Kamala Harris suspended her presidential campaign on Tuesday, a stunning reversal of fortunes for a candidate once seen as star contender to take on Donald Trump and become the first African-American woman to win the White House.
A Democratic senator from California, Ms. Harris, 55, launched her bid to great fanfare in January, drawing a crowd of nearly 20,000 to her hometown of Oakland, Calif. But her campaign was riven with internal strife that spilled out publicly last week in several reports of widespread layoffs and low morale among her remaining staffers.
She saw her national support slide into the single digits – with some recent polls showing her trailing even former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who entered the race only a week ago. Her campaign raised less than US$12-million in the third quarter, well behind Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
In a video statement to her supporters, Ms. Harris blamed her faltering campaign on a lack of money to compete with wealthy opponents – a reference to Mr. Bloomberg and California hedge-fund manager Tom Steyer, both with hefty self-financed campaigns.
“Here’s the deal guys, my campaign simply does not have the financial resources to continue,” she said. “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.”
Her decision is major blow to the Democratic race, where Ms. Harris was once seen as a successor to former president Barack Obama – a close political ally – with the potential to re-energize a party whose base is increasingly made up of non-white and female voters.
The mixed-race daughter of immigrant academics, Ms. Harris picked up some French while spending her high-school years in Montreal, where her mother conducted cancer research at McGill University. Her campaign started with strong polling numbers, a large fundraising haul and a solid performance in early televised debates.
But Ms. Harris was soon criticized for lacking a consistent strategy on how to target early-voting states such as Iowa and New Hampshire, along with her home state of California. She changed her stands on issues such as universal health care and climate change policy, and faced concerns that she had not been able to define herself ideologically within a Democratic Party split between moderates and progressives.
While Ms. Harris pointed toward fundraising struggles, some of her supporters blamed the failure of her campaign on sexism and racism, raising questions about the future of the Democratic race, which now features a slate of white and predominantly male front-runnners.
“We can’t tell the story about Kamala Harris 2020 without speaking of sexism, ‘misogynoir’ and big money in politics,” said Christine Pelosi, the daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who chairs the women’s caucus of the California Democrats.
Julian Castro, a former Obama administration official running against Ms. Harris, blamed her fall on critical media coverage that “held her to a different standard, a double standard [that] has been grossly unfair and unfortunate.”
Competitors in the Democratic primary praised Ms. Harris even as some sought to use her announcement to boost their own campaign. Former vice-president Joe Biden, who sparred publicly with Ms. Harris on issues of race, said he had “mixed emotions” about the end of her candidacy, calling Ms. Harris “a first-rate candidate.” Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren cast herself as someone who can stop the sort of big-money politics that forced Ms. Harris out. “Kamala is right – our system is deeply broken when billionaires can buy their way in. I’ll fight with you to make sure our government works for all of us,” she wrote on Twitter.
Polls show Ms. Harris’s supporters are likely to shift toward either Ms. Warren or Mr. Biden – boosting momentum for the two leading candidates heading into primaries in February, while raising questions about how the party can appeal to diverse voters. “You’re going to see pressure on these candidates to speak to the issues that matter to African-American voters, Latino voters, to Asian voters,” said Jason McDaniel, a political scientist at San Francisco State University. “But this is not the voters in the Democratic Party saying we don’t like candidates of colour.”
Ms. Harris’s announcement comes only weeks ahead of a Democratic debate in Los Angeles, for which she had already qualified. But analysts say that by dropping out early, Ms. Harris likely made a calculated choice to preserve her reputation and avoid a poor showing in her home state, where she was polling in fourth place. Her endorsement now could help the eventual Democratic nominee, paving the way for Ms. Harris to become a pick for vice-president or U.S. attorney-general. “She will be in all of those conversations,” Mr. McDaniel said.
Follow Tamsin McMahon on Twitter @tamsinrm