Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, of California, speaks as she formally launches her presidential campaign at a rally in her hometown of Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Jan. 27, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
CNN —  

As Sen. Kamala Harris of California kicks her 2020 Democratic presidential run into a higher gear with a massive campaign announcement in Oakland, a trip to Iowa and a CNN town hall Monday night, her positive favorability numbers with some core Democratic groups could elevate her from just an up-and-coming candidate to the main contender.

But first she faces the same problem as most candidates: A lot of people don’t really know who she is.

Harris is one of the five people who have officially declared themselves candidates in the Democratic presidential primary. The field expands to eight when those with exploratory committees are included. More could be on the way.

About 4% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents said in a December CNN poll conducted by SSRS before Harris’ official announcement that they were planning to vote for her. That placed her in fifth place among Democrats in that survey.

But her name identification is low – 41% of Americans said they had never heard of her and 19% didn’t know enough to have an opinion. Her profile appears to be rising, however, as that 41% who didn’t know her name was down 10 percentage points from a CNN poll taken in September. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas (who has not officially declared or launched an exploratory committee) faces 38% who have never heard of him and 20% who don’t have an opinion.

While not as well-known as O’Rourke, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts or former Vice President Joe Biden, Harris did fare better than other candidates and potential candidates in a CNN/Des Moines Register/Mediacom poll of Iowa. 2020 hopefuls facing lower name recognition than Harris included Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio (69% not sure), former Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado (67%), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York (55%) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota (54%). Forty-one percent of Iowan likely Democratic caucusgoers said they weren’t sure about Harris.

Low name identification is both a blessing and a curse for candidates. On the plus side they have a potential for growth, but it is also possible that when people learn more about them, they will find the candidates more unfavorable.

Overall in the nationwide December poll, 22% of Americans had a favorable opinion of Harris and 18% had an unfavorable opinion. Among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, Harris improved to 38% favorable versus 7% unfavorable. Biden, who has the highest name recognition in every recent poll, also had the highest favorability in CNN’s (77% among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents). While Harris may not have the highest favorability of all possible candidates, her areas of strength could drive her to success if her name recognition increases.

Among those who have heard of her, though, she is seen more favorably than unfavorably, especially among pillars of the Democratic Party and Barack Obama’s base when he was running for president. In the group of Americans who have heard of Harris and have an opinion of her, her strongest proponents compared with her competitors are African-Americans, Latinos and women.

Two-thirds of women who have heard of Harris and have an opinion about her find her favorable, compared with 34% whose opinions were unfavorable. Nonwhite women are more likely to not have heard of her but also to have a lower unfavorable rating. Among those who have heard of Harris, 84% said she was favorable and 16% unfavorable.

Hispanics also view Harris favorably (77% favorable, 23% unfavorable among those who have heard of her).

Latinos are the most likely of these favorable groups to have never heard of Harris (59%) while fewer African-Americans hadn’t heard of her (37%).

Democratic women who have heard of her and have an opinion find her more favorable (88%) while fewer but still a solid majority (80%) of Democratic men had favorable opinions of her. She lags slightly among self-identified moderate or conservative Democrats who know her (76% favorable) compared with liberal Democrats (82%). Moderate/conservative Democrats were much more likely to say they hadn’t heard of Harris (46%) than liberal Democrats (25%).

How Harris’ favorability ratings break for groups that don’t know much about her will determine her path and strategy as a candidate as more polling is conducted now that she’s officially a candidate.