WASHINGTON -- If California Attorney General Kamala Harris (D) succeeds in her recently announced bid to be her state's next U.S. senator, she could make history in the Golden State.
Harris is the daughter of a Jamaican-American father and an Indian mother. If elected, she would be California's first black senator, as well as its first female Asian-American senator. Currently, the U.S. Senate has only two black members, along with one Asian-American. There has only been one other black female senator in U.S. history.
An up-and-coming star in California, Harris was widely expected to jump into the Senate race after Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) announced she would not be running for re-election next year. This will be the first time since 1992 that California has had an open Senate seat.
Harris swept into office as California's attorney general in 2010, and easily won re-election in 2014. She has already made history not only as the first woman in California's history to hold the job, but also as the state's first black and first Asian-American attorney general.
Matt Barreto, co-founder of the polling group Latino Decisions, said Harris is an interesting and exciting candidate who could offer a unique perspective on the new multiracial, diverse America.
“The United States Senate continues to be an overwhelmingly white body and it has been very, very slow to change,” Barreto said. “Of all of the levels of office, the United States Senate is the one that is probably in the need of the most diversity — both race and gender.”
Though California's likely voters are predominantly white, political strategist Charles D. Ellison predicts Harris will sweep the 6 percent of the state's electorate that is black, as well as a sizable portion of the Asian-American bloc.
“Harris should get the black vote hands down,” he wrote in a recent op-ed for The Root, “especially if the state’s powerful black political class stands behind her, including senior black female members of Congress from Northern [California], such as Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.).”
Another key voting bloc, however, could be more up in the air.
Latinos are one of California’s ascendant political groups -- they make up 17 percent of likely voters in the state -- and they are loyal Democrats.
At least two Latino Democrats from California have said they may enter the race. Rep. Loretta Sanchez released a statement Tuesday saying she is “seriously considering” making a bid for Boxer's seat. Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has also expressed interest. Either one, if elected, would be California's first Latino senator, which could make them attractive candidates for voters of that demographic.
But Barreto said he believes Harris is currently in good standing with the Latino community, though he acknowledged that a strong candidate like Villaraigosa does have the potential to undercut her appeal. He said Harris' record of defending immigrant communities and working-class families, along with her office's efforts to increase its Spanish-language outreach, will help her capture Latino votes.
“She’s not necessarily the runaway Latino candidate,” he said. “But I think she has a lot to build on.”
California has a top-two primary system, in which all candidates appear together on the primary ballot, regardless of party. The top two vote-getters then face off in the general election.