Exit of Harris could benefit Biden campaign most
Kamala Harris launched her presidential bid with a bang in January, as more than 20,000 people attended a rally in the California senator’s hometown of Oakland.
But her campaign ended with a whimper on Tuesday, as Ms Harris told supporters she “simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need to continue” — ending an 11-month effort for the Democratic presidential nomination that started with high hopes but fizzled out due in part to muddled messaging, inconsistent debate performances and disappointing fundraising.
A former prosecutor who was attorney-general of California before being elected to the US Senate in 2016, Ms Harris gained national attention for her grilling of US attorney-general Bill Barr and Supreme Court justice Brett Kavanaugh in their confirmation hearings. Her campaign slogan “for the people” emphasised her legal background, and she repeatedly told voters she was ready to “prosecute the case” against Donald Trump.
She also received a burst of support over the summer after attacking former vice-president Joe Biden in a televised debate over his record on race.
But Kyle Kondik, managing editor of the non-partisan Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia, said Ms Harris had fallen in a cycle political scientists John Sides and Lynn Vareck call “discovery, scrutiny and decline”.
“For Harris, the debate was discovery, and in the aftermath there was scrutiny, and then she declined,” Mr Kondik said. “She was never able to recapture that moment she had in the first debate.”
“Even though she looked great on paper when she got into the race, and a lot of people saw her as the most likely nominee . . . sometimes candidates look better on paper than they actually are in practice,” he added.
Ms Harris struggled to break through in the polls, languishing behind Mr Biden, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator, and more recently, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
Mary Anne Marsh, a Democratic strategist, said Ms Harris’s “uneven performance” had damaged her prospects. “When you look at Democratic voters who are determined to defeat Donald Trump, they did not want to back someone who is as mercurial as Harris was as a candidate,” she said.
The senator faced criticism for shifting her position on many issues, including healthcare reform. In the June debate, Ms Harris raised her hand in apparent support for eliminating private health insurance before later saying she thought the question was about whether she personally would give up her private insurance.
The latest average of polls compiled by the website Real Clear Politics showed Ms Harris had the backing of just 3.4 per cent of likely Democratic voters nationwide, and 3.3 per cent and 2.7 per cent in the early voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, respectively.
Ms Harris also struggled in her home state of California, where she was polling in fourth place with the backing of 8.7 per cent of voters, according to Real Clear Politics. A recent LA Times poll showed 61 per cent of likely Democratic voters in California thought Ms Harris should drop out of the race.
The California Democratic primary will be held on March 3, or “Super Tuesday”, alongside more than a dozen other states. The deadline for filing for the California primary is Friday — leading some analysts to question whether Ms Harris dropped out this week in order to avoid an embarrassing result in her home state. Ms Harris will be up for re-election to the Senate in 2022.
Fifteen Democrats remain in the running for their party’s presidential nomination, though just six — Mr Biden, Mr Buttigieg, Mr Sanders, Ms Warren, Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar and billionaire investor Tom Steyer — have qualified for this month’s Democratic National Committee debate in Los Angeles, based on their polling and fundraising figures. Ms Harris had also qualified before she dropped out.
Many of Ms Harris’s former opponents praised her efforts on Tuesday. Mr Biden said she was a “first-rate intellect and a first-rate candidate . . . I have mixed emotions about it, because she is really a solid, solid person”.
While campaign experts said it was difficult to determine what effect Ms Harris’s absence would have on the remaining field, especially given her relatively low poll numbers, Mr Kondik said her exit could boost Mr Biden, especially among African-American voters. The former vice-president has maintained a significant lead among black voters, particularly in the early voting state of South Carolina.
Mr Kondik said while the California senator had struggled in the polls, she always had the “potential” to dent Mr Biden’s vote share with African-Americans.
“Harris always seemed like the most logical person to hurt Biden with African-Americans, and she is gone now,” Mr Kondik said. “I know Harris basically looked dead in the water before she got out, but you never knew what was going to happen.”