California Attorney General Kamala Harris has a message for all those critics: She welcomes the entrance of other candidates to the 2016 Senate race, and she "absolutely" didn't cut a deal with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom on which one of the two would run for governor.
Harris' nascent Senate campaign was barely public last month before supporters (namely former Assembly Speaker and San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown ) were urging other candidates to steer clear of the race and critics were accusing her of trying to clear the field. On Wednesday, in what Harris said was her first interview since announcing her candidacy, the former prosecutor flatly denied accusations that she is trying to clear the field.
"I welcome, and I think it is important, that anyone who wants to be in this race if they believe that that is ... where they can make a difference, I fully welcome them into the race," she said. "And I’ll tell you ... every race I have fought, at the beginning people have told me I couldn't win, or it wasn't my time, or some other combination of discouragement, and I have jumped into those races, because I believed I could make a difference, and so I would never stand in the way of anyone wanting to participate in this process and be a part of it."
Harris also downplayed Wednesday's Field Poll, which showed her nearly at the top of a long list of potential candidates -- but trailing former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who hasn't expressed any interest in the race.
"I have learned over the course of many campaigns … a very, very real lesson: The only poll that counts is Election Day, and nothing else matters, so I don't pay too much attention," she said. "I wouldn't be attorney general if I paid attention to polls."
Harris also shot down speculation that she and former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom -- who recently announced he is exploring a run for governor -- sat down and discussed who should run for which office. The two share a political consultant and the same political base, but when asked if there was a deal, Harris was quick to answer:
"Nope, absolutely not," she said.
With the race nearly two years out, Harris said she is focused on her day job. But there may be some synergy there: Harris also said she will focus her campaign on the issues she's tackled as attorney general that extend beyond law enforcement -- including regulating the mortgage industry and protecting the environment.
Buckle up, it's going to be a long 21 months to November 2016.