no Democratic frontrunners, but Harris is better positioned than most contenders to claim one of the pole positions, thanks to her telegenic persona and her laser-like focus on grabbing media attention – very much on display during the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

Name identification – having some sort of image that triggers a positive response when pollsters make their calls – is the game now and she does fairly well in that regard.

None of this has anything to do with her qualifications for the presidency, of course, such as knowledge and experience in foreign affairs, economic issues and other weighty matters. The qualification bar has been slipping for decades – witness Trump’s election in 2016 – and she’s no less qualified than most of those who see themselves as presidential material, even though she’s done nothing of note as a first-term senator.

Qualifications aside, Harris must navigate a political minefield to have a realistic chance of becoming the Democratic nominee.

Trump’s bombastic presidency has spawned a deep division within the party between business-as-usual liberals and a surging left wing, which views the establishment as too cozy with corporate America and insufficiently committed to causes such as single-payer health care, homelessness and climate change.

Harris and her rivals must try to appeal to those on the left without going too far out the ideological limb and rendering themselves unelectable in swing states such as Florida and Ohio should they win the nomination.

Harris clearly hopes to straddle the ideological chasm. For instance, in her campaign autobiography – a now-standard device for presidential hopefuls – she recasts her prosecutorial career as a quest for criminal justice reform.

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact CalMatters with any commentary questions: commentary@calmatters.org

Dan WaltersOpinion Columnist

Dan Walters has been a journalist for more than 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times...