Carla Marinucci

By Carla Marinucci
Friday, April 3, 2015 – Updated 9:15 pm

When U.S. Senate candidate Kamala Harris held a campaign kickoff in San Francisco this week, the media was barred — an unusual move that has some people complaining she’s shielding herself from the press.

The event, described in the invitation as her “campaign kickoff,” was held at Delancey Street. Guests included Mayor Ed Lee, former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who have all endorsed her. Other elected officials present: U.S. Reps. Mike Honda of San Jose, Eric Swalwell of Dublin, Barbara Lee of Oakland, Jared Huffman of San Rafael, as well as Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera.

But media members were neither invited nor permitted to cover the event, which organizers said was hosted by major Democratic donors Susie and Mark Buell and was never intended to be a public inaugural of her Senate run. They described the evening as strictly a campaign fundraiser — tickets ranged from $250 to $5,400 — and that such events are routinely closed to the press.

Still, some Democrats — even those who predict Harris will be the next U.S. senator from California — were left scratching their heads at what they called a lost opportunity.

“It’s bizarre. … It kind of sounds like amateur night,” said one Democratic strategist, who declined to be named because no one wants to criticize the front-runner. “Why would you bring all these big people to an event — and not have media coverage?

“The only thing that occurs to me is they’re trying to keep media away from her because she’s not ready to talk about federal issues,” the Democrat said.

Campaign spokesman Brian Brokaw cautioned, “It’s very early in the campaign cycle. … The primary is more than a year away.” And Harris, he said, has “been very focused on doing her day job, and at the same time putting together a campaign, and laying the foundation for the campaign that will take place over the course of the next year.”

Jessica Levinson, who teaches political ethics at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said using a fundraiser as a reason to bar media “is an excuse — it’s just not a good one.”

She said while some critics might suggest the candidate is not “ready for prime time when it comes to federal issues,” the Harris team’s caution in that regard may be justified.

“I think, frankly, it’s not a bad calculation. … She needs time to ramp up and know all the issues. She definitely doesn’t want a ‘Katie Couric-Sarah Palin’ moment,” Levinson said, referring to the disastrous interview when Palin was a vice presidential candidate in 2008.

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