Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton is photographed during a round-table discussion in Keene, N.H., on April 20. (Andrew Burton / Getty Images)

By Cathleen Decker
April 26, 2015

It is one of the oddities of this campaign season: In races for two of the most sought-after political offices in the country, two Democratic women are running virtually unchallenged, their tasks both boosted and complicated by the veneer of inevitability.

Nationally, of course, there is Hillary Rodham Clinton, opening her second try for the party’s presidential nomination with a “Hi, everybody!” tour of bakeries and coffee shops and workplaces where voters gather in key electoral states, the better to infuse her effort with the humanity she can have a hard time demonstrating on her own.

And in California there is Kamala Harris, running for a U.S. Senate seat to be vacated by 22-year veteran Barbara Boxer, campaigning fiercely behind the scenes and in the fundraising salons but virtually invisible to the voters who will determine her fate.

If there are similarities between the two — neither at this point has a popular or well-financed opponent, though that could change, particularly in California — there are vast differences as well.

Clinton may be the best-known woman in the world — given her tortured tenure as first lady to the nation’s most popular politician, Bill Clinton; her two New York elections to the Senate; her term as secretary of state.

Harris is in her second term as attorney general of California, which would be a bigger deal in any state other than California, which prefers its elected officials to be neither seen nor heard. After spending millions on her campaigns — in no small part to smooth the path for the present one — she in some ways remains a mystery, with 60% of the state’s voters lacking an impression of her in a February USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll.

Driving their strategic moves is what each woman must prove.

For Clinton, the imperative is not necessarily to immediately amass giant sums but to prove that this campaign will be better than the last, that her painful loss to Barack Obama in 2008 infused her with a political humility that will turn loss into victory in 2016. That can be harder to do when there is, as yet, no real competition.

Thus she entered the race via a video that featured voters in the front seat and herself in the far, far back. She traveled to Iowa — in a van that she likened to Scooby Doo’s, although the resemblance was imaginary — and went out of her way to remind her small audiences that she was there to learn from them, not the other way around.
At this point in the campaign I have a very strong commitment to listening. – Hillary Clinton

She repeated it all in New Hampshire last week.

“At this point in the campaign I have a very strong commitment to listening,” she told guests in the living room of a cozy, antiques-filled two-story home in Claremont, N.H. “I think it’s a lost art in politics and I’m going to try to single-handedly bring it back so that people will actually have a conversation again about what’s going on in your life.”

Harris’ conversations will have to wait, for her must-do list is different. The illusion of inevitability is her friend, more than it is Clinton’s, for it will do more to dissuade others from entering the race.

To be sure, she is also working at a job she just won in November. That job does double duty in pushing her political image.

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