Sen. Kamala Harris hopes to reach a key Democratic voting bloc with her new column in Essence Magazine, a periodical geared toward African American women and a staple in black households for almost 50 years.
For Harris, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, “Kamala’s Corner” gives her an opportunity to speak directly to a black female party base that might not yet be familiar with the political newcomer. Black women make up a significant portion of Democratic primary voters and also play an important role as party organizers.
Harris’ words will reach young, black, affluent and educated voters. The Essence print magazine has a circulation of about 1.08 million, according to a July 2018 report from media analytics company Comscore. Meanwhile, its website pulls in about 5.2 million unique visitors a month. Essence’s online readers also tend to skew younger, with a median age of 35 while the median age for print readers is 49. Two-thirds of online and print readers have at least some college education.
Harris’ introductory column is heavy on biography and reads almost like her standard stump speech, focusing on her time as San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general rather than her two years as senator. She reiterates her campaign pitch to “prosecute the case” against the Trump administration and touts initiatives she supported as a DA, such as job training and counseling for nonviolent drug offenders.
The Essence debut comes amid polling that places her fourth in South Carolina, an early primary state where black voters make up about 60 percent of the Democratic electorate.
A former prosecutor, Harris is also taking heat from the left for her law enforcement stances, including support for a truancy law that jailed the parents of children skipping school.
Harris isn’t the first senator to pen a regular nationally published column. Barry Goldwater wrote a Los Angeles Times-distributed syndicated column in the 1960s. However, the Arizona senator suspended the thrice-weekly column once he decided to seek the Republican presidential nomination in 1964.
Even famous non-office-holding political figures have become magazine writers.
Martin Luther King Jr. wrote an advice column for Ebony Magazine in which he dispensed wisdom on everything from racial justice to marital infidelity.
Check out this response he gave to a woman whose husband had cheated on her: “Do you spend too much time with the children and the house and not pay attention to him?” King wrote. “Are you careful with your grooming? Do you nag? Do you make him feel important … like somebody?”
While some raised eyebrows at the timing of Harris’ writing venture, it doesn’t run afoul of campaign finance rules, according to Paul S. Ryan, a legal expert for election watchdog Common Cause. Instead, it falls under what election lawyers call the “media exemption.” Under campaign finance law, expenditures do not include “any news story, commentary, or editorial distributed through the facilities of any broadcasting station, newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, unless such facilities are owned or controlled by any political party, political committee, or candidate.”
The column is considered “commentary or editorial.” That means that “whatever Essence spends to publish Sen. Harris’ column would be exempt from the statutory definition of ‘expenditure,’” Ryan said.
Things can get a bit stickier for candidates if they own a publication. Such was the case in 1996 when the Federal Election Commission sued billionaire Steve Forbes, who continued to publish his column in Forbes Magazine while running for president.