Kamala Harris' 2020 presidential dream died too early but her race and gender are only part of the reason
The California senator cited lack of funds as the main reason behind pulling out, but there are a few more reasons why her promising campaign fizzled out even before the election year started
Less than 11 months ago, Kamala Harris had seen a promising start to her presidential campaign. Over 20,000 people had assembled at the launch of the California senator’s mission to occupy the White House.
However, on Tuesday, December 3, Harris decided to suspend her campaign. It was a disappointing end for many as Harris was seen as one of the top contenders when the race began. There are also others who felt that the politician of Jamaican-Indian ancestry was destined to meet such an outcome.
Harris’ declaration that she was ending her campaign was sudden, but the situation had been getting unfavorable for some time.
Recently, one of her top campaign aides Kelly Mehlenbacher stepped down alleging that Harris’ team was not treating its staff members well after the campaign started laying off employees. The campaign could not address the staff members’ concern satisfactorily but it was clear that Harris was struggling with the funds.
The fear was validated when she said in her parting statement that she is not a billionaire and could not fund her own campaign.
Besides the challenge of funding, Harris also had another potential threat to take care of.
Although she had qualified for the December 19 Democratic debate, Harris still chose to pull out a few weeks before the deadline of withdrawal for presidential candidates for the California primary that is scheduled on March 3.
Harris could foresee her campaign’s fall and did not want to jeopardize her future political plans by ending among the also-rans in her own state. The latest polls have placed newcomer Michael Bloomberg ahead of Harris after Mehlenbacher joined his camp.
“She (Harris) was down in the polls, her fundraising dried up and she didn’t want to be on the California ballot and come in fifth or sixth,” Bob Shrum, a former political consultant who worked for the presidential campaigns of Al Gore and John Kerry, told USA Today.
Some analysts, including Shrum, also feel that Harris opted for a graceful exit after lowering her target realistically.
Now, she could still be in the hunt for the vice president’s post or end up bagging a top administrative post if the Democrats return to the White House in 2021.
In the recent past, the likes of Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton have been seen doing the same.
Torn between the Democratic left and center
Another factor that adversely affected Harris’ campaign is that she could not create a uniqueness of her own candidature.
She started off well and received a grand audience in the first Democratic debate in Miami in June. Given the Democratic Party has a massive support base in black women (96 percent of them had voted for Hillary in 2016), Harris looked a natural choice for them. Her supporters were looking up to her to complete Shirley Chisholm’s unfinished presidential project of the early 1970s and recreate the magical touch of Barack Obama.
But the dream shattered far too early.
Daniel Henninger, the deputy editor at the Wall Street Journal, told Fox News: “It was predictable”. He said one needed to ask why Harris, a freshman senator from California was contesting in the first place. Digging deeper into her premature end, the veteran journalist said Harris was clearly caught between the Democratic Center which was occupied by the likes of Biden and the Democratic Left where Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were standing strong. “She ended up losing both,” he added.
Failure to connect with voters
Former DC Democratic Party chairman Alan Bolden was of the opinion that Harris failed to connect with the voters and build a coalition the way a winning formula demands. “What I believe in...” is the question that Harris needed to answer convincingly to cement her grip, he said on Fox.
To elaborate Bolden’s observation, Harris had a terrific encounter with Biden in Miami over the issue of federally mandated busing that saw her ratings shoot up. But she could not build on the early momentum thereafter. Her changed position on the same issue later and the failure to set up a credible alternative found her getting stagnant and eventually made the campaign unsustainable.
Some thought she could have built her case on issues of criminal justice on which she had worked as California’s attorney general but even that came under attack from fellow Democratic candidates like Tulsi Gabbard.
Changing her strategy, Harris took to connect with smaller groups later but that too didn't deliver.
Refocusing on impeachment proceedings
For many, Harris did the right thing by taking a timely call. As the presidential impeachment procedure inches towards the next stages that would keep the senators busy, Harris decided to divert focus on that instead of a shaky campaign.
From the way she hit back at President Donald Trump for saying she would see him at his trial after the president took a jibe following her withdrawal, the message goes to her supporters that Harris is committed to her party’s ultimate cause, which is to see the end of Trump—her own wobbly campaign notwithstanding.
Gender and color
Finally, gender and color did play their roles in Harris’ failure.
In Trump’s America, the question of ‘electability’ is something that requires careful consideration. A black woman’s electability in today’s US might not seem as great to the anti-Trump camp, especially after the 2016 outcome when a woman was trying to make history after a black man did.
Niambi Carter, a political science professor at Howard University who spoke to Vox about Harris, said: “For many folks in the media and the public, Harris is not the prototypical candidate. She is not white; she is not old; and she is not male. This belief cannot help but to penetrate the general public’s perceptions of Harris, and for those still reeling from the 2016 election, they don’t want to risk it all again on a person like Kamala Harris.”