Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is throwing her weight behind 2016 National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes in her bid to replace Elizabeth Esty in the U.S. House of Representatives. Hayes lost the Connecticut party endorsement in controversial fashion amid last minute vote-switching in May.
Esty, caught up in a scandal involving her handling of a sexual harassment issue in her office, went into early retirement in April. That created a last-minute opening in Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District. Local politician Mary Glassman, who has twice unsuccessfully run for lieutenant governor, immediately entered the race and announced she had raised more than $100,000.
Less than two weeks before the May 14 congressional endorsement convention, Hayes jumped into the race, encouraged by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. Despite the compact time frame of her campaign, she came out on top at the end of the second ballot at the convention. Then convention leaders held the voting open long enough for enough delegates to switch, giving a narrow win to Glassman.
The NAACP challenged the outcome of the convention and a hearing was held last Thursday to determine whether the endorsement was valid. A Democratic committee reviewed the complaint and awarded two votes to Hayes, but that still left her behind, 171-169. Regardless, Hayes will go on to the August 14 primary, without state party support. But she now has the backing of Harris, a rising star in the party and a rumored 2020 presidential candidate.
Harris endorsed more than 25 candidates across California before the state’s June 5 primary, but she has kept a lower profile east of there. Where she has stepped into a primary, it has generally been on behalf of candidates of color. In Georgia, for example, she endorsed two black women: Keisha Bottoms for mayor and Stacey Abrams for governor. And she’s endorsed five black men: Ben Jealous, running for Maryland governor; Colin Allred, running for Congress in Texas; Steven Horsford, a former congressional representative from Nevada running for a new term; Joe Neguse, running to be the first black member of Congress from Colorado; Lucy McBath, who lost a son to gun violence and is running in Georgia’s sixth district, where Jon Ossoff fell short last year; and Aaron Ford, who would be the first African-American attorney general of Nevada. She also backed Gina Ortiz Jones for Congress in Texas. (Ortiz Jones is of Filipino descent, though in its enthusiasm for Hispanic candidates, the Democratic National Committee accidentally congratulated her on her win as a Latina.)
Harris’s endorsement demonstrates the value to other minority — and particularly African-American — candidates of her ascension to national stature, as her endorsement comes with a boost in profile and fundraising. It’s a hand-up that Hayes likely needs. With no prior political experience and no fundraising network, Hayes, who grew up in a housing project in the district, will have a hard time matching her opponent dollar for dollar.
As her race gains national attention, she has begun to see an influx of small dollars from around the country. After The Intercept reported on the convention victory that turned into a loss, she said, small donations began pouring in, with more than $34,000 coming in the first few days.