Who’s Afraid of Kamala Harris?

The Sacramento Bee and the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., would announce Thursday she would be running for retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer’s seat. At last, it seemed as if California Attorney General Kamala Harris, the only name Democrat in the race, might face some competition. Then Sanchez claimed that the announcement email had been sent out by mistake. Oops, as former Texas Gov. Rick Perry would say.

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Then Team Sanchez sent out a press release that promised “a significant political announcement” Thursday. If Sanchez does throw her hat in the ring, she flubbed her entrance. Harris may be the luckiest politician in California.

Not so California voters. Political scolds have been warning that senior incumbent Democrats — Dianne Feinstein, Boxer, Jerry Brown — have been hogging coveted political seats and depriving ambitious young Democrats of oxygen. When Boxer announced she would not run for re-election three months ago, that should have signaled a stampede of Democrats elbowing one another to win. Instead of a contest, a coronation of sorts followed.

Harris quickly announced she would run. California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom ceded the field, as he announced his planned run for governor in 2018. After San Francisco Chronicle columnist Willie Brown wrote that former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa would do well to leave the primary to Harris, Villaraigosa kindly stepped aside. Facing no Democratic opposition, Harris raised $2.5 million last quarter.

If Sanchez or Rep. Xavier Becerra does not enter the fray — it’s unlikely Becerra will forfeit a chance to be House speaker someday — the California Democratic Party will vie for statewide office without a Latino on the ballot. Hector Barajas, a Latino GOP consultant, sees a message here: It’s as if the party is saying, “It’s OK for me to help you as long as you’re not in the club.” Democratic consultant Garry South acknowledges that when a party doesn’t put up candidates who look like its voters, “that’s a problem.” Nationwide, Republicans have two Latino governors. Democrats, nada.

During her 10 terms in the House, Sanchez has established herself as an important female voice on the House Armed Services Committee. Mention her name in Washington and most insiders think of her coquettish Christmas cards, which featured her cat, Gretzky. Kitschy, yes, but Sanchez has shown she knows how to win since she beat Rep. Bob Dornan, a GOP institution, in 1996.

The chance of a Republican’s winning in November after the top-two primary is slim. Moderate Democrats have been left behind, as well. Without a single vote cast, party biggies made the progressive Harris the establishment candidate. During the 2010 election, she nearly lost to Republican prosecutor Steve Cooley, who ran an abysmal campaign. In 2014, Republicans failed to produce a serious challenger. Bay Area voters know Harris as San Francisco’s former district attorney — the one who wouldn’t pursue the death penalty for a cop killer — but she is not so well-known in Southern California.

“Nobody here knows who Kamala Harris is,” California Target Book Publisher Allan Hoffenblum huffed. As if to prove his point, the former GOP strategist mispronounced her name, as many people do. Allow me to assist. It is KAH’-mah-lah, emphasis on the first syllable.

Email Debra J. Saunders at [email protected]

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