Ohio Democrats applaud ‘badass’ California senator in weekend visit.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Kamala Harris drew national attention for her combative questioning of Brett Kavanaugh before his confirmation to the Supreme Court.
Now she‘s reaping the benefit among the party grassroots as she campaigns for fellow Democrats and prepares for a likely presidential run.
One day after Kavanaugh’s nomination was confirmed, Harris on Sunday cast the Supreme Court hearings as a “sham and a disgrace,” urging Democrats to turn out in November while implicitly testing the party’s ability to push the controversy beyond the midterm elections.
“The bottom line is that they may have the power right now,” Harris said to cheers at an Ohio Democratic Party dinner. “But we need to take it back.”
In what’s likely to be a 2020 field crowded with Democratic candidates who vigorously opposed Kavanaugh, it’s unclear how significant a lift Harris can gain from her role in the Judiciary Committee hearings — or how far it will go toward addressing questions about the freshman senator’s relative lack of experience on the national stage.
But Harris’ reception here laid bare the timely opening that Kavanaugh’s confirmation appears to provide for the junior senator from California. On Sunday, Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, himself a potential 2020 candidate, thanked her publicly for her “courage” and “how you led the way in those hearings.”
At a rally earlier Sunday, a crowd roared for Harris when Brown asked rhetorically, “Did she kick ass on the Senate Judiciary Committee?”
Harris has been preparing for a potential presidential run since before Kavanaugh’s nomination, spending heavily to expand her email list while raising money for Democrats across the country. She has helped raise or donated more than $5 million for Democratic candidates and causes this year, and she appeared at fundraisers with Brown over the weekend in this key swing state.
But Harris has made an especially forceful push on Kavanaugh, running advertisements online and sending fundraising emails last week for Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) related to their opposition to the judge’s confirmation.
When Harris asked Kavanaugh in a committee hearing if he could think of any laws that “give the government the power to make decisions about the male body,” said Sandy Theis, a Democratic consultant and former executive director of Progress Ohio said, “Ohio cheered.”
“That’s when I started to hear people really talk about what a badass she is,” Theis said.
On Sunday, Harris told reporters that the Kavanaugh hearings constituted “a sad moment in the history of the Senate.” But she said the hearings have not affected her own outlook on 2020, which she said she will “seriously take a look at” after the November elections.
Asked if the House should take up impeachment of Kavanaugh if they retake the House in November, Harris said, “I don’t know. Let’s deal with that after the election and see.”
Similarly, Brown — who is up for reelection this fall — said, “I don’t have an opinion on that.”
Supreme Court politics have traditionally benefited Republicans more than Democrats, and Kavanaugh’s confirmation marked a victory for President Donald Trump. But angst surrounding Kavanaugh’s confirmation is running high among Democratic base voters, and concerns about the treatment of women and durability of Roe v. Wade are already coloring the electoral landscape.
The National Democratic Training Committee, which trains candidates across the country, reported its largest online fundraising week in history on Saturday, and Ohio Democrats repeatedly raised the Kavanaugh controversy during a day of campaigning Sunday.
“The base of the [2020 Democratic] primary is really energized about this,” said Scott Kozar, a veteran Democratic strategist who has worked in Ohio.
In some parts of the country, Kozar said, “Kavanaugh’s got 90 to 95 percent name ID.” And though the electorate’s interest in the confirmation hearings could wane by 2020, primary voters already are beginning to form impressions of potential contenders.
“The presidential race is going to play out in six or eight months,” Kozar said. “Everyone says 2020, but … people are going to start taking stock of these people, if they haven’t already.”
Harris is not the only potential presidential candidate tapping into Democrats’ visceral reaction to the Kavanaugh confirmation. Sen. Cory Booker, the New Jersey Democrat who shares a perch with Harris on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told Iowa Democrats on Saturday night, “We’re not defined by a president who does not believe women.”
Harris is expected to visit Iowa before the November elections. But on Sunday, surrounded by thickets of supporters in Ohio, she hugged activists, posed for selfies and signed photographs and campaign signs.
When Harris began to explain why she had come to the state, a rally-goer called out, “running for president!” and the crowd erupted in cheers.
Harris told reporters that in the wake of the Kavanaugh hearings, her “biggest fear is that there will be a group of people who retreat, right? That’s my biggest fear, that there will be people who will decide that if they speak out it doesn’t matter, and will feel deflated by what happened in a way that causes them to recede.”
She said, “That’s part of why I’m here today: to remind people that their voices really do matter, and they have to speak, and speak out and speak up and that they matter.”
Later, Harris called the Kavanaugh hearings “a denial of justice for the women of this country and sexual assault survivors — men and women — in this country.”
“And let’s also acknowledge that truth is like the sun,” she said. “It always comes up in the morning. And on these issues that were presented during those hearings, I believe the truth will eventually reveal itself.”
Ohio, which is not an early primary state, represents a longer-term opportunity for Democratic presidential candidates, with a large delegate haul and later primary date that could prove significant if the field remains unsettled after Super Tuesday.
Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and former Attorney General Eric Holder have already spoken at state party events here. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock campaigned in the state for Democratic gubernatorial nominee Richard Cordray recently, and Booker is expected to appear here next week. The state is also home to two potential candidates on the Democratic side — Brown and Rep. Tim Ryan.
By campaigning in Ohio, said Randy Borntrager, a Democratic strategist in the state, “you get a double bang for your buck. If you’re going to be one of the major contenders in the primary, this is going to also be a state that’s very expensive and going to be in play in the general.”
He said, “That pays off if you are the eventual nominee.”
Still, Trump carried Ohio by 9 percentage points, and the Republican National Committee cast Harris’ appearance in the state as evidence of Democrats’ embrace of “a coastal-elitist agenda that is wrong for Ohio.”
“By bringing in California Kamala to attempt to rally Middle America, the Ohio Democratic Party has shown just how out-of-touch they’ve become,” RNC spokeswoman Mandi Merritt said in an email.
David Pepper, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, called Harris “one of the real up-and-coming stars of our party.” He also suggested the memory of the Kavanaugh hearings will not fade.
“In this crazy day of politics, every week there’s a new story, so yesterday feels like weeks ago,” Pepper said.
However, he added, “I can tell you what: On the Democratic side, that whole process, and the sham investigation, will not be forgotten.”