The rise and fall of Kamala Harris has been dramatic. Her campaign got off to a very good start. Local police estimated that some 20,000 supporters attended her official launch back in January. Over the next 24 hours she followed up by tying the record for the most campaign contributions (set by Bernie Sanders). She seemed like a strong, aggressive candidate, who had a really good chance to win the nomination and who could possibly stand up to Donald Trump in the general. Moreover, in a year in which the Dems were emphasizing diversity she was a black female senator from the most populous state in the Union.
Her candidacy remained strong throughout the summer. During the first debate in June she impressed by directly confronting and out-debating Joe Biden on various issues, such as his role in bussing in the 1970s and shortcomings of Obamacare. To many observers, including this one, she made him look old, weak, tentative, unprepared, and out-of-touch. She appeared to be the big winner of the debate, not only of her one-on-one with Biden, but also, overall. This assessment was confirmed by her 6-9% rise in the polls immediately afterward. She appeared to be in the upper echelon of contenders, along with Biden, Sanders and Warren. It appeared she would remain in serious contention all the way to the end with a decent chance to win the nomination.
Now, just a few months later, her campaign is in serious trouble. Recently, a piece from Reuters described her as a “once rising star” who has become an “afterthought.” According to a recently-released Berkeley IGS poll her support among likely Dem voters has dropped to 8%, compared to 21% as recently as June. By comparison, the Big 3 – Warren, Biden, and Sanders – came in at 29%, 20% and 19%, respectively. Even worse, Harris is polling a distant fourth in her home state of CA, again, behind the Big 3, despite the fact that Warren and Biden have not even opened campaign offices in the state yet.
In Iowa she has slipped to fifth after being a solid second as recently as July. According to a poll by the Des Moines Register her support among likely Dem voters has slipped to a paltry 6%, behind not only the Big 3 but also Pete Buttigieg. Not good, particularly since Harris’ campaign had stated its goal was to finish third in the state.
It should be noted that despite its small size Iowa is a significant state, simply because it is the first to vote. To a large extent, it sets the tone for the rest of the campaign. For example, some of you may recall that Barack Obama’s campaign received a substantial boost after he put on a late surge to finish third there in 2008. In fact, since 1972 no candidate has won his party’s nomination without having finished in the top 3 in the Iowa caucuses.
Harris is cognizant of the significance of the state and her need to step it up.
Jeff Link, Democratic strategist and co-founder of the progressive group “Focus on Rural America,” has iterated her need to increase her emphasis on rural voters, not only to win the nomination but the general as well. In response, Harris announced plans to beef up her staff in the state, add ten campaign offices, and commence bus tours to reach rural voters.
Perhaps more significantly, she has also been slipping in the area of fundraising, which, as we know, is the lifeblood of any campaign. For example, her campaign only raised $11.6 million in the third quarter, less than half of Sanders’ total, and even less than Buttigieg’s. These are all ominous signs.
So, what happened? Why is Harris’ campaign fizzling? In my view, there are many reasons, such as:
1. Tepid performances in the second and third debates. Of course, the format of the debates and the large number of participants makes it very hard for any one participant to stand out. Harris found a way to do so in the first debate, but she lost a lot of momentum following the next two. In particular, she struggled to defend certain of her actions as CA state prosecutor and “sell” her healthcare policy.
2. She has had a light campaign schedule, preferring to focus on fundraising, which, as I mentioned above, has not been successful anyway. As a result, she has not campaigned sufficiently in Iowa, NH and SC, which with its substantial AA population, is crucial to her candidacy. She is not likely to do well in Iowa and NH, but she must do well in SC to have any chance.
3. Her name recognition is well below the Big 3. They have been in the national limelight for many years. On the other hand, Harris, though known in CA, has only been in the Senate for three years.
4. Perhaps most troubling for her, is that many voters, such as Texas’ Austin Healy, have told pollsters that they are not sure “what she stands for.”
5. I view the last two as very problematic as they are not easily correctible, particularly with the crowded field and the impeachment investigation, which, for better or for worse, will likely suck up much of the media’s and voters’ attention throughout the campaign.
We have all known the current field of 20 or so is way too crowded, and it would eventually be winnowed to a few survivors, perhaps three or four. Although it is still early, no votes have actually been cast yet, and she still has a chance to resurrect her campaign, it appears that Harris will not be one of those survivors.