California voters elected Kamala Harris, the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, to the U.S. Senate on Tuesday, tearing down a color barrier that has stood for as long as California statehood.
The Associated Press called the race minutes after the polls closed, with no votes yet reported. Early returns with less than half the vote counted showed Harris winning by more than 1.3 million votes.
From the outset, the Senate race between Democrats Harris and Orange County Rep. Loretta Sanchez possessed an air of history in the making. California had never before elected a black or Latino politician to the United States Senate, and Harris will become only the second black woman in the nation’s history to serve in Congress’ upper chamber.
Even in a state often perceived as liberal outlier, Harris’ victory to succeed retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer provides another significant marker in the march for political equality during her lifetime. Her elementary school class in the 1970s was the second one to integrate Berkeley schools. Harris was the first woman elected as San Francisco’s district attorney and the first woman to be elected as California’s attorney general.
As Hillary Clinton trailed Donald Trump in the presidential race, Harris supporters were watching the giant TV screen looming over the dance floor.
“We’re a bit concerned about what’s happening nationally,” said Angelov Farooq, director of UC Riverside’s Center for Economic Development & Innovation. “But I’m excited about Kamala Harris. I think she represents the future. She’s a very authentic leader.”
Harris used her acceptance speech to address what seemed to be an impending Trump victory.
“Whatever the results of the presidential election tonight, we know that we have a task in front of us. We know the stakes are high,” Harris told a cheering crowd inside Exchange LA. “When we have been attacked and when our ideals and fundamental ideals are being attacked, do we retreat or do we fight? I say we fight!”
Immersed as a child in the 1960s Berkeley civil rights movement, the 52-year-old California attorney general weaved populist themes of justice and redemption into her Senate campaign and leaned heavily on the old-school political tactics honed during her political rise in San Francisco, responding sharply and quickly to Sanchez’s political attacks and subtly launching a few of her own.
Harris’ background attracted Lee Lovingood, 34, to vote for her.
“Her victory is going to be pretty historical, right?” Lovingood said. “She’s going to be the first African American and Indian American senator from California.” He said Harris had a more positive message while Sanchez “says some wild things.”
In the campaign for the first open Senate seat California has seen in 24 years, Harris quickly cemented herself as the Democratic Party’s favored candidate, dissuading some of California’s big-name politicians from challenging her, including former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.