After the first Democratic presidential debate, Kamala Harris looked as likely as anyone in the field to capture the nomination. Her well-timed and well-rehearsed attack on Joe Biden over school busing dominated the post-debate analysis. In the polls, it boosted her from the third tier to the second, alongside Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and seemed to give her the momentum to make a run at Biden, then the undisputed frontrunner.
Now, just a few months later, Harris’s campaign seems doomed. In most polls, she comes in at less than 5 percent both nationally and in the early states. According to a brand new poll by the New York Times, Harris is in sixth place in Iowa, with only 3 percent support.
Because of her fading poll numbers, fundraising has become more difficult. Harris did raise $11.6 million in the most recent fundraising period, but Sanders, Warren and Pete Buttigieg all raised more. And Harris spent more than she raised last quarter.
In response, Harris has decided to lay off most of her staff in New Hampshire. Some staffers reportedly have been sent to other states, Iowa especially, but most are simply being cut loose.
Harris is closing all three of her New Hampshire field offices. I don’t know how one can make a serious run at the presidential nomination without a serious campaign apparatus in the state that holds the first primary. Rudy Giuliani certainly didn’t make this approach work in 2008.
What happened to Harris? In a sense, her attack on Biden was fool’s gold. It centered on the issue of school busing. The attack sounded good out of her mouth, but then people realized that she was on the wrong side of that issue.
Then come Tulsi Gabbard’s devastating attack on Harris in the second debate. It was bound to set Harris back.
But does it explain a drop in support of roughly two-thirds — from about 15 percent at Harris’s peak to less than 5 percent? Biden did not suffer a decline like this after Harris worked him over in the first debate, and he has since regained a fair amount of his support.
Perhaps a better analogy is to Marco Rubio. Chris Christie did a number on him during one of the GOP debates in 2016, and Rubio never fully recovered. However, he experienced nothing like the decline in support Harris has suffered.
Part of Harris’s problem is that there isn’t much ideological space for her. Democrats who want a hard leftist will tend to back Sanders or Warren. Democrats who want a non-threatening, more moderate sounding candidate will tend to back Biden.
Harris has tried to fill the space between Sanders/Warren and Biden. This seems like a good idea in theory, but it hasn’t worked. Instead, she has come off as wishy-washy. In the end, there is neither an ideological nor an electoral case for Harris.
The most interesting question now is whether Harris has a shot at the vice presidential nomination. Before the first debate, I considered her an ideal running mate for Joe Biden. A Biden-Harris ticket would be balanced in terms of race, gender, age, geography, and (to some degree) ideology.
But would Biden nominate the woman who tried so hard to derail him in the first debate? If so, has Biden been sufficiently impressed by Harris’s faltering candidacy to view her as the asset she once appeared to be?
The second question also applies if the nominee is someone other than Biden.
Poor performance on the presidential campaign trail doesn’t always exclude a candidate from a place on the ticket. Biden knows this well. He got the nod from Barack Obama despite his weak run for the nomination in 2007.
I think Harris still has a shot at the second spot on the ticket. However, she no longer has a shot at the first spot, and her shot at the second has grown longer.