Yet after climbing into double digits in opinion polls following a strong debate performance in June, Harris slid out of the top tier in recent months and lags behind leading candidates’ fundraising hauls.
Her campaign suffered from what allies and critics viewed as an inconsistent message. Her slogan “for the people” referred to her career as a prosecutor, a record the campaign struggled to pitch to the party’s most progressive voters.
Through the summer, she focused on pocketbook issues and her “3 a.m. agenda,” a message that never seemed to resonate with voters.
By the fall, she had returned to her courtroom roots with the refrain that “justice is on the ballot,” both a cry for economic and social justice and a suggestion that she could “prosecute the case” against a “criminal” president.
There were also public complaints by former staffers that her staff was being treated poorly.
“She just hasn’t quite satisfactorily answered the ‘what makes you better than the other candidates’ question,” said a longtime aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “That’s the underlying biggest thing. She hasn’t quite sufficiently explained her rationale for herself.”
Joel Payne, an African-American strategist who worked for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential campaign, said Harris failed to find her own identity as she tried to own the space on the political spectrum between progressives such as U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and moderates such as former vice-president Joe Biden.”
I think she probably ended up alienating both camps,” he said.
Harris had qualified for the upcoming December debate, which will be held in her home state. Her departure could leave a stage of only white competitors. Two minority candidates, U.S. Senator Cory Booker and former federal housing chief Julian Castro, remain in the race but neither has qualified for the debate.
Payne said Harris exited the race at the right time before potentially embarrassing losses, which will help her preserve her political future.
He could envision several remaining candidates, including Warren, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, or even Biden choosing her as their vice-presidential nominee.
Joe Biden says he has ‘mixed emotions’ on hearing that Kamala Harris has dropped out of the Democratic presidential race. 0:21
Harris will remain California’s junior senator until her term ends, but vowed in her email Tuesday to “do everything in my power to defeat Donald Trump and fight for the future of our country and the best of who we are.”