California Senator Kamala Harris’s once very promising race to become president is likely to be ending soon.
Barring a dramatic turnaround in her fund raising which has gone into steep decline, I’m guessing she will be forced to withdraw before the new year.
Poll ratings rise and fall but presidential campaigns cannot survive without continuous injections of fresh cash. With so many Democrats competing for the big prize, there is only so much that can go around.
Her low single digit ratings in both the national and the all-important first-in-the-nation Iowa polls is not helpful and the decision to practically take up residence and move large numbers of her campaign staff to the state may have come too late.
Presidential campaigns are an intricate mix of strategy decisions, personnel changes, accurate assessments of the strengths and weaknesses of one’s opponents, sound publicity and pure opportunism.
Add to that a simple dose of good luck. Fall short on any of them and you are playing catch-up ever after.
When things go awry the blame game is sure to occur. In Harris’s case the fingers are being pointed squarely at her campaign manager, Juan Rodriquez, and to a lesser degree, her highly opinionated and influential sister who emerged as a chief advisor.
With many clashing views among quarreling staffers, it is hardly that simple.
Regardless, lose or win, history only remembers the candidates. And when mistakes are made, it is the candidate who will be held responsible.
As Pres. John F. Kennedy famously opined, “Victory has 100 fathers and failure is an orphan.”
The Senator has the benefit of numerous advisors brainy or otherwise from her days as San Francisco’s fast-rising District Attorney and as the State’s crusading Attorney General.
As both the first woman and only one of black-Jamaican descent in these offices she was making waves well before her presidential run.
President Barack Obama to whom she has been likened, labelled her in 2013 the “the best-looking Attorney General in the country”—a controversial comment taken by some as belittling for which he later apologized.
Harris has ample talents which whether or not get her to the Oval Office make her a force to be reckoned with as Donald Trump has already discovered.
During the Senate impeachment trial which an early departure would enable her to participate in more fully, they are likely to be on full display again.
Harris’s up-hill and ultimately successful run for the U.S. Senate was evidence that she has been apparently receiving plenty of good advice and taking it.
But her meteoric rise has more to do with her own sharp prosecutorial skills and her sure instincts about what the voters wanted to hear.
They appear to have abandoned her in her current quest as she has strived to fashion a punchy message leading off with the words, “Justice is on the ballot” that was working well at first. Her crime-fighting skills and other reforms she brought to California were her strongest suit.
For reasons unknown her confidence in her record lapsed.
The message became increasingly muddled as she vacillated on the predominant issue of healthcare reform appearing one day to be siding with the more radical “Medicare for All” approach being pushed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and then on the next making a 180 degree turn.
If there is one thing voters distrust most it is ideological haziness and equivocation—qualities that can cancel out progress when the principal objective should be gaining loyal followers.
The “progressive” candidates have not wavered in their views and—including two “moderates”—South Bend, Indiana’s Mayor Pete Buttigieg and former Vice President, Joe Biden, they are the runaway frontrunners at this stage.
One of them could be their party’s choice.
The decision of the Harris forces coming out of the gate to ignore Iowa and New Hampshire—small but crucial states with a majority of white voters– and instead concentrate on the 4th primary in South Carolina, which is much more populous and home to a very large black electorate—appears now to have been a major tactical error.
For one thing it failed to take into account the enormous popularity which Biden still enjoys among black voters in the Palmetto state and elsewhere in the Deep South.
Since 1976 when Jimmy Carter won, no Democratic candidate has ever won the nomination without winning in either or both Iowa and New Hampshire with the exception of Bill Clinton in 1992.
Whoever in her campaign recommended they skip these elections and why will be a moot point if Harris is decisively beaten in these pivotal contests.
It is boiling down to a four-way race with no room for Harris with Buttigieg in surprisingly top position.
But if after the most realistic assessments of her chances going forward her team misses the mark, she may have a bigger concern.
Harris has until late December to take herself off the California ballot which holds its election March 3. A defeat in her home state would be humiliating and could hurt not just any future presidential prospects but her reelection campaign in 2022 would be sure to draw challengers.
Garry South, a veteran strategist who advised Governors Gavin Newson and Gray Davis among others advises, you pull out before the primary like Jerry Brown did in 1980 … and you at least avoid the spectacle of being decisively rejected.”
Speaking to 5000 cheering Democrats at the party’s convention in Long Beach just two weeks ago, Harris showed no signs of any quit:
“We have to focus on the real issues in front of us. We’ve got an impeachment hearing going on, we’ve got a criminal living in the White House, we’ve got immigrants who are afraid of leaving their homes. We’ve got the 2020 census coming up. … That’s where my head is focused.”
Those are the kind fighting words with which she launched her campaign firing up a record-breaking crowd of 22,000 in Oakland back in February.
The Senator’s readiness to take on Trump may have scored its biggest moment when in that early debate she confronted Biden on his views about bus desegregation that saw her poll ratings skyrocket. Then, just as quickly all the momentum fizzled.
In the ensuing debates very little of that luster if any was restored. If she does not withdraw, Harris will have one more opportunity to state her case at the December 19th presidential debate in Los Angeles for which she has qualified.
At this level of competition with such enormous stakes there are few second chances. Harris may have already used them up.