With No Opponent in Senate Race, Kamala Harris Can Afford Not to Make News

Kamala HarrisEXPAND
Kamala Harris
via Office of the Attorney General

More than a month after launching her Senate campaign, Kamala Harris agreed to talk about it on Wednesday. Harris has had a charmed campaign so far. Several other candidates have publicly "mulled" the race, but none has entered it. If things keep going this way, she can take a 22-month vacation and then show up in D.C. to get her office keys and her parking space.

Perhaps not wanting to be seen relaxing too much, Harris finally submitted to a round of interviews. She talked with four outlets — the L.A. TimesSacramento BeeSan Francisco Chronicle and KQED — and didn't say much to any of them.

"Kamala Harris 'Fully Welcomes' Other Candidates to 2016 Senate Race," KQED declared. "Kamala Harris says all 'qualified' candidates should run," said the Bee.

You'd think she was lonely. Of course, Harris doesn't really want other candidates to run. She's not crazy. But because the only storyline so far is about other candidates dropping out, she apparently has to make it clear that she didn't push them.

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How exactly she would do that is left up to the imagination. Yes, Willie Brown famously suggested that former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa should sit this one out. But the days are long past when Brown doled out rewards and punishments, placing allies on plum committees and sticking traitors in closet-sized offices. Nowadays he just has a newspaper column. If Villaraigosa wants to run, no amount of column inches will stop him.

In any case, to take her at face value for a moment, Harris might be on to something. Somebody probably should run against her. Otherwise, California voters won't get a clear idea of who they're electing.

In the interviews, she said she wants to work on issues such as the environment, consumer protection and veterans. But California voters deserve a lot more information than that. Would Harris be a liberal firebrand in the mold of Barbara Boxer? Or would she be a centrist dealmaker like Dianne Feinstein?

It's especially hard to judge because Harris has only ever been a prosecutor and attorney general. She has not served in the Legislature or in Congress, and has not had to take a position on most federal issues. Harris took a few stabs at it in the interviews, telling the Bee that she opposes construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and pledging to the Times that she would only support a ground war against ISIS as a "last resort."

That's a start, at least. But mostly, she played it safe. She told the Times she didn't know whether she would boycott a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She did made sure to note the importance of the U.S. relationship with Israel. She suggested to the Chronicle that she might be open to legalization of marijuana, but she quickly added that she would be studying the experience of other states and paying close attention to the details in order to protect public safety.

In other words, she tried to make as little news as possible, and succeeded. This is becoming her defining trait. She always aims for the middle of the fairway. Caution is her middle name.

The media can do their best to flush her out, but she is likely to remain largely undefined unless she draws a serious opponent. It might not be Villaraigosa, but surely somebody is out there who can take her on. There's nothing like the pressure of competition to sharpen your focus.


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