Kamala Harris for governor of California? It could happen.

For most of the early and teen years of this century, Kamala Harris was one of the weakest of vote-getters in Democratic-dominated California, even while she held three electoral offices in succession.

Her marginal vote-getting performances have been mostly glossed over since she became President Biden’s backup as vice president.

But what happens if the Biden-Harris ticket loses this fall and Harris is left without public office for the first time in 22 years? Harris will have just turned 60 a couple of weeks before Election Day, an age when many politicians are just getting started and almost exactly 30 years younger than former U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein was when she died in office.

Not exactly a retirement scenario. And yet, if she and Biden lose, Harris would have a lot of proving to do about her electoral appeal before she could even think about running for President again, as she briefly did in 2020.

Enter California’s wide open 2026 race for governor. What better venue for Harris to prove she has become a much more potent politician than she ever was before?

The race is already somewhat crowded, with the likes of Lt. Gov. Elena Kounalakis, former state Senate President Toni Atkins, former state Controller Betty Yee and current state Schools Supt. Tony Thurmond now running. Other potential entrants include Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, former Atty. Gen. and current federal Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra and very likely, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, the lone significant Republican possibility at the moment.

Harris’ current prominence and greater name recognition would immediately propel her to the forefront of that field, and it might be enough to get her into the runoff election two years from now under the state’s Top Two “jungle primary” system. She would also have the services of the same campaign consultants who have helped current Gov. Gavin Newsom to win after win, gaining national prominence in the process.

But would Harris then be ripe for an upset? That’s where her previous nondescript polling record could become relevant.

When she ran for district attorney of San Francisco in 2003, she lost in the primary to unpopular incumbent Terence Hallinan, but later beat him in a runoff. She then was unopposed for reelection in 2007.

When she ran for California attorney general in 2010, in the last state election before the advent of Top Two, Harris easily won the Democratic primary, but Republican rival Steve Cooley, then the Los Angeles district attorney, almost upset her despite the Democrats’ huge voter registration advantage. She won by just 6,000 votes out of 9.6 million cast, the outcome not determined until more than three weeks after the last vote was cast.

Easily reelected later, she set her sights on the Senate seat once held by Democrat Barbara Boxer and drew a Democrat for her runoff opponent. Harris easily beat former Orange County Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, but still got only 39 percent of the primary vote before easing through the runoff with 61 percent.

Altogether, that’s an underwhelming performance in this heavily Democratic state.

But Harris has emerged lately as the Biden Administration’s top spokesperson on abortion, barnstorming the nation to remind voters – especially women – that ex-President Donald Trump is responsible for today’s patchwork state-by-state picture on the procedure. That’s by virtue of his having named three conservative Supreme Court justices, all of whom voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.

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Her railing against women’s loss of the right to choose in many states may have made her more popular among women voters, but does not appear to have helped her standing among males.

The net effect is not yet enough to push her into a positive national rating. A recent USA Today/Suffolk poll found that more than half of voters surveyed, 54 percent, considered Harris not qualified to be President, despite four years of major national experience. Or perhaps because of it.

The upshot is that if Biden and Harris lose this fall, Harris would need to prove herself in a way she never has before she could be considered a serious future presidential candidate. Becoming California governor would do that better than almost anything else.

Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com.

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