Remember that name, or don’t. Unless you’re following the U.S. Senate race closely, the next time you see her name in print might be on the 2020 ballot – where her name will be listed next to Republican Sen. Jim Risch.
Gone are the days when a big-name Democrat such as John Evans would go from the governor’s chair to challenge Steve Symms for his Senate seat, as he did in 1986. Gone are the days when Congressman Richard Stallings would run for a vacant Senate seat (1992), with a realistic chance of winning. And long gone are the days when Gracie Pfost, a Democrat, would come close to beating a Republican for a Senate seat, as she did way back in 1962.
Nowadays, bigger-name Democrats such as Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, House Minority Leader Mat Erpelding of Boise or state Sen. David Nelson of Moscow have better things to do with their lives than take on a Republican incumbent with practically endless resources at his fingertips. It’s not that the Democrats have fondness toward Risch – because they don’t. But they also realize that their chances of winning are next to zero. So, it leaves ordinary people such as Harris – a 70-year-old mother of four and grandmother of seven, to carry the torch for Democrats.
“We cannot have a democracy without fielding candidates. If we are not fielding candidates, then we are not defending democracy.” she said. “I may get chewed up and spit out, but when it’s done, I will be the same person I am today. I may fall flat on my face, but that’s still progress.”
In terms of choice, Harris is as far left politically as Risch is to the right. Generally, if you like Bernie Sanders and the Democratic Party’s overall “progressive” agenda (such as Medicare for all), then Harris is your candidate. That’s not a bad resume for Idaho Democrats, who voted heavily for Sanders in the presidential caucuses three years ago. She knows she will not win over Republicans, but that’s OK with Harris.
“Democrats could give me 236,000 votes, and I’d need another 200,000,” she said. Of course, rounding up 200,000 votes in a beet-red Republican state such as Idaho is a tall order.
Harris has been involved with a variety of professional ventures over the years, and most recently was a patient-care technician with the Southwest Advanced Care Hospital in Boise. The closest Harris has been to a political office is being arrested twice two years ago while protesting on Capitol Hill – once protesting repeal of the Affordable Care Act and another time opposing tax cuts pushed by President Trump.
She decided to run for the Senate while attending a meeting of the Southwest Idaho chapter of the National Organization for Women, of which she is a member. News flashed that the Senate had confirmed Brett Kavanaugh as a Supreme Court justice, so Harris stood up and announced her candidacy for the Senate.
“And I haven’t stopped campaigning since,” she said.
Don’t be fooled by her friendly smile. “You wouldn’t believe how tough I am,” she said.
Harris will need every bit of that toughness in taking on Risch. Her comments about him are measured for now, but we’re a long way from the campaign season. For starters, she said, he seems to be enjoying Washington political life too much. He votes for judges who are widely rebuked by the American Bar Association, is too friendly toward the National Rifle Association and – as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee – he spends more time trying to be a Trump insider than providing oversight on foreign policy.
“I can talk about what I want to accomplish, but unless I’m elected, all that is moot because he stands for none of the things I stand for,” she said.
As for herself, she said, “It has been a long time since we’ve had a woman running for the U.S. Senate … and it’s time we make a change. I’m strong, I’m committed and I’m willing to work hard for the state of Idaho. If you elect me, I promise that I will make myself available to the constituents in Idaho. I will listen to concerns on both sides of the table and I will represent Idahoans every day to the best of my ability.”
Don’t bet your mortgage payment on a political upset, but I have a feeling that Harris – with her background as a political activist -- will make things interesting in her campaign.