Kamala Harris could be Donald Trump’s greatest threat in the 2020 presidential race, after a powerful campaign launch speech catapulted her to the front of the crowded Democratic pack.
The Californian senator could became America’s first female US president, and her rally in front of an enraptured crowd of 20,000 showed the world she could go all the way.
Ms Harris, who has been compared to Barack Obama, launched her presidential bid to high emotion in her hometown of Oakland on Sunday local time.
“I’m running for president because I love my country,” declared the 54-year-old, whose father is Jamaican and mother is Indian. “I’m running to be president of the people, by the people, and for all people.”
The visceral reaction to her words, with crowd members cheering and welling up, has fired her into the lead as one of the Democrats with the potential to unseat Mr Trump in what will be one of the fiercest presidential races in history.
As the daughter of immigrants, a battle between this pair has the potential for fireworks, and would reflect the tenor of deep political divide in America.
Ms Harris took a barely concealed shot at Mr Trump and his administration as she spoke of the “arrogance of power”, warning: “The American dream and our American democracy are under attack and on the line like never before.”
She talked of “foreign powers infecting the White House like malware” — a clear reference to Russian election meddling and allegations of collusion with Mr Trump’s campaign.
Launching her campaign a year before the first primary vote, she added: “We must answer a fundamental question: Who are we? America, we are better than this.
“People in power are trying to convince us that the villain in our American story is each other. But that is not our story. That is not who we are. That is not our America.”
Ms Harris joins early Democratic contenders including former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro, Maryland’s John Delaney, Hawaii’s Tulsi Gabbard and New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren and South Bend Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg have announced exploratory committees — used to determine whether a potential candidate should run for office.
Heavyweights Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker and Beto O’Rourke are also reportedly weighing up a run, with the field expected to eventually include around a dozen candidates.
Ms Harris needs this headstart, with 51 per cent of voters telling CNN in September they didn’t know who she was.
Her decision to announce her bid on Martin Luther King day last week was tactical, with the relatively quiet public holiday giving her more news coverage, and underscored her values. “He was aspirational like our country is aspirational,” she said of the civil rights leader. “We know that we’ve not yet reached those ideals, but our strength is that we fight to reach those ideals.”
She still has a long road ahead of her, with almost two years to go until the 2020 election, but her supporters say she cannot afford to take her foot off the pedal.
“The biggest question for her campaign is whether she can be the front runner she currently is and run the insurgent-style campaign that is best suited to her,” tweeted former Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer.
“There were moments in 2008 when Obama would get a lead or our opponents would go through tough spots and we would default to a more conventional, (risk averse) campaign and we always suffered when that happened.”
Another former Obama adviser, Anita Dunn, told the LA Times: “She really took a large step toward demonstrating — not telling people, but demonstrating to people — she’s a candidate who can go the distance.”
MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, whose show has become an essential stop-off for Democratic hopefuls, told her: “Honestly, I think there is a good chance that you are going to win the nomination.”
Ms Harris will appear at a town hall in Des Moines, Iowa at 9pm local time (2pm AEDT), with the state the first to vote in the nominating process.
She also gets a boost from having California as her home state. It has historically voted near the end of the Democratic primary, with the nominees often already decided, but has moved its vote forward to “Super Tuesday” — March 3, 2020 — giving it a much bigger say in determining the nominee.
This will be perhaps the most high-stakes presidential election in history. One of the biggest challenges for Ms Harris will be standing firm against vicious attacks from her detractors — not least Mr Trump, a man known for seizing upon the weaknesses of opponents he has labelled “Crooked Hillary” and “Crazy Bernie”.
Ms Harris’s experience as San Francisco district attorney and California attorney-general helps her stand out from the crowd, with the senator making her slogan “For the People” in reference to her time rising in court to say, “Kamala Harris, for the people.”
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Her platform will include progressive policies including debt-free college and “Medicare for all” — allowing Americans to opt into government-run health coverage. She vowed on Sunday to fight for the “largest middle class tax cut in a generation”.
But her record has also caused controversy among progressives. Law professor Lara Bazleoni in a New York Times op-ed last week cited occasions on which Ms Harris backed contentious policies, and some on social media shared photos of her posing with immigration agents, along with the hashtag #NeverKamala.
“If Kamala Harris wants people who care about dismantling mass incarceration and correcting miscarriages of justice to vote for her she needs to radically break with her past,” wrote Prof Bazleoni.
Civil rights advocate Lateefah Simon responded: “(Ms Harris) became a prosecutor to give the job a perspective it had sorely lacked: a voice for the voiceless and vulnerable. And that’s what she did.”
Ms Harris addressed her detractors briefly in her launch speech, saying: “I am not perfect. Lord knows, I am not perfect. But I will always speak with decency and moral clarity and treat all people with dignity and respect.”
One close ally, California congressman Ted Lieu, said: “She embraces the future, not the past, and is the person we need to move America forward.”
Perhaps the biggest question is how she will stand up to Mr Trump when she becomes his target. She certainly looks tough enough so far.