Kamala Harris Launches Bid for U.S. Senate

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Attorney General Kamala Harris has won an extension of the state's deadline to process an initiative that would impose the death penalty for gay sex.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Eight days ago, Kamala Harris took the oath of office for a second term as attorney general and delivered an inaugural address that talked about all she hoped to accomplish in the job over the next four years.

What a difference eight days can make.

Harris, 50, announced in a statement on her website Tuesday morning that she is a candidate for the U.S. Senate -- news that comes after an intense flurry of speculation set off by the decision of Sen. Barbara Boxer to step aside when her term ends.

"I'm asking you to help me build a grassroots campaign that reaches every community of California," wrote Harris on her website.

Harris' political advisers began quietly confirming the decision Monday afternoon, only hours after Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he would not be a candidate. The two Democrats have been the most-talked-about contenders for either the Senate or a 2018 race for governor.

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And still unclear is whether other VIPs will take the plunge. Both billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa have been eyeing the race over the past few days, as well as several incumbent members of California's delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Harris will no doubt point to her work as attorney general, one of the most high-profile posts in the state, in the campaign to come. Her announcement message hinted at both her work on the national settlement between states and mortgage providers in 2012 and her refusal to defend in court Proposition 8's ban on same-sex marriage.

"I have worked to bring smart, innovative, and effective approaches to fighting crime, fighting for consumers, and fighting for equal rights for all," she wrote.

How Harris handles not only the incredibly long lead time in the race -- more than a year before she can formally file candidacy papers -- and the increased scrutiny will be important. While she squeaked out a historically narrow win for the job of attorney general in 2010, she was virtually unchallenged this past fall. Harris defeated GOP challenger Ron Gold by 15 percentage points, and studiously declined to take positions on a whole host of issues.

In an interview on KQED's Forum prior to the November election, Harris time and again either said she was studying most of the pressing issues or couldn't discuss them because she serves as the attorney for state government.

Those kinds of dodges will be much harder in a campaign watched nationally and could prove a political liability in the hands of a skilled opponent. So far, though, it's far from clear who that opponent (or opponents) might be.