Why Kamala Harris’ campaign failed to gain traction


JUDY WOODRUFF: Three Democratic candidates
in three days have exited the Democratic race for president. With more than a dozen still remaining in
the race, John Yang reports on how the latest to bow out could reshape the campaign. JOHN YANG: Judy, California Senator Kamala
Harris launched her campaign in January amid high expectations. Today, as she left the race, she told supporters
in a video message that she doesn’t have the resources to compete. SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D-CA), Presidential Candidate:
I’m not a billionaire. I can’t fund my own campaign. And as the campaign has gone on, it has become
harder and harder to raise the money we need to compete. In good faith, I cannot tell you, my supporters
and volunteers, that I have a path forward if I don’t believe I do. JOHN YANG: To talk about what happened to
Senator Harris’ campaign and what her departure does to the race, I’m joined by Chelsea Janes
of The Washington Post. Chelsea, thanks so much for joining us. We began — the Democrats began this campaign
season with a historically diverse field of candidates. As things stand now, in the next debate, the
“PBS NewsHour”/Politico debate, you’re going to have six candidates on the stage, all of
them white, four white males, two white women. What does that say about what’s happening
in this race? CHELSEA JANES, The Washington Post: It is
certainly striking. And, today, we have seen a lot of candidates
and pundits and people in that world take to Twitter and point that out. I think it’s disappointing to a lot of people,
who — in these underrepresented groups that looked at someone like Kamala Harris and said,
you know, that’s the first person to look like me who is going to have a shot at this. And to have it whittle down as it has, I think,
on the one hand, you have the most diverse field in history, and, on the other, it’s
not shaping up to remain that way. And I think there’s a lesson to be learned
there. What it is, is far above my pay grade, but
I do think that it’s really disappointing to a lot of people in an increasingly diverse
Democratic electorate, who hoped that they would see somebody different represented this
time around. JOHN YANG: The other candidates may still
qualify for the debate, but that’s what the qualifications — who has qualified so far. As you say, Kamala Harris began this race
as a rising star in the party, a woman, one of the few women, African-American women,
in the Senate, mixed race. She tried to recreate the coalition that elected
Barack Obama. You were just in South Carolina last week
talking about her difficulties gaining traction. What happened to her race? What happened to her campaign? CHELSEA JANES: You know, I think it really
started with a bang. As we all know, she had over 20,000 people
in Oakland, still one of the biggest events of this entire campaign cycle. But I think what that did was sort of mask
for a lot of people sort of the reality of Kamala Harris as a relatively unknown figure
nationally. To those of us in the Beltway, who watch all
the hearings and know who she was from that, yes, she feels like she’s been around a bit. But I think, nationally, she had a lot of
introducing to do, and her campaign sort of had to operate more nationally, on a broader
scale, as if she were a front-runner and I think, eventually, sort of built out this
big operation that, when the polling dropped and the money wasn’t coming, it was too big
to sustain. And, you know, entering a Senate race in 2022
in a state as expensive as California, she can’t do go into debt. She can’t have something like that hanging
over her. So, I think this was a calculation that was
mostly financial, which is surprising. But I think, ultimately, they decided there’s
no reason to push this. We’re not seeing signs of progress. And what was once a really promising campaign
just wasn’t able to regain its footing. JOHN YANG: In your piece, you talked about
how she sort of wavered between the — never really defined herself, as part of the progressives,
part of the moderates. Talk about the difficulty she had sort of
defining herself. CHELSEA JANES: Yes. You know, I think it’s really interesting. You look at this field, you see Biden. You kind of know who Joe Biden is, and voters
say, oh, I know Joe. And Bernie Sanders, you know who Bernie Sanders
is. And Elizabeth Warren, with her 2 cents and
her big structural change, has sort of carved out a brand for herself. But Kamala Harris was never as easy to put
on a bumper sticker as some of the others and never found that message that really summed
up the brand in a word or two and made you know exactly who she was. And maybe it’s not fair to ask that of candidates,
but I think, in her case, in this time, people really wanted to see someone with clear intentions
and clear priorities. And as she tried to pitch herself as sort
of the one who would work on issues and be practical, not ideological, and as she tried
to thread the needle between sort of the moderates in the Democratic Party and Sanders and Warren
for the left, she sort of lost clarity in exactly who she was and why she was running. And I think one thing we have heard from voters
everywhere is that they want someone they can trust and someone whose intentions are
very clear. They want to know who these people are. And I don’t think she ever gave people the
answer they were looking for. JOHN YANG: Given that, with less than two
months to go before the first votes are cast, is there a candidate who would be a naturally
— natural recipient of her supporters now? CHELSEA JANES: It’s a great question. I have heard a lot of theories on that. But I — my understanding is that some of
their polling showed that her — people that supported Kamala Harris, their second choice,
it wasn’t a clear-cut thing. It came from a lot of places. I think you’re going to see some of it go
to Elizabeth Warren. I think there’s a large contingent of people,
kind of the suburban women that Harris was courting, that might find their way to her. I think Mayor Pete is obviously someone with
whom she’s had overlap. And I think, initially, it was Joe Biden that
her campaign really thought she’d have to sort of undermine to get those voters and
pry those voters away from him. So maybe he will be the recipient of some
of those voters. But I think it helps a variety of candidates,
and maybe isn’t necessarily a huge push for one over the other. JOHN YANG: Chelsea Janes of The Washington
Post, thanks so much. CHELSEA JANES: Thanks for having me.

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