The Democratic donor class is abuzz about Kamala Harris after the freshman California senator was feted this weekend at an event in the Hamptons surrounded by top fundraisers.
The Bridgehampton event, where Harris mingled with top donors and supporters of Hillary Clinton, was the ultimate signal that Harris is “thinking much bigger” than the Senate, one top bundler said.
“She’s running for president. Take it to the bank,” another fundraiser said. “She’s absolutely going to run.”
Donors say Harris is giving them a glimmer of hope when they need it the most.
They see the former prosecutor-turned-California attorney general as embodying the qualities a Democratic presidential candidate would need to win the White House in 2020.
They also see the 52-year-old African-American woman as a fresh face.
“There’s a big hunger out there for somebody new and different,” said Bill Carrick, a Democratic consultant who served as an adviser to former Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.), who challenged Harris in last year’s senatorial race.
“People are looking for champions. … She’s in that category. There are people who might not know her real well but want to like her. What little they know, they like.”
Since November, Harris has become one of her party’s biggest draws: She has raised upwards of $600,000 for Senate candidates in recent months, and she recently raised $227,000 in an email for MoveOn.Org, according to sources close to Harris.
Her fans see her as an antidote to Donald Trump and as a candidate who could feed off the so-called resistance to the Republican president.
“Kamala has come to embody what’s next for our party,” said Ben LaBolt, a Democratic strategist and former spokesman for former President Barack Obama.
“She comes to Congress with immense credentials — a law enforcement official with a smart approach to taking on bad actors and protecting consumers. And she’s already broken through as bringing a unique voice in the Senate that is both substantive and relatable — which is hard to do your freshman year.”
Harris began to win national attention even before her election in a matter somewhat similar to LaBolt’s old boss — who ran for president four years into his Senate term.
On election night, she sounded a somber tone in a victory address that quickly positioned her as a potential leading opponent of Trump.
“Our ideals are at stake right now, and we all have to fight for who we are,” she said at an election night party at the
Exchange club in downtown Lost Angeles.
“I believe this is that moment in time for our country, where we are collectively being required to look in the mirror, and with furrowed brow, we are asking a question: ‘Who are we?’ In California, I believe the answer is a good one. We are a great country.”
Sean Clegg, Harris’s top strategist, said the speech went viral among progressives because “folks were looking for some silver lining in a very black sky.”
He added that Democrats “need an emotional life raft right now and are looking for leaders who can present a different picture of the future.”
Since arriving in the Senate earlier this year, Harris has kept her head down, conducting just a few national interviews. (A spokesman said she has only done three national television interviews: NBC’s “Today,” MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” and CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper.”)
She won some attention by being one of 11 Democrats to vote against the confirmation of John Kelly as secretary of Homeland Security.
But her real standout moments came more recently during Senate Intelligence Committee hearings when she was twice shushed by Republican senators.
In two different hearings, the first involving testimony by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and the second testimony by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, both Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chairman of the committee, and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) interrupted her.
Harris was posing a series of questions at a June 13 hearing to Sessions, who complained that he was “not able to be rushed so fast” and that it “makes me nervous,” when McCain interjected.
“Chairman, the witness should be allowed to answer the question,” he said.
“Senators will allow the chair to control the hearing,” Burr said in response to McCain. “Sen. Harris, let him answer.”
Critics pounced, accusing the male senators of sexism.
“Apparently, taking tough questions from a woman is unsettling to the poor [attorney general’s] spirit,” MSNBC’s Joy Reid wrote on Twitter.
Not every Democrat is comfortable with the comparisons Harris is getting to Obama.
“She’s no Barack Obama — she doesn’t give speeches like Obama and she doesn’t fundraise like Obama,” said one Democratic fundraiser. “But that’s not the way she’s looking at it. In this political climate, she’s saying, if not me, then who?”
Harris also risks being criticized as overly ambitious.
The senator and her staff have been quick to push back at suggestions that she is already thinking about a White House run.
At a Recode technology conference in May, Harris said she wasn’t giving “any consideration” to running for president. “I’ve got to stay focused,” she said.
Her team says she’s focused on serving California and on the 2018 election cycle and leveraging her newfound fame to help Democrats win back seats in the Senate and the House.
“She’s going to leverage every bit of fundraising ability and the attention she’s getting to make an impact in 2018,” Clegg said, adding that her trip to the Hamptons this past weekend was solely for that purpose.
“She’s had these high leverage moments and she’s leveraging them aggressively to fight the fight in ’18.”