It is also a testament to how much Democratic politics has shifted, both in California and nationally. When Republican icon Ronald Reagan became the last Californian to occupy the White House, he launched his candidacy from the same power base that underlay his governorship: the then-conservative bastion of Orange County, which recoiled from student protests and chafed at the state’s high property taxes. Harris’ climb to national prominence, from Berkeley to San Francisco district attorney to California attorney general, was fueled by a different formula, and one that’s becoming key to understanding American political power: A combination of social and environmental progressivism, leavened by a commitment to economic growth through innovation.
In part, the San Francisco ascendancy is due to a shift in the politics of the largest state, as California has changed from a mixed electorate to deep blue. Local candidates used to struggle to break out of Bay Area politics. No longer. “The leap from Bay Area to statewide now is much different than it was 30 years ago, because California has changed,” said Rose Kapolczynski, a Democratic strategist who ran the campaigns of former Sen. Barbara Boxer, who hailed from Marin County in the Bay Area. “It’s become so reliably Democratic in statewide races that your progressive credentials are a benefit, not a drawback.”
The dominance of San Francisco politicians in California—with its vast media and fundraising resources—give them a natural launching pad for national leadership. It helps that the very issues that once defined San Francisco as the lefty fringe of the Democratic Party are now close to the center of the party’s national platform—and, in some cases, go unchallenged by Republicans.