Here's why Kamala Harris is still my pick to win the Democratic nomination (despite these major problems)

On Monday, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., announced her candidacy for president. She’s the third Democratic woman to throw her hat in the ring, joining her Senate colleagues Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. Three different candidates – three similar media strategies, so far.

In years past, campaign advisers would shy away from the high-wire act of having their candidates’ answer tough questions from a throng of reporters well-versed on their vulnerabilities, especially on day one of the campaign. The swell of free media on announcement day serves as America’s first meeting with someone vying to be their commander-in-chief; it’s far safer to push the campaign themes in a scripted setting, rather than a no-holds-barred sparring match with the press where things could go haywire.

But within hours of making their campaigns official, all three candidates faced a pack of reporters: Warren and Gillibrand in their respective home bases of Cambridge, Massachusetts and Troy, New York, and Harris at her alma mater, Howard University in Washington D.C.

HERE'S WHY KAMALA HARRIS IS MY EARLY BET TO WIN THE 2020 DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY

You see, everything changed after 2016. During that campaign, Hillary Clinton’s unwillingness to engage with reporters, combined with Donald Trump’s frequent and free-wheeling encounters with the press, gave the Republican a big advantage. It’s a mistake the current crop of Democrats seems determined to avoid.

But they must proceed with caution. Look, for example, at what happened to Harris when she stepped before reporters at Howard University on Monday. The first question she faced laid bare her greatest vulnerability: her professional career in law enforcement. The topic was not Harris’ plans for the economy or ending the government shutdown – it was her role in a case involving gender reassignment surgery of an inmate. For many voters, this may be a niche issue, but it’s a lightning rod among liberal activists who wield influence in primaries.

Aware of the soft spot, Harris and her team have been preparing their defenses. She has been attempting to re-brand herself as a “progressive prosecutor,” although her skeptics on the left are not buying it. A withering and well-traveled column in the New York Times by a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law headlined “Kamala Harris Was Not a ‘Progressive Prosecutor’” took apart her record piece by piece.

In 2016, Donald Trump wanted to Make America Great Again. Most voters would have a hard time (then or now) remembering Hillary Clinton’s slogan. Like her or loathe her, voters know why Elizabeth Warren is running for president. She brings everything back to her disdain for the financial services industry – it’s all she talks about. Harris either hasn’t settled on or isn’t articulating a compelling core message.

When asked about the transgender issue today, Harris fell back on a series of talking points about “positions that were contrary to my beliefs” and wishing her staff “would have personally consulted me before they wrote the things that they wrote.”

Neither of those excuses is likely to hold up over the rigors of a campaign, especially as thousands more cases come to light. It may be only a matter of time before Harris opts for the apology route taken by Gillibrand, who last week described her own previous pro-gun views as “callous.” It was a pathetic display of pandering, even by a politician’s standard, but surrendering, rather than defending, allows Gillibrand to say she has addressed the issue.

Another immediate challenge facing Harris is her rationale for running. When asked what separated her from the rest of the pack, she replied: “voters will decide.” Her statement is factually correct, but voters are going to have an almost unlimited number of candidates to choose from. In a field this deep, it’s going to require a bolder message than Harris’ run-of-the-mill “For the People” slogan to cut through all the noise and separate from the pack.

In 2016, Donald Trump wanted to Make America Great Again. Most voters would have a hard time (then or now) remembering Hillary Clinton’s slogan. Like her or loathe her, voters know why Elizabeth Warren is running for president. She brings everything back to her disdain for the financial services industry – it’s all she talks about. Harris either hasn’t settled on or isn’t articulating a compelling core message.

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Last week, I wrote that Harris is my front-runner pick for her party’s nomination. Nothing that’s happened since changes that calculation. There will be many more announcements to come, and they will all soon be overtaken by events and forgotten amid the din of the primary fireworks.

But the outcome of Harris’ quest hinges in part on how she answers questions about her past and her vision for the future. Neither were convincing on day one, but there’s a long road ahead.

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