Supreme Court

Potential 2020 contender Kamala Harris uses Kavanaugh to help at-risk Democrats

Sen. Kamala Harris has been using Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s highly partisan, polarizing confirmation process to build her own political network — a boost that could be valuable as the 2020 presidential election nears.

The flurry of activity, which includes fundraising for other Democrats and a leading role in fighting the nomination, is seen as yet another sign she could be getting ready for a presidential run in 2020.

It shows she’s “a player on the field instead of sitting in the locker room,” said Bob Mulholland, a Sacramento-based Democratic strategist, of Harris’ Kavanaugh-related moves.

“She’s helping her team,” Mulholland said.

And she’ll hope that team reciprocates in the 2020 election cycle.

“’All things being equal, I usually go with my friends,’” Mulholland added. “Elected officials in any body look around at who’s been helping them. That’s a good summary for Harris’ thinking here, I think.”

Harris, elected to the Senate in 2016, said only “I’m not ruling it out,” when NBC asked her about a 2020 White House bid in June. Harris spokeswoman Lily Adams did not address questions about Harris’ 2020 plans.

Harris has stayed in the spotlight with both insiders and the public as the Kavanaugh debate has raged.

Her campaign sent out a call for donations for the campaign of Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, on Thursday, citing his opposition to Kavanaugh. Donnelly is running for re-election in a state President Donald Trump won in 2016.

The same day, Harris tweeted a link calling for donations to the campaign of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, also running in a state Trump won. The tweet was sent shortly after Heitkamp announced she would vote against Kavanaugh. Friday, Harris’ campaign backed that up with an email calling for donations to Heitkamp after a vote to limit debate.

“Heidi Heitkamp is considered ‘the most vulnerable Democratic senator up for re-election this year,’” the email states. “Yet she had the courage to step up and do the right thing by announcing her opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination.”

Harris is also the keynote speaker for the Ohio Democratic Party’s state dinner Sunday and has been planning a trip to Iowa at the end of the month, according to reporting by the Atlantic.

Iowa, the site of the nation’s first major presidential caucus in recent elections, is an oft-visited state for presidential contenders. Ohio is regarded as the nation’s most politically volatile swing state in general elections.

“Senator Harris has raised and donated more than $5 million to help elect Democrats in 2018,” Lily Adams, a spokeswoman for Harris, said in an email when asked to comment on the fundraising and planned trip to Iowa. “She will continue to travel the country and do all she can to help her colleagues.”

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, was blasted — mostly by Republicans — for fundraising for her own campaign over the Kavanaugh fight during hearings last week. Her campaign said the fundraising email was sent in error and promised to send all donations made to the page to organizations helping survivors of sexual assault instead.

Harris, who did not attempt in her recent efforts to raise money for herself, was not subjected to the same widespread criticism.

The way she’s handled the hearings — including tough questioning of Kavanaugh and leading a symbolic walkout of some Democratic senators last Friday from the Judiciary Committee before a vote on the Kavanaugh nominatin — has also played well with Democratic voters. To many, she is voicing their frustrations in a way other Democrats aren’t.

“She’s on point. She’s not taking any garbage, and maybe because she’s a former prosecutor,” said Paula Lennon, 55, of New York City, who marched in an anti-Kavanaugh protest at the Supreme Court Thursday. “I think Harris is really the voice of the woman.”

Francine Brungardt, 58, who visited Harris’ office while protesting Kavanaugh’s nomination at the Capitol Wednesday and returned to the Supreme Court protest Thursday, said Harris is “fantastic,” and “she did a beautiful job” speaking at a protest last week.

She hopes Harris runs for president.

McClatchy reporter Kellen Browning contributed to this report
Kate Irby: 202-383-6071; @KateIrby