Who is Kamala Harris - and could she win the 2020 US election?

California senator announces that she will run to replace Donald Trump

Kamala Harris
(Image credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Democratic senator Kamala Harris has confirmed that she will run for US president in 2020.

The 54-year-old California lawmaker released a short video announcing her candidacy and unveiling her campaign slogan: “For the people”.

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Two of her fellow Democratic senators, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, have already formed exploratory committees to assess the viability of a presidential run, but Harris is the first woman to officially confirm her candidacy.

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The Democratic primary list already includes Minnesota Senator Richard Ojeda and former mayor of San Antonio Julian Castro, with several major names - such as former vice president Joe Biden - expected to make an announcement in the coming months.

So who is Harris and what does she stand for?

Harris was born in Oakland, California, to an Indian mother and a Jamaican father who divorced when she was seven.

After getting a degree in political science and economics at Howard University in Washington D.C., she returned to California to study law and was admitted to the bar in 1990, joining the district attorney’s office.

She won her first election in 2003, to become district attorney of San Francisco. In 2010, she became California’s district attorney, securing a second term with a comfortable majority in 2014.

Although a seasoned election veteran, Harris is a relative newcomer to Congress, elected in 2016 to replace outgoing senator Barbara Boxer.

On social issues, she backs abortion rights, increased gun control and the liberalisation of marijuana laws. She is opposed to capital punishment, and chose not to seek the death penalty in several high-profile cases as a district attorney.

So does she stand a chance of winning the Democratic nomination, never mind the presidency?

Her position towards the left of the party, particularly on social issues, aligns with the direction of the party’s grassroots, but her less radical stance on economic matters will serve to assure floating voters put off by Bernie Sanders-style socialism.

“Her allies believe that her life's work as a prosecutor - from her start in Alameda County trying grisly crimes such as sexual assault to felonies including homicide - will help set her apart,” says CNN.

However, her background in law enforcement is also a major obstacle to winning over voters wary of law enforcement and the judicial system, while controversial past cases will provide ample fodder for her opponents.

Leveraging her career to her advantage will require a delicate balance of “project[ing] toughness” while also “presenting herself as a kinder and gentler prosecutor”, says Politico.

The path to victory in the primaries lies through “the Southeastern states of the old Confederacy, where the most powerful force within the Democratic primary electorate is African-Americans”, says CNN.

If she can consolidate the black vote and hold on to her strong appeal among women and younger voters, Harris “has the potential to be among the strongest contenders in the 2020 Democratic field”, says election polling website FiveThirtyEight.

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