The group, which has a network of donors across the nation, is dedicated to electing Democratic women who support access to abortion. But the move is unusual, because Emily’s List often stays clear of contests in which there are other potential candidates who fit its criteria. The field for the seat being vacated by Sen. Barbara Boxer is far from set, with the filing deadline still a year away.
In the 2013 Los Angeles mayor’s race, for example, the group made no endorsement in the primary, which featured two Democratic women among the contestants. Emily's List waited till then-City Controller Wendy Greuel emerged as the sole female candidate in the runoff before backing her.
Harris is so far the only major Democratic candidate in the race, but others, including Rep. Loretta Sanchez, are considering a run.
Emily’s List President Stephanie Schriock pointed to Harris’ track record as attorney general in explaining why the group was backing her.
“Kamala Harris is a battle-tested progressive champion,” she said. “As California’s top cop, she has fought to give women, children, seniors and immigrants a fair shot …. Kamala Harris is continuing Barbara Boxer’s legacy of standing up for all women and families.”
Schriock also noted that Harris made history when she was elected California’s attorney general -- as the first African American, Asian American and woman to hold the post -- and noted that she would be the second African American woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
Carol Moseley Braun was the first female African American senator when she represented Illinois in the nation’s upper legislative chamber from 1993 to 1999.
Harris pointed to Emily's List three-decade history supporting women for elected office, notably Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Boxer in 1992, which she described as "an election that stunned the nation."
"I am so grateful today to now have the support of EMILY's List in my campaign and look forward to continuing their proud legacy," Harris said.
Emily’s List has previously signaled support for Harris, sending out messages to its 3 million members when she announced her bid. The group also had her speak at its 30th anniversary gala this month, shortly before an address by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Harmeet Dhillion, the vicechairman of the California Republican Party, said that while the group's decision to endorse Harris before the field was set was a clear break from its traditions, it was not surprising given the level of Democratic rallying around Harris.
“This is part of the coronation process,” she said.
But Dhillon added that she did not believe Harris was unbeatable, and that the general election is 20 months away, in November 2016.
“I do not think she’s inevitable by any stretch of the imagination,” Dhillon said. “It’s a big state and it’s a big office and there’s a long time between now and the election. Nothing is certain in politics.”
Harris' primary competition in the race so far is GOP Assemblyman Rocky Chavez of Oceanside. He faces a challenge because he is far less known than Harris, whom more than half of California voters could not identify in a recent USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll, and because of the demographic tilt of the state.
Harris, who entered the contest within days of Boxer's January announcement that she would retire, has been fundraising and lining up endorsements ever since, leading to criticism by some that she was being anointed by party leaders in California and the nation’s Capitol.
If Harris’ bid runs into trouble, Emily’s List has the potential to help her significantly. The group raised $60 million for contenders in last year's elections and for its political action committee that can support candidates independently. Its independent expenditure arm spent $14 million to help 2014 contestants.
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