In what’s been by far the biggest withdrawal of the 2020 Democratic Primary, Kamala Harris has dropped out of the presidential race. Once the oddsmakers’ favorite for the nomination, her campaign has been in a death spiral since midsummer. The straw that broke the California Senator’s back was Presidential Politics for America’s scathing assessment of her campaign, which compared her to the “Twelve Days of Christmas” — the holiday season’s most annoying song — one day earlier.
Indeed, PPFA’s distaste for her campaign was rivaled only by its hostility for Beto O’Rourke (and look at that, they’re both gone!), mostly due to their lack of preparedness to run for the country’s most important office. Let’s see how PPFA charted Harris’s descent, starting with the first post after my summer break:
- September 2 Power Rankings: “Her most prominent attack on Biden — that decades ago he did not support busing — ended up being her position too. Her health care position debuted to confusion. By the time of the second debate, she had lost her swagger, and it showed. . . . I continue to think she’s just as likely to be the Marco Rubio of this primary.”
- September 14 third debate review: “Harris, meanwhile, has me rolling my eyes during nearly all of her responses. I can’t believe I was so recently impressed by her. She’s since been far too coy, like someone trying to be cute and clever but instead coming across as misdirectional — a charming magician who’s masking something. On Thursday, Harris kept falling into a circuitous, lazy, evasive response. She sometimes had jarring mood-changes from sassy to gravely serious. (At one point she needled Biden with a “Yes We Can” remark, followed by laughing, followed by talking about looking at autopsy photos with grieving mothers.) We know why people use misdirection; she probably doesn’t want us paying attention to the fact that she has the vaguest policy positions of anyone on stage.”
- October 7 “Spooooky” Power Rankings: “What’s she scared of? What we’re all scared of — people discovering we’re a fraud.”
- October 16 fourth debate review: “If I HAD to rank a top three and bottom three, it’s 1) Buttigieg, 2) Sanders, 3) Klobuchar… 10) Warren, 11) Harris, 12) O’Rourke.”
- October 21 Iowa post: “[E]verything continues to go wrong for once odds-on favorite Kamala Harris. She’s on course for total irrelevance.”
- November 20 fifth debate preview: “[T]he problem with trying to please all sides is that you truly please none. (Kamala Harris can tell you all about that.) “
- November 21 fifth debate review: “Harris went after Gabbard, which Democrats will like, but she wasn’t particularly good at it. . . . When the moderators threw it back to Harris, she trudged out a vague, substance-less stump speech excerpt centered around ‘I believe that what our nation needs right now is a nominee who can speak to all people.'”
- And finally, the December 2 Power Rankings: “The most annoying Christmas carol goes to Kamala Harris, the most annoying candidate in the field. Now that Beto O’Rourke is gone, no remaining candidate makes me roll my eyes more than Kamala Harris. She’s relied on substanceless charisma too long. She ferociously charged into this primary, but she’s proven to be a paper tiger.”
This bad candidate saw her campaign slowly lose altitude in national and early state polling. Even her own home state, whose colossally large delegation to the national convention was supposed to be her ace in the hole, never got behind her.
Concomitant with her poor polling was lagging fundraising. Indeed, in her withdrawal announcement, she specifically vented that she’s not one of the billionaires that could self-fund, an overt swipe at Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, the latter of whom quickly passed her in polling and the more relevant PPFA Power Rankings, which likely sealed her decision. Still, the fact that she, a Senator from the country’s most populous state and one of the most prominent candidates in the race, couldn’t even outraise several of the non-billionaires should end the search for blame at her mirror. (And she conveniently left out the part that no Democrat had more billionaire donors than she did.)
Still, as the most high-profile dropout so far, we can consider how the field will fill that vacuum. Her 95 high-profile Democratic endorsements trailed only Biden, so those 95 will need a new home. As for average voters, she was still polling nearly four points, which can be valuable if one or two candidates are the primary beneficiaries. Perhaps Klobuchar can sponge up some female support and move up a significant, momentum-building point or two in Iowa. Or maybe her supporters will look to Warren, providing a badly needed tourniquet around her hemorrhaging numbers. Indeed, in this week’s Morning Consult’s national poll, Warren was cited as the most frequent “second choice” of Harris supporters.
It could also be a Booker miracle. On Monday, I noted the improbability he would qualify for December 19’s sixth Democratic debate. (He has until December 12 to get four national and/or early state polls of at least 4 percent or two early state polls at 6 percent; in the first seven weeks of the applicable polling window, he has precisely zero of each.) Harris’s withdrawal from the campaign also means she’s withdrawing from the sixth debate, which draws attention to a conspicuously pale debate stage — without Harris, of the six remaining candidates to qualify so far (Biden, Sanders, Warren, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Steyer), all are white. That’s in a party that’s 40 percent non-white, including about a quarter black.
In recent months, it’s actually been Julian Castro who’s tried to bring attention to this disconnect. He’s criticized the role of Iowa and New Hampshire, two overwhelmingly white states, in picking nominees of this heavily minority party. It’s obviously a pitch to Nevada and South Carolina, with their heavily Latino and African American electorates voting third and fourth, respectively, but it has the merit of being a reasonable charge against DNC and against tradition. Castro is well out of contention at this point, but if this message connects now that Harris is out, I can see enough African American voters saying, “Well, let’s at least get Cory on stage.” Though it’s likely too late for the December debate, I can see him sticking around to see if the impacts will be felt by January’s.
Finally, some wonder why Harris has dropped out so early. Sure, her polls are deteriorating and she’s having trouble raising funds, but none of the top four have pulled away, and there’s about ten serious candidates doing worse than her. Why not hang around and hope for one of those classic late Iowa surges?
Well, I think she continues to be one of the two likeliest VP picks for Biden, Sanders, and Buttigieg. Heck, we can now throw in Bloomberg, too. That’s four of the top five candidates. (And it wouldn’t be impossible for Warren either.) She offers a tremendous demographic complement to each of those candidates, particularly if Democrats want to run up the score in urban areas and with suburban women. She also hails from a state that would obviously turn to another Democrat were she to vacate her Senate seat.
If she had hung in the race until disappointing Iowa and/or New Hampshire finishes, she’d look a lot worse as a running mate. Moreover, the looming deadline for removing one’s name from the California Primary ballot likely nudged her to drop out now before she was locked into an embarrassing showing in her home state. At least now she has some measure of dignity, emphasis on some.