Front-run­ners face dif­fer­ent hur­dles

The cur­rent lack of for­mi­da­ble op­po­nents is a mixed bless­ing for Hil­lary Clin­ton and Ka­mala Har­ris.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - CATH­LEEN DECKER cath­leen.decker@la­times.com Twit­ter: @cath­leen­decker For more on Cal­i­for­nia pol­i­tics, go to la­times.com/decker.

It is one of the odd­i­ties of this cam­paign sea­son: In races for two of the most sought-af­ter po­lit­i­cal of­fices in the coun­try, two Demo­cratic women are run­ning vir­tu­ally un­chal­lenged, their tasks both boosted and com­pli­cated by the ve­neer of in­evitabil­ity.

Na­tion­ally, of course, there is Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton, open­ing her sec­ond try for the party’s pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion with a “Hi, every­body!” tour of bak­eries and cof­fee shops and work­places where vot­ers gather in key elec­toral states, the bet­ter to in­fuse her ef­fort with the hu­man­ity she can have a hard time demon­strat­ing on her own.

And in Cal­i­for­nia there is Ka­mala Har­ris, run­ning for a U.S. Se­nate seat to be va­cated by 22-year vet­eran Bar­bara Boxer, cam­paign­ing fiercely be­hind the scenes and in the fundrais­ing sa­lons but vir­tu­ally in­vis­i­ble to the vot­ers who will de­ter­mine her fate.

If there are similarities be­tween the two — nei­ther at this point has a popular or well-fi­nanced op­po­nent, though that could change, par­tic­u­larly in Cal­i­for­nia — there are vast dif­fer­ences as well.

Clin­ton may be the best­known woman in the world — given her tor­tured ten­ure as first lady to the na­tion’s most popular politi­cian, Bill Clin­ton; her two New York elec­tions to the Se­nate; her term as sec­re­tary of state.

Har­ris is in her sec­ond term as at­tor­ney gen­eral of Cal­i­for­nia, which would be a big­ger deal in any state other than Cal­i­for­nia, which prefers its elected of­fi­cials to be nei­ther seen nor heard. Af­ter spend­ing mil­lions on her cam­paigns — in no small part to smooth the path for the present one — she in some ways re­mains a mys­tery, with 60% of the state’s vot­ers lack­ing an im­pres­sion of her in a Fe­bru­ary USC Dorn­sife/Los An­ge­les Times poll.

Driv­ing their strate­gic moves is what each woman must prove.

For Clin­ton, the im­per­a­tive is not nec­es­sar­ily to im­me­di­ately amass gi­ant sums but to prove that this cam­paign will be bet­ter than the last, that her painful loss to Barack Obama in 2008 in­fused her with a po­lit­i­cal hu­mil­ity that will turn loss into victory in 2016. That can be harder to do when there is, as yet, no real com­pe­ti­tion.

Thus she en­tered the race via a video that fea­tured vot­ers in the front seat and her­self in the far, far back. She trav­eled to Iowa — in a van that she likened to Scooby Doo’s, although the re­sem­blance was imag­i­nary — and went out of her way to re­mind her small au­di­ences that she was there to learn from them, not the other way around.

She re­peated it all in New Hamp­shire last week.

“At this point in the cam­paign I have a very strong com­mit­ment to lis­ten­ing,” she told guests in the living room of a cozy, an­tiques-filled two-story home in Clare­mont, N.H. “I think it’s a lost art in pol­i­tics and I’m go­ing to try to sin­gle-hand­edly bring it back so that peo­ple will ac­tu­ally have a con­ver­sa­tion again about what’s go­ing on in your life.”

Har­ris’ con­ver­sa­tions will have to wait, for her must-do list is dif­fer­ent. The illusion of in­evitabil­ity is her friend, more than it is Clin­ton’s, for it will do more to dis­suade oth­ers from en­ter­ing the race.

To be sure, she is also work­ing at a job she just won in Novem­ber. That job does dou­ble duty in push­ing her po­lit­i­cal im­age.

Last week, for in­stance, she is­sued a state­ment com­mem­o­rat­ing the 100th an­niver­sary of the Ar­me­nian geno­cide — un­like Pres­i­dent Obama, she point­edly used the freighted term, which will not go un­no­ticed by the sig­nif­i­cant Ar­me­nian com­mu­nity in places like South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

“To­day, we honor the mem­ory of the nearly 1.5 mil­lion Ar­me­ni­ans who were bru­tally mur­dered from 1915 to 1923 at the hands of the Ot­toman Em­pire,” she wrote. “The Ar­me­nian geno­cide is one of hu­man­ity’s dark­est chap­ters. We must never for­get the atroc­i­ties com­mit­ted against the Ar­me­nian peo­ple as we re­main vig­i­lant in our fight against civil and hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions.”

She also flew to New York for the global Women in the World con­fer­ence, where she took part in a panel on cy­ber ex­ploita­tion. Ya­hoo an­chor Katie Couric in­tro­duced Har­ris as some­one “known for get­ting very tough and lead­ing your state” on cy­ber crimes.

Har­ris de­scribed her­self as the state’s “top cop” — a fa­vorite phrase — and re­peated re­marks she had made in her only other public ap­pear­ance of the cam­paign: a March fundraiser in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., for the Emily’s List po­lit­i­cal group.

“A harm against any one of us is a harm against all of us; a crime against any one of us is a crime against all of us,” she told the au­di­ence, drawing ap­plause.

It might seem odd that Har­ris’ only public show­ings so far have been a con­ti­nent away from the state in which she is run­ning. But her cam­paign strate­gists point to her need to raise the big dol­lars nec­es­sary in any Cal­i­for­nia race. (She had $2.2 mil­lion on hand at the end of March, the most re­cent fil­ing.)

“It’s still quite a ways off from the June pri­mary and of course as the cam­paign un­folds she will be hold­ing more public events around the state,” said cam­paign spokesman Brian Brokaw.

“At the same time, in a state as large as Cal­i­for­nia, you have to lay the foun­da­tion for a very ex­pen­sive race. Most of her nights are oc­cu­pied up and down the state in living rooms, do­ing fundrais­ers and lining up endorsements.”

Thurs­day, in fact, was a per­fect ex­am­ple of Har­ris’ cam­paign at the mo­ment. In the af­ter­noon, she was on stage as at­tor­ney gen­eral, talk­ing about crimes against women.

And that night, she was at a Chelsea club, where 250 young pro­fes­sion­als had gath­ered to hear Har­ris speak and to give her money for the cam­paign back home.

An­drew Bur­ton Getty Images

FOR­MER SEC­RE­TARY of State Hil­lary Clin­ton is fo­cus­ing on in­fus­ing her im­age with hu­man­ity.

An­drew Toth Getty Images

CAL­I­FOR­NIA ATTY. GEN. Ka­mala Har­ris is largely cam­paign­ing be­hind the scenes for Se­nate seat.

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