Five reasons why Kamala Harris might become the Democratic nominee for president

  It is increasingly likely that US Senator Kamala Harris will be the Democratic nominee for President of the United States of America.  And, if it isn’t her, it’s likely the nominee will look an awful lot like her. I’ll make the case below, but don’t just take it from me that she’s running.  Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown has a take on this, too.

Sen. Kamala Harris is making all the early moves for a 2020 presidential run.

The California Democrat is booking speeches in early primary states while stepping back from the Sunday morning talks shows, which provide forums for verbal missteps.

Just as telling was her recent fact-finding trip to Afghanistan, with two Republicans no less, to burnish her military and foreign relations credentials.

Now, there are a lot of Democrats in California that might shake their head at this idea that Harris could win the nomination.  She’s not the most inspiring candidate for those that wish to swoon.  She’s not the most progressive candidate for those that want to push policy.

Heck, even Sen. Diane Feinstein has a candidate she prefers over her seat mate.

“Joe (Biden) was chairman of the Judiciary [Committee] when he came to this place. I’ve watched him as vice president, I’ve seen him operate, I’ve seen him perform. He brings a level of experience and seniority which I think is really important.”

But, while Joe Biden may lead in early polls, it’s the polls that finish the race that count.  And there, Harris has a few things really going for her.

That’s because the Democratic Party has fundamentally changed the way that the party will select its delegates to the Democratic National Convention in 2020.  This was a result of the influx of Bernie Sanders-supporting voices that got engaged and more active in national party politics – and who were mad at the way Sanders was treated in 2016.

They felt that the system was rigged against him, and they sought to change the nominating process to a more open model.  And, they did.

That’s why Harris – if she can change her campaign approach to reflect these new rules – has a legitimate pathway to a position of national prominence in 2020.

Here are five things you should know about why this shift is so dramatic.  


1.  As preface, remember the peanut farmer who was elected president.

The party rules changed considerably ahead of the 1976 nomination process, too.  Before, party bosses has a significant role in determining who would be the party’s candidate through a complex model that included both primary delegates and party leadership.

In 1976, the rules changed to elevate the primaries and caucuses to an even more prominent position, diminishing the role of party bosses.  So, while insiders like US Senator Scoop Jackson from Washington State were prepared to run under the previous rules, Jimmy Carter – the peanut farmer who became governor of Georgia – went out and competed in primaries across the country where other candidates simply didn’t engage.

Carter was able to line up a number of delegates as a result of this primary strategy that other candidates didn’t know about until it was too late.

Expect the same thing in 2020.  The lesson from 1976 is that candidates can be slow to change their campaign strategy to reflect new rules. When nominees expect to play by the old rules (like spending a lot of time in Iowa and New Hampshire), candidates that play by the new rules will have an advantage.


  2.  There are no more super delegates

Super delegates are party leaders and elected officials that have had votes in the nominating process, and were independent of whatever the vote was in their respective state or constituency.  They were a vestige of the old pre-1976 system that allowed party bosses and insiders an out-sized voice in the process.

In 2016, those super delegates almost uniformly lined up behind Hillary Clinton, regardless of what their other elected delegates thought.

The Bernie supporters that drove changes to the system hated this model, and were successful in eliminating super delegates from the nominating process.  That makes the delegates themselves – and only the delegates – now more important to the nominating process than ever before.


  3.  Delegates will be allocated proportionally, not in a winner take all approach 

This is the biggest change among many.

Rather than a winner of a state primary being awarded all of the delegates, as has happened in many states, delegates will now be rewarded in a proportional allocation model.

That means if you get 15% of the vote in a primary, you’re going to get 15% of the delegates from the state going to the national convention.

This has a number of implications.

First, it means that more extreme voices will be awarded delegates.  Before, if you only won 10% of the vote, in many states you would be aced out.  You would have zero delegates, and would have no legitimate pathway to the nomination.  Now you get 10% of the delegates.

Second, it means the party will be unlikely to have one candidate with 50% of the delegate count heading into the July convention.  Getting 35% of a state’s primary or caucus vote in a crowded field of 10 candidates (or 20!), will be enough to win handily.  But, it won’t be enough to win the nomination. It’s easy to see a candidate like Joe Biden repeatedly coming in first, but never getting more than 50% of the vote.

Moreover, with a win of 35%, there will be 65% of the vote that will have voted for the other candidates.  So, if the lower tier candidates stay in the race, continuing to lock up 10% of the delegates here and there, it’s even more unlikely that the 65% that didn’t vote for the leading candidate will vote for him/her on the convention floor if all of the candidates remain in the race.  Why would they, particularly if their candidate remains in the race?

In other words, with no clear majority holder of delegate votes, as result of this change in the rules, it’s entirely likely the convention will roll around in 2020 and we’ll have no idea who the Democratic nominee will actually be on the front end of the convening.  


4.  The delegates that will attend the convention will have a greater percentage of people of color and of women than the party as a whole, and certainly more than the country.

Delegates will be awarded based on a complex allocation that draws from both the number of people in the state and the number of Democratic voters in the state.

That means a state like California will have an out-sized role in delegate allocation.  They have both more people and more Democratic voters.  Delegates from Oklahoma or Wyoming, where there are far fewer Democratic voters, will have fewer delegates per capita than the larger, coastal and urban states where Democrats tend to live.

In states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Alabama, Democratic strongholds are largely urban centers like Milwaukee, Detroit and Birmingham.  These communities are full of Democrats of all colors, creeds, and ethnic backgrounds.  They are more ethnically diverse than the party as a whole, and they’ll be sending delegates that reflect that diversity.

Likewise in larger states like Florida and California, urban centers will have large counts of delegates from a diversity of ethnic backgrounds.

And, there’s this subtle wrinkle: California votes on March 3rd, one month after Iowa on February 3rd.  However, it appears that with early voting in California, there may be more votes cast via early voting in California before the Iowa caucuses on Feb. 3rd than all of the votes cast in Iowa’s “first caucus” on Feb. 3rd.

Moreover, the delegates that will be awarded in LA County alone – a county of 10 million – will be more than the delegate count from 40 other states!

Under a proportional representation model of allocating delegates, LA County will be far more important than Iowa and New Hampshire combined when it comes time for the convention delegates to vote.  


5.  With no clear winner, expect a brokered convention, one that will not allow two straight white dudes on the ticket

With a large field of candidates spreading the number of delegates out widely as a result of proportional representation, it’s reasonable to think that no candidate will win 50% of the delegates heading into the July 2020 convention.

Without a “winner take all” model in the primaries and caucuses, candidates may be declared the winner with 35% of the vote but they will only receive 35% of the delegates.  That 35% will be a win, indeed, particularly with 8-12 names on the ballot.  But it won’t be 50%.

And you’ll need at least 50% of the votes of the delegates at the convention to become the nominee.

That will mean candidates and delegates will have to wheel and deal with one another to get to a coalition of 50%.  The delegates will have to play ball there, too, being willing to vote as their candidate assigns.

Given the diversity on the floor of the convention, it’s reasonable to think that one of those nominees – either president or vice president – is going to be a woman or person of color.  Better yet, it probably will be a woman of color.

Think that’s a stretch? When was the last time the national party nominated two straight white dudes to be president and vice president?  That’s right:  2004 – or 14 years ago.  That’s almost a full generation ago.

And that’s where Harris comes in.

If she can pull even a modest amount – say between 3-10% of the votes in primaries and caucuses – she’ll have a commensurate amount of the delegates on the floor of the convention. If she runs strong in California and in urban centers around the country, it’s reasonable that she can head into the convention among the top three delegate earners as a result, in part, of this shift in how delegates will be selected.

That amount of support can make her an important, relevant voice at a convention looking to find a brokered ticket.  It may not mean she wins the presidential nomination before she heads into the convention, but it would make for a compelling argument that she gets on the ticket somehow, or a cabinet position.

And any such outcome should be considered a big success from a Harris for President campaign.