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Kamala Harris drops out of the 2020 presidential race

The California senator cited fundraising troubles as a central reason for her decision.

Sen. Kamala Harris speaks during a rally launching her presidential campaign on January 27, 2019, in Oakland, California. 
Noah Berger/AFP/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Sen. Kamala Harris, following a sharp decline in recent polls, is dropping out of the 2020 race.

Harris, once seen as one of the most promising presidential candidates in the Democratic field, struggled to identify a distinct message, and had trouble connecting with voters as a result. She announced her decision via a Medium post on Tuesday, after telling staff earlier in the day.

“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,” Harris wrote. “My campaign for president simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need to continue. ... In good faith, I can’t tell you, my supporters and volunteers, that I have a path forward if I don’t believe I do.”

Harris had been a rumored presidential contender ever since she was elected to the Senate in 2016, and announced her candidacy to great fanfare during an Oakland rally this past January. She had a history-making record in political office, as the first black woman and the first Asian American woman to be San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general. As part of her campaign, she sought to highlight the contributions of women of color to the Democratic Party and boost other minority candidates, an effort she says she plans to continue focusing on.

“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,” she wrote. “Our campaign demanded no one should be taken for granted by any political party.”

Harris was strongest on the debate stage when discussing those issues; she enjoyed a surge over the summer after her stunning confrontation of Biden over his previous opposition to federally mandated busing — and her personal connection to the topic — during the June debate.

Her campaign, however, appears not have been prepared to navigate that momentary success, according to a New York Times report. This fall, she fielded criticism about its muddled strategy, abrupt firings of staffers, and unwillingness to fully confront her record as a prosecutor. On top of that, fundraising was proving to be a growing challenge for Harris, who brought in $11.6 million in the third quarter of 2019 compared to $24.6 million raised by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and $19 million raised by South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

In spite of the latest declines, Harris’s decision to drop out is somewhat surprising since she’s still polling ahead of most of the Democratic field and has qualified for the next debate later this month.

According to the RealClearPolitics polling average, Harris was firmly in the second tier of candidates when she decided to end her campaign. She was polling behind frontrunners including former Vice President Joe Biden but ahead of many others who are still in the race, including Sens. Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar. Still, her recent numbers, which put her at 3.4 percent on average, pale compared to the 15 percent polling high she once hit.

These declines, it seems, mirrored the disarray within her campaign, which opted to shift an overwhelming swath of resources to Iowa, where Harris was still meeting with voters over Thanksgiving.

Harris’s lack of a specific message was seen as hurting her candidacy

Though Harris had sought to build a broad coalition of voters, something she succeeded at during her Senate run, experts have said her unclear ideological positioning has prevented her from establishing a specific lane of support. Harris, who is viewed as more moderate than multiple leading candidates, has also tried to court progressive voters — with limited success.

One example: She backed Medicare-for-all, but then released a plan that doesn’t go quite as far as that of Sanders or Warren in eliminating private insurance. Additionally, Harris’s prosecutorial record has prompted critiques from liberals who argue that her approach toward issues such as truancy and wrongful convictions aren’t as progressive as she’s tried to frame them.

“She’s in a no person’s land,” San Jose State University political science professor Larry Gerston previously told Vox. “She is to the right of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, she’s to the left of Pete Buttigieg.”

Harris’s initial bet on bringing the party together had also yet to come to fruition, in part because of how crowded the field has been — and how her competitors have been able to hang onto their core contingencies of support. Harris had focused significant efforts on winning over more African American voters, especially in the crucial early primary state of South Carolina, but Biden has managed to keep a solid base of voters there.

Harris’s policies, too, were criticized for their lack of a clear focus, though several centered heavily on improving wages and economic mobility for the middle class. Her landmark proposal, the LIFT Act, would give middle-class households a monthly cash payment amounting to as much as $3,000 per year for single people and $6,000 per year for married couples. Other proposals aimed to increase wages for teachers and public defenders.

Harris also made gender equity a key prong of her political platform, pushing proposals that sought to curb restrictive state abortion laws, establish a federal paid family leave program and penalize companies that don’t address internal wage gaps. Harris’s plan to require states that have violated Roe v. Wade to obtain federal approval before adopting new abortion laws has garnered support from several other 2020 candidates.

Harris had a breakout moment in June but lacked consistency

The peak of Harris’s campaign came in mid-June when she took on Biden over the issue of using busing to desegregate schools. During a Democratic debate, she pressed him on his work alongside segregationists and opposition to busing.

The problem was, her subsequent debate performances and policy roll-outs weren’t quite consistent enough to sustain this enthusiasm. As a result, Harris saw her poll numbers continue to slide in the months since, coupled with media reports of internal turmoil on her campaign.

Before her run for the presidency, Harris was well-known for her role on the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioning Trump administration officials including Bill Barr and Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Her Senate term extends through 2022, when she’ll be up for reelection once again in California.

As a Morning Consult poll found, former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have the most to gain in support from Harris’s departure. A proportion of Harris backers have listed Biden and Warren as their second choice, while a smaller fraction have picked Sen. Bernie Sanders.

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