Dem hopefuls flock to rival Kamala Harris’ Calif. turf

Brian Slodysko
Associated Press

Beverly Hills, Calif. — The Democrats who want to be president are swarming California, competing for campaign cash and media attention while courting longtime allies of home-state Sen. Kamala Harris on their rival’s own turf.

Former Vice President Joe Biden swooped in to Los Angeles on Wednesday to raise money and snack on tacos with Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has yet to offer an endorsement despite backing Harris in the past. Biden went to three events over two days, including one that netted $750,000 and was attended by Hollywood powerbrokers, as well as “Miracle on the Hudson” pilot Sully Sullenberger.

Sen. Cory Booker, left, is among 2020 candidates to have campaigned in the populous home state of Sen. Kamala Harris, right.

Pete Buttigieg met with labor activists and LGBT donors, and promised to “vigorously contest California.” The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, also attended at least six fundraisers in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

“We are consolidating our position as one of the top candidates in the presidential race,” he told a sold-out crowd Thursday at a West Hollywood gay bar.

Others who have visited the state include Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

California has long been treated as an ATM by national Democrats, who often dash in and out for lucrative fundraisers. But the state has drawn a more intense focus after the date of the 2020 primary was moved up from June to March, with Harris uniquely positioned to capitalize on her home-state popularity.

Her aides have said California is central to their strategy to win the nomination, and they have promoted endorsements from elected officials as Harris plowed her way through fundraisers.

But what once seemed to be a formidable wall of support appears to have softened.

Harris has trailed others in recent state polls. Susie Tompkins Buell, a Harris backer who was one of Hillary Clinton’s biggest donors, has held a fundraiser and promoted others for Buttigieg. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, a longtime Harris ally who endorsed her, traded praise back and forth this past week with Buttigieg, who said the two were trying to set up a meeting.

“It’s not like it’s a tiny state where everyone knows their senator. It’s a very large state with a lot of different communities and so I think it’s wide open,” said former Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Harris’ aides say they never took her standing for granted. Still, they point to her three statewide victories — once as senator and twice as attorney general — as proof she can win in California. They say Harris has worked hard to line up endorsements from state lawmakers and members of the state’s congressional delegation, while outraising her presidential competitors in the state.

“I am competing for every vote just like I always have because as far as I’m concerned you have to earn the votes,” Harris told CNN’s “State of the Union” in an interview that aired Sunday.

With months to go until voting begins, the contours of the race are destined to shift.

Many candidates, particularly those who are little-known or have little money, will be at a steep disadvantage. California is not only the most populous, but also one of the most geographically diverse. That makes campaigning difficult — and unaffordable — particularly when it comes to running TV ads in some of the most expensive media markets in the country.

It remains to be seen who will undertake a serious campaign across the state and who will rely mainly on photo opportunities built around fundraising visits.

Whoever wins will likely face a muddled result. Though the state offers nearly 500 delegates, they are apportioned based on how candidates perform in each congressional district. That will allow even those who do not win to pad their margins.