Kamala Harris Is Dropping Out of the Presidential Race

The California senator's once-promising campaign is over.
December 3, 2019, 6:14pm
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, in Atlanta.

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WASHINGTON — Kamala Harris is ending her once-promising presidential campaign.

The California senator told Iowa staff Tuesday that she was dropping out of the 2020 race, a source on the campaign confirmed to VICE News. Her bid for the presidency had once reached first-tier status before slowly bleeding support over the last few months.

“I’ve taken stock and looked at this from every angle, and over the last few days have come to one of the hardest decisions of my life,” she said in the email to supporters announcing her decision. “My campaign for president simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need to continue. I’m not a billionaire. I can’t fund my own campaign. And as the campaign has gone on, it’s become harder and harder to raise the money we need to compete.”

Harris, 55, had entered the campaign a juggernaut, drawing tens of thousands to her first rally in her East Bay home base and immediately posting strong fundraising numbers. She hired a team built to compete, including a vast swath of alumni from Hillary Clinton’s campaign. She also leaned hard into her Jamaican and Indian descent in hopes that her cultural identity would help her carve a path to the White House based on suburban women and black voters.

That message — and her background — helped her creep up in the polls and build a formidable fundraising base rooted equally in big and small donors. And it helped in the biggest moment of her campaign, when she directly attacked former Vice President Joe Biden during a June presidential debate for his opposition to requiring busing to integrate school systems.

Harris made the exchange personal by pointing out that she herself had been bused to school. And her well-rehearsed line — ”that little girl was me” — rang across the field and immediately appeared on campaign T-shirts with a photo of her as a child.

That vaulted Harris into second place in national polls, a huge post-debate bump. But she couldn’t sustain the enthusiasm.

Harris faced ongoing attacks from the left over her history as a prosecutor — “Kamala’s a cop” became a common refrain from liberal critics who highlighted her tough-on-crime measures while in office. That undercut her claims that she was a “progressive prosecutor” and hurt her efforts to woo nonwhite voters away from Biden.

Her “For the people” slogan sought to highlight her work as attorney general and district attorney in California, to argue she’d fought for the little guy (and especially the little gal) against predators of all stripes. And even her campaign color scheme and logo — yellow, orange, and purple — were an intentional call-out to Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for president.

“Our campaign uniquely spoke to the experiences of black women and people of color — and their importance to the success and future of this party. Our campaign demanded no one should be taken for granted by any political party,” she said in the her letter announcing the end of her campaign.

The senator spent an inordinate amount of time early in her campaign in African American-heavy South Carolina and Nevada at the expense of Iowa and New Hampshire. When it was clear that plan was failing, she shifted her strategy to go all-in on Iowa — “I’m fucking moving to Iowa,” she declared with a laugh to another senator in mid-September, not realizing a VICE reporter was within earshot.

But that desperate shift in strategy failed to yield results, and Harris couldn’t recreate the magic of the June debate in later exchanges, where her opponents were better prepared. After peaking around 15% in national polls, she’s been hovering around 5% in recent months.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s rise in the polls also cut into Harris’s support from voters looking for a Biden alternative, especially white suburban women in the early states. And a candidate and campaign that cycled through slogan after slogan and struggled to stick to a consistent message came off as too poll-tested to many other voters. A typical Harris proposal — raising average teacher pay — paled in comparison to big promises from Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), while her more progressive rhetoric and tone, especially on social issues, made her a hard sell with moderates.

In short, Harris tried to woo staunch liberals and moderates in the campaign — and wound up pleasing neither.

The bloated campaign team became too much of a financial burden for her to sustain as she plunged in the polls and saw donations slow. She raised more than $11 million in the last three months of the campaign through September, a solid number but less than what she’d brought in earlier. She’d already laid off numerous staff as a cost-cutting measure.

Harris was also starting to face criticism back in her home state — and some aids worried that if she got crushed in California, which votes early this year, it could open her up to a potential Senate primary challenge in two years. The decision to end her campaign allows her to avoid an embarrassing defeat back home — but also quashes her fading hopes at the White House.

Cover image: Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks during a Democratic presidential primary debate, Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)