Many political types long have assumed that Mikie Sherrill would win the Democratic nomination for Congress in the 11th District. After all, she’s been endorsed by all the requisite party leaders and in some cases, has been already treated as if she is the nominee.
During Morristown’s pro-gun control march two months ago, Sherrill was seated on the podium next to the guest of honor, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland.
Where was Tamara Harris?
She was somewhere in the crowd.
Now with election day less than two weeks away, Harris is insisting momentum is on her side.
She called the prevailing view that Sherrill will win the primary a “false assumption.”
Harris says her polls show the race “neck and neck.”
It is always a bit hazardous to give much credence to polls taken by the candidates themselves. Of more substance, Harris has racked up some endorsements from left-learning groups like the National Association of Social Workers and the Congressional Black Caucus.
Harris’ pitch, which she made at a Wednesday debate in Livingston and will likely reiterate over the next 12 days, is that she is the most “progressive” (why do so many Democrats shy away from saying liberal?) candidate in the race.
She also talks of being “unbossed,” which is a swipe at the backing Sherrill is getting from party leaders.
“The old playbook of secret endorsements and backroom dealing is not going to be accepted,” Harris said in an interview Thursday at her Morristown campaign office.
She added that voters want “people who are not the establishment … who are not part of the status quo.”
But here’s where things get a bit muddled.
Leroy Jones, the chair of the Essex County Democratic Committee, said after watching Wednesday’s debate that he was “perplexed” by Harris’ criticism of party leaders for their backing of Sherrill. While most of the 11th District is in Morris County, it also includes 13 Essex towns, among them Bloomfield, North Caldwell, Nutley and Fairfield.
Jones claimed that Harris eagerly sought the endorsement of the Essex County Democratic organization, explaining that, “she pursued me.”
The Sherrill camp makes the same point, contending that Harris is critical of party leaders in the district’s four counties – Passaic and Sussex are the other two – simply because they didn’t endorse her.
Not so, said Harris.
She says she has always wanted an “open primary,” a system in which candidates run without official endorsement from county organizations.
“It’s not being annoyed,” Harris said. “It’s about us winning.”
She said rank and file voters – not endorsements – should, and will, determine the best Democratic candidate to take on Republicans in the fall.
Virtually all the five candidates in the race – Sherrill and Harris are clearly the front-runners – espouse expected liberal positions on such things as health care, guns and immigration.
It may be hard to see differences here, but Harris says her views are the most “progressive.”
For example, Harris says she’s the only candidate to support “universal health care.” Some of the other candidates have endorsed a “Medicare for all” concept, which really seems quite similar, if not identical, to universal health care.
There also has been widespread agreement on the campaign trail for enhanced gun background checks and a nationwide ban on so-called assault weapons.
Harris says she stands apart from the others, because she sees guns as more of a safety and health issue than a Second Amendment one. And Harris said she’s convinced she’d be more forceful in Congress than her competitors in taking on the NRA.
Harris has had a career that includes social work and international finance, two disciplines not always mentioned in the same breath.
She has mentored students on social and mental health issues as an adjunct lecturer at Montclair State and New York universities. Prior to that, she worked as an analyst in the Hong Kong office of Citigroup and Deutsche Bank.
Whether her varied resume and last-minute push will help Harris upset the Democratic party establishment remains to be seen.