Harris' husband takes on growing public role in 2020 race

Harris' husband takes on growing public role in 2020 race

(Nick Ut, the Associated Press File Photo)

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BALTIMORE (AP) — Doug Emhoff was on the stage seconds after an activist rushed his wife, Kamala Harris, and snatched the microphone from her hands. Shortly after he helped remove the activist, Emhoff tweeted that he and Harris were "good" and that he would "do anything for her."

The incident quickly turned viral, bringing attention to someone who is often at Harris' side but rarely front and center.

He was back in the spotlight on Saturday, when he spoke at the Florida Democratic Party's Leadership Blue Gala in Orlando. The speech was his first solo appearance since Harris launched her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination in January.

Emhoff's increasingly public role is a reminder of the historic diversity of the Democratic field, which includes a half dozen women as well as an openly gay man. And coming three years after Hillary Clinton became the first woman to be a major party's presidential nominee, it shows how the role of political spouses is evolving and could produce America's first "first gentleman."

"I think we're rewriting the rules on presidential spouses," said Jess Morales Rocketto, a Democratic operative who worked for Clinton in 2016. "Historic candidates also mean we have spouses who can play a historic role."

Already, the spouses of other candidates seeking the presidency have taken on a variety of roles. The humor and candor of Chasten Buttigieg, the husband of South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, has quickly made him a social media star. Jane Sanders, wife of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, has been involved in her husband's political career for decades and continues to play a key role in his second presidential campaign.

This week alone, Jill Biden, the wife of former Vice President Joe Biden, was in South Carolina. Amy O'Rourke, wife of Beto O'Rourke, joined her husband in Iowa. And Chasten Buttigieg was to speak in Florida at the same event as Emhoff, as was John Delaney's wife, April McClain-Delaney.

"This is a new experience for Kamala and me, but our family is having so much fun crossing the country and meeting people from every walk of life," Emhoff, who is a lawyer at DLA Piper, told The Associated Press. "It's amazing to see so many people get to know the Kamala I love, and I can't wait for every American to get that chance when she's president."

For the first five months of Harris' campaign, Emhoff's presence has been constant, yet low-key. Although he still lives and practices law in Los Angeles, he is frequently by his wife's side on the campaign trail.

He was in Baltimore to visit campaign headquarters and greet staff for the first time on Thursday.

One aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss Emhoff's role in the campaign candidly, said Emhoff does not regularly participate in staff meetings or have a significant hand in discussing strategy. Instead, the aide said, Emhoff is supportive of his wife's campaign and willing to take on a more public campaign role when asked.

On Twitter, Emhoff often offers behind-the-scene glimpses into campaign life and his relationship with Harris.

There are photos of him with a "Kamala Harris For The People" T-shirt layered under a blazer, Harris on Mother's Day with his two children, and even a selfie with Chasten Buttigieg as their spouses participated in a night of back-to-back CNN town halls.

And though he has far fewer followers than Chasten Buttigieg, he has his own fans. Social media supporters of Harris often use the hashtag #KHive, a nod to Beyoncé's loyal fans, known as the BeyHive. Now, Harris' followers have bestowed Emhoff with his own: #Doughive.

Emhoff is a native of Brooklyn who attended California State University-Northridge and later the USC Gould School of Law. He opened his own law firm in 2000 before it was acquired by Venable in 2006.

Harris and Emhoff were set up by her close friend Chrisette Hudlin on a blind date in 2013, while Harris was serving as California's attorney general. In her memoir, "The Truths We Hold," Harris wrote about the challenges of dating in the public eye, acknowledging that "dating wasn't easy" and that "single women in politics are viewed differently than single men."

After meeting Emhoff, Harris said there was "no pretense or posing with Doug, no arrogance or boasting."

"He seemed so genuinely comfortable with himself. It's part of why I liked him immediately," she wrote.

The couple got engaged in 2014 and married at the courthouse in Santa Barbara, California, later that year. The ceremony was officiated by Harris' sister, Maya, who is now the chair of her presidential campaign.

Emhoff has two children from a previous marriage, Cole and Ella. In her memoir, Harris wrote about her friendship with his first wife, Kerstin, saying that "we sometimes joke that our modern family is almost a little too functional."

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