Kamala’s Reassuring Tale for Donors: Remember That Time I Barely Beat a Republican in California?

Sen. Kamala Harris speaks at the 2019 National Forum on Wages and Working People in Las Vegas, Nev., April 27, 2019. (Gage Skidmore)

Politico‘s Christopher Cadalago has a long look at the collapse of the Kamala Harris campaign. Just how bad are things? “Aides sometimes talk about the campaign in the past tense before catching themselves,” Cadelago reports. 

And this is how Harris has tried to cheer up worried donors: 

Nine years ago, Kamala Harris was behind in her race for California attorney general, trailing by a handful of percentage points to Steve Cooley, a moderate Republican with deep roots in Southern California. An older white guy, Cooley looked a lot like his would-be predecessors. Harris, nearly two decades younger and the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, looked like nobody who held the state’s top law enforcement office before. Harris won the race with a late surge: She capitalized on a mistake by her opponent. She outworked him in the closing stretch. And she persuaded Californians to take a chance on a new kind of AG.

In the middle of another summer slump, this time for her disappointing presidential campaign, Harris began telling the story of her comeback over Cooley to restless donors behind closed doors a few months ago.

To put Harris’s reassuring tale in context, recall that when she ran against Cooley in 2010, Democrat Jerry Brown defeated Republican Meg Whitman by 13 percentage points in the governor’s race. Democrat Barbara Boxer defeated Republican Carly Fiorina by 10 points in the U.S. Senate race. And Democrat Kamala Harris defeated Republican Steve Cooley by less than 1 percentage point on that very same day. 

Cadelago notes that Harris only defeated Cooley after the Republican complained at a debate that the $150,000 attorney general’s salary was “incredibly low” and said that he would definitely double dip and take his taxpayer-funded pension while serving as attorney general because he’d “earned it.”

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It’s true that Cooley was a formidable opponent because he was the district attorney of Los Angeles County (Harris was district attorney of San Francisco). But the 2010 election isn’t a hopeful tale for Harris. The fact that she ran 12 points behind the Democrat at the top of the ticket in her only statewide election against a Republican is actually a sign that she was a weak candidate all along.

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