Kamala Harris

California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris campaigns Sunday at the L.A. headquarters of the Building and Construction Trades Council, an organized labor group that has endorsed her U.S. Senate bid to replace the retiring Barbara Boxer. (Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

Kathleen Decker
January 11, 2016

The upsides of California Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris’ political ambitions have been apparent as she’s climbed in politics: She charms an audience like few candidates do, speaks knowledgeably about criminal justice-related issues and stays relentlessly on message.

The downside has been a concern that despite her desire for higher office she hasn’t broadened her portfolio beyond familiar legal territory, somewhat squandering her front-runner advantages as she seeks a U.S. Senate seat this November.

Hints of both were apparent Sunday as Harris met with supporters at the Los Angeles headquarters of the Building and Construction Trades Council, an organized labor group that has endorsed her bid to replace the retiring Barbara Boxer.

Within seconds of hitting the stage, she had her audience nodding and applauding, even when she unspooled standard Democratic positions on issues such as the environment, education and equal rights.

But repeatedly, in her remarks and in answers to supporters’ questions, she fell back on comfortable ground that represents her past and present and not her desired future, delivering some of the same remarks she has repeatedly made during criminal justice speeches.

The absence of a new, Senate-focused approach came up almost inadvertently when a supporter asked what she’d advise President Obama on Islamic State — essentially the role of many senators.

“I don’t think I’m in any position to advise President Obama.… He knows more than any of us in this room,” she said. The crowd laughed, but the comment underscored her lack of federal experience.

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