Sanders, Harris Set for CA Showdown 08/22 06:29
SOUTH PASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- Bernie Sanders has promised to win the
California presidential primary in March, but home-state Sen. Kamala Harris is
defending her turf --- putting the two on a collision course in a state both
see as a critical steppingstone to the White House.
Sanders' campaign advisers rank California among what they call the crucial
"first five" contests. By making a strong showing in those states --- Iowa, New
Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and California --- they believe Sanders can
establish himself as the dominant candidate in the crowded Democratic field by
early March. He plans to roll out a major plank of his campaign --- a proposal
to combat climate change --- in Northern California on Thursday.
Harris, meanwhile, has locked down endorsements from most of the state's
Democratic elected officials and recently announced having 10 paid staffers in
California. Both candidates are in the state this week to address Democratic
Party leaders in San Francisco.
But investing in California, the biggest prize in the presidential
sweepstakes with 495 delegates, remains a gamble for both. It's far from clear
that the effort will be money well spent if the candidates don't place near the
top in the earlier states and if their campaigns are flagging by the time
Californians start voting. (Mail-in ballots start going out Feb. 3 for the
March 3 primary.) And in a state where most campaigning happens on the
airwaves, having a grassroots network in San Francisco or Los Angeles may not
save a candidate who is already sinking.
At this point, no other Democrats are betting on California like Harris and
Sanders. Former Vice President Joe Biden has five staff members in the state,
with several focused on fundraising. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has no
paid staff but is building a robust volunteer corps. Sanders, a Vermont
senator, has 11 staffers on his payroll.
The problem for candidates: "How do you budget for a California primary when
you don't know how you've done in the first four states?" asked longtime
Democratic strategist Bill Carrick, who is based in Los Angeles.
"The first four states are incredibly consequential to who actually ends up
a contender" in California, he said.
Still, Sanders' campaign could spend $25 million or more chasing votes, a
sign of his campaign's commitment to the strategy. To manage the campaign in
sprawling California, Sanders' campaign has broken up the state into five
regions and started to build organizations in those areas. The idea is to
target places like the Los Angeles region and the San Francisco Bay Area as
states within a state, honing in on local concerns. On a recent swing, he
discussed immigration in San Diego, homelessness in Los Angeles and housing in
San Francisco, where a typical one-bedroom apartment rents for $3,500.
In each area "we look at it like it's Iowa, like it's New Hampshire," said
campaign spokesman Joe Calvello.
Harris' campaign is relying on lawmakers backing her candidacy to amplify
her message in their home districts. They're also helping raise money for her
--- she sent out a plea for donations Tuesday, warning that Sanders has raised
$45 million this year and has a large grassroots organization returning from
his 2016 presidential campaign.
Harris also benefits from a campaign team with a long winning record in
California. The consulting firm running her campaign, SCRB Strategies, is led
by longtime San Francisco political hand Ace Smith, who is well versed in the
state's diverse geographic areas and complicated delegate rules and has worked
for Hillary Clinton and former California Gov. Jerry Brown.
Being California's home-state senator is a benefit and a liability, said
Brian Brokaw, a longtime Harris adviser who does not have a formal role with
"It's an opportunity in that it's a state where she's poised to do very well
and has a strong base of support --- and needs to do well," Brokaw said. "But
at the same time, we live in a world of finite resources and having to spend
money in your home state typically isn't at the top of any candidate's priority
Sanders and Harris present generational, gender and racial contrasts for
voters. Sanders, 77, is white; Harris, 54, is the daughter of immigrants from
India and Jamaica.
But they aren't necessarily chasing the same voters. Sanders is firmly
anchored in the party's liberal wing. But the shape of Harris' coalition
remains largely unknown, said Carrick.
"Is she going to try to take votes from Biden or Bernie or Warren?" he asked.
Sanders turned in a noteworthy second-place finish in California to eventual
nominee Clinton in 2016, taking 46% of the vote and carrying 27 of 58 counties.
For his army of veteran volunteers, the job has changed. They spent the last
election introducing the self-described democratic socialist to voters.
The fight this time is for indecisive voters who are also giving a strong
look to Harris, Warren and other candidates who share similar ideas.
In 2016, "People were like, 'It's Hillary. Who is Bernie?'" said volunteer
Sanders organizer Melissa Michelson. But this time, she finds voters a bit
confused with the array of choices.
In making a pitch to Democrats, "the response I get a lot is, 'Waiting and
seeing,'" Michelson said.
Despite residing in Los Angeles, Harris has held few public events in
California since launching her campaign in Oakland. Instead, most of her visits
have been for closed-door fundraisers.
But her campaign has been mobilizing volunteers through "Camp Kamala"
training events in San Diego and Los Angeles.
Most of the volunteer events listed on Harris' website are aimed at other
states, like an organizing rally in North Carolina and phone banks in Nevada
and South Carolina. Sanders' website lists about 20 upcoming volunteer events
in the Los Angeles area alone.
With intense competition in a large field, Sanders appears to be aiming at a
broader range of voters this time: He recently did a video interview with
Grammy-winning rapper Cardi B.