What you need to know about Kamala Harris and her 2020 presidential bid

  • California Sen. Kamala Harris, an outspoken voice of the anti-Trump “Resistance,” announced on Monday that she’s running for president.
  • The former prosecutor and California attorney general is the first black woman to join the field and is already being hailed as a front-runner.
  • Here are some key facts about her.

Kamala Harris burst onto the national stage in 2016 when she was elected as the second-ever black woman to serve in the US Senate, celebrated by Democrats as a bright spot in a dark period for the party.

After 25 years as a prosecutor and “top cop,” Harris has seen a rapid, dazzling political rise from San Francisco’s district attorney to presidential candidate in less than a decade.


Read more:


Kamala Harris is likely going to run for president, but her record as a ‘progressive prosecutor’ is facing renewed scrutiny

When Harris announced her 2020 run on Monday, she joined several other progressive candidates, including two Senate colleagues, in what will likely be a crowded and hyper-competitive primary field.

But her relative youth, identity as a black and South Asian woman, ties to both the Democratic establishment and progressive wing of the party, and popularity on social media have pundits declaring her a front-runner.


Becoming California’s “top cop”

Kamala Harris was raised in Oakland, California by an Indian mother and a Jamaican father, who met while both were active in the civil rights movement.

After studying at Howard University, the historically black college in Washington, DC, and law school at UC Hastings, Harris worked for eight years in the Alameda County District Attorney’s office, where she prosecuted child sexual assault cases.

She served as San Francisco’s district attorney from 2004 to 2011 and California’s attorney general from 2011 until 2017.


Pursuing reforms, cautiously

As California attorney general, Harris caught the attention of national Democrats, including President Barack Obama.

In her home state, Harris developed a reputation as a shrewd, but cautious “top cop.”

She championed some progressive reforms in her home state, including instituting a program in San Francisco that offered first-time drug offenders education and work opportunities instead of jail time.

But she also defended the state’s death penalty and fought to more harshly punish the parents of chronically truant school children.


Finding a national stage

In 2012, four years before she ran for the US Senate, Harris drew national attention when she spoke at the Democratic National Convention. She was soon recognised as a rising star in the Democratic party.

Harris has already broken a series of glass ceilings. She was the first African-American woman to serve as San Francisco’s DA, the first woman of colour to serve as her state’s attorney general, and the first woman of colour to serve California in the US Senate. And she’s the second black woman and first South Asian-American ever elected to the Senate.


A powerhouse fundraiser

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Harris has already proven herself to be a strong grassroots fundraiser. Her campaign raised $US1.5 million from 38,000 online donors in the 24 hours after she announced her presidential bid, the Wall Street Journal reported. The average contribution was $US37.

Over the last year, Harris has spent aggressively on online advertising and her email list and has grown a strong social media presence.

She stopped accepting corporate PAC money last April, joining a wave of Democrats who have pledged to fight the influence of big money in politics.


A viral questioner

During her first year in Washington, Harris has emerged as a strong, media-savvy voice for the anti-Trump “Resistance.” Clips of her grilling former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, and CIA director Gina Haspel on the floor of the Senate have gone viral.

And she’s secured a place alongside some of the most progressive members of her caucus with a voting record that matches other 2020 contenders, including fellow senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand.


Making policy on the Hill

As a senator, she’s signed on to a host of progressive policies, including single-payer healthcare, reforming the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, and legalizing marijuana.

In October, she rolled out her signature policy proposal – a tax credit that would provide lower-income families with monthly cash payments of up to $US500. She’s also worked to advance bail reform legislation and policies that would fight maternal death.


A field full of women

Michael Kovac/Getty Images

Harris will be one of several women running in the Democratic primary. She’s joining fellow senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, all of whom recently announced their bids.


A past that could hurt her presidential prospects

As a presidential candidate, Harris’ 25-year career in law enforcement – including her two terms as San Francisco’s district attorney and five years as California’s attorney general – will undoubtedly face renewed scrutiny.

Law professor Lara Bazelon recently accused Harris of upholding wrongful convictions, covering up prosecutorial misconduct, and pursuing only cautious reforms during her tenure as California’s “top cop.”

In a recent New York Times op-ed, Bazelon argued that if Harris “wants people who care about dismantling mass incarceration and correcting miscarriages of justice to vote for her, she needs to radically break with her past.”

Harris defended her record, but it will likely continue to dog her throughout the primary race, particularly as the Democratic base demands a progressive nominee.


Building a 2020 campaign

Harris announced her presidential bid on Martin Luther King Jr. Day – a clear recognition of the historic nature of her campaign.

About 40% of Democrats have a favourable opinion – and 4% an unfavorable opinion – of the senator, according to a mid-December Quinnipiac University poll.

Harris’ presidential campaign will be headquartered in Baltimore with a secondary office in Oakland.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.