Kamala Harris’s Failure Had Nothing To Do With Her Race

Kamala Harris didn't fail because of her race, she failed because she was a bad candidate.

Debbie Hines, a former Baltimore prosecutor who supported California Senator Kamala Harris in her bid for the Democratic nomination, argues that Harris’s bid failed because of bias against her as a black woman:

It’s ironic that black women are considered the backbone of the Democratic party and Kamala Harris, as the only black woman running for president, suspends her presidential bid.

The media panders to other contenders including Pete Buttigieg, who has just around 1% of support from African Americans, and Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden. But it denied the same coverage for Kamala Harris. As an African American woman and former prosecutor, I see the media making the choice for the people and not the other way around like the way it should be. It’s like the tail wagging the dog.

Black women know that we must work twice as hard and be twice as good as a white man to get half as much. And Ms. Harris’ credentials were at least twice as good as that of Mr. Buttigieg. In California, Ms. Harris served two terms as San Francisco’s district attorney and became the first woman and person of color to serve as California’s attorney general. Upon being elected to serve in the U.S. Senate, she became only the second black woman elected to that laudable office. Ms. Harris’ skillful performance questioning Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing foreshadowed what a debate between her and President Donald Trump might look like. She made Mr. Kavanaugh uncomfortable and even cringe with her strong, direct and intense questioning. I would put her up against Mr. Trump any day.

Meanwhile, Mr. Buttigiegmayor of South Bend, Ind., since 2012, is a war veteran and Rhodes Scholar. That is all admirable, but he has no state or national experience under his belt. And South Bend, with a population of about 102,000 hardly qualifies as big city experience. Yet, Mayor Pete became a media darling. Imagine what the media would say about a black woman running for president with Mr. Buttigieg’s scant credentials. A Bloomberg news article compared Ms. Harris’ run for president to Marco Rubio. I am not sure what parallel the reporter was trying to make. Whatever anyone may say about Ms. Harris, she is no Mr. Rubio.

I don’t know how closely Hines actually followed the 2016 Republican nomination fight or how much she actually knows about national politics, but the analogy between Senator Rubio and Senator Harris is actually fairly apt. More importantly, the circumstances surrounding the collapse of their respective campaigns is remarkably similar such that the analogy that seems to puzzle Hines is readily apparent. While Hines, a former Harris supporter, appears to argue that Harris’s resume made her more qualified than Rubio was, the two entered their respective nomination fights with roughly equal qualifications. Whereas Harris had spent seven years as the City Attorney for San Francisco and six years as Attorney General of California before being elected Senator in 2016, Rubio spent eight years as a member of Florida’s House of Representatives, including two as Speaker of the House, before being elected Senator in 2010 and re-elected in 2016.

More important than their resumes, though, the similarities between Harris’s and Rubio’s campaigns are quite remarkable. Both candidates entered the race with anticipation from the base of their respective parties, as well as many pundits, that they would be the voice of a new generation of party leaders. Additionally, while both candidates had brief periods of success where it seemed as though they might actually become contenders for the nomination, it quickly became apparent that neither one of them appeared to have the staying power needed to get to that point. For Rubio, there was a time in 2015 when it briefly appeared as if he would be able to pose a challenge to Donald Trump only to fall back. Later, after voting started and it became apparent that Rubio had no real plan to actually win anywhere, his campaign quickly faded from memory. Harris, meanwhile, had her moment in the sun in the immediate aftermath of the first debate and her confrontation with Joe Biden. That event caused her to briefly rise in the polls only to start falling back as her campaign was overtaken by her flip-flops on issues like her health care plan and other issues. Once Harris started to slip in the polls over the summer, she never again found a way to claw her way back while candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg were able to spark interest among voters, much to Harris’s detriment.

It is, in fact, Pete Buttigieg’s rise that seems to bother Hines the most:

Sadly, Sen. Harris couldn’t survive the media favoritism of Mr. Buttigieg, among other things. Perhaps, if Ms. Harris could have cut in on the media’s cheek-to-cheek dance with the small town mayor, she might still be in the race for president. We hope the remaining candidates don’t forget the African American vote. Whoever receives the Democratic nomination for president must engage African American voters, particularly black women, to receive wide support to win.

Hines is correct in her argument that, at least on paper, Harris was far more qualified than Buttigieg for the Presidency, but being qualified on paper is only part of the equation. To succeed a candidate must also connect with voters and others in a way that makes them seem like the type of candidate who has a real chance of winning an election. This is especially true during the period before voting starts that we’ve been in so far this year. In that respect, it seems clear that Buttigieg was better at that than Harris was. That’s not the doing of the media, that’s a reflection of the kind of campaigner that Harris was and Buttigieg still is. To blame that on the media is clearly excuse-making on Hines’s part.

Hines is similarly correct to point out Buttigieg’s lack of support among African-American voters, something I’ve pointed out before. At the same time, though, Harris herself didn’t exactly resonate with that voting demographic either. In a Quinnipiac national poll taken in November, for example, Harris was garnering just five percent from African-American voters while former Vice-President Biden received the support of 43% of that demographic, Senator Bernie Sanders received 11%, and Senator Elizabeth Warren received. Buttigieg, meanwhile, was just behind Harris with 4% support among African-Americans. In another Quinnipiac poll from the same period in South Carolina, the first primary state with a significant African-American population, Harris received the support of 6% of Palmetto State African-American Democrats while Biden received 44%, Sanders 10%, and Warren 2%.

How, exactly, does Hines explain Harris’s failure to resonate among African-Americans? Is it another media conspiracy, or is it because those voters did not perceive her to be a good enough candidate to represent their party against President Trump in the fall? As with Senator Cory Booker and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro, Hines seems to be arguing that Harris was entitled to the support of African-Americans, and especially African-American women, because of her racial background. That strikes me as a view of voters that, if it reflects how the Harris campaign itself felt, is perhaps the best explanation for why Harris ultimately failed. No candidate is entitled to anyone’s support, you have to work for it. Harris failed to do that, and that’s why her campaign failed.

FILED UNDER: Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    I really like Harris…but Doug is absolutely right. She ran a shitty campaign. End of story.
    Depending on who gets the ultimate nod as Presidential Candidate, she may make a good VP.
    But it depends on who the candidate is, if they’ll make a god match.

  2. CSK says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: I think Warren has her eye on Harris.

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    Yep, @Doug is right. Black voters are what, about a third of the primary electorate? More than enough to have kept Harris afloat. Instead the AA vote seems to be sticking with Joe. That’s not racism, though I can see how some on the confused far Left would think it was. The far Left – the white college vote – has gone all the way around the bend into adopting racialist ideas in the guise of identity politics. I’ve been arguing with these people for years now making the point that you cannot have identity politics for groups A, B and C without allowing identity politics for groups D, E and F.

    Meanwhile, the putative beneficiaries of identity politics, African Americans, aren’t playing ball. They refuse to play the college Left’s game because they are experienced, pragmatic voters and not suburban white kids who just came out of a seminar where they learned for the first time of the existence of racism. You’d think a crowd that coined the term ‘white saviors’ would look in a mirror and realize that’s the exact role they are playing, appropriating the unique experience of African Americans in US history and tying to wedge it into ideologically-fueled narratives that end up disrespecting the choices made by actual black voters.

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  4. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I am not paying much attention to the DEM primary fight at this point. There are just too many candidates to waste my time with it. Besides, if the DEMs nominated Attila the Hun I’d vote for him over trump. Harris is out for the same reason Bullock, Beto, Gillibrand, and Hickenlooper are. She didn’t connect with voters.

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  5. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @CSK:
    Two women on the ticket…call me cynical.

  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Do you think African Americans see Biden as carrying on Obama’s legacy? And do you think they will will accept anyone who ultimately makes it to the ticket?

  7. CSK says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: Yeah, I know. I wish I could remember where I read that. It could be true.

  8. CSK says:

    Harris herself might be looking to be Biden’s v.p. From her standpoint, it’s a good gamble. He wins, then has to resign after 2 years or so because of ill health or the general debility of old age. Voila: She becomes president.

  9. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @CSK:

    Harris herself might be looking to be Biden’s v.p.

    I’d like her as Biden’s VP…if I liked Biden as President.

  10. John Burke says:

    Got that right, Doug. At the outset, I thought Harris had all the elements of a unity candidate — one who could make her own “middle lane,” appealing both to Sanders-Warren lefties and to Biden “moderates” (a misnomer, IMO, since all those folks are liberals). An African-American woman, middle-aged, solid experience and easy familiarity with most issues, smart and attractive, an appealing speaker whether one-on-one or to a crowd, indisputably loyal as a Democrat, with the biggest state of the union as a donor, voter and delegate base. Hollywood screenwriters could not invent a better candidate!

    Yet, she blew it. Instead of fashioning a strategy and a message to create her own middle lane appealing to a broad base of Democrats, she began by jumping with both feet into the left lane, then veering improbably to the right, along the way launching a vicious and unfair attack on Joe Biden that boomeranged on her. On top of that, incredibly, she had no coherent answer to the utterly predictable attack on her own record as a prosecutor. Meanwhile, she made her sister campaign chair and her old California operative campaign manager, creating an impossible division of authority and leaving her without anyone with national experience at the helm of her campaign.

    So what happened? Someone else who was smarter though lacking her credentials filled the void.

  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    I think AA voters – and by the way, I’m not one, so grain of salt – as appreciating Biden’s service to Obama and his moderation and I think they like his chances of beating Trump. In the general election black voters will support the Democrat, but in slightly greater or lesser turnout, depending on the eventual candidate.

    It won’t be black voters threatening to bolt if they don’t get exactly the person they want. That kind of preciousness doesn’t play well in communities that can be directly negatively affected by the outcome.

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  12. senyordave says:

    @CSK: I’m not happy with Biden as the candidate, but it seems like there is a good chance of it happening. The last couple weeks have been good for him – the two anti-Trump ads are pretty effective, especially the one with the world leaders seemingly laughing at Trump. And calling out the guy on the campaign trail as a damn liar works well solidifying his “regular guy” persona.
    I think Harris would be a complement as aVP choice. She’s smart, tough, and could be pretty effective in serving as the vehicle for some major Trump attacks, and can speak as a current US senator and a former prosecutor.

  13. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    It won’t be black voters threatening to bolt if they don’t get exactly the person they want. That kind of preciousness doesn’t play well in communities that can be directly negatively affected by the outcome.

    Correct. In my experience, the ones who are going to bolt if they don’t get their nominee are middle class, white, middle-aged-and-younger leftists who’d rather have purity than a victory. An actual quote today from a colleague on social media, a colleague who has done nothing but dream of a Trump defeat since the moment he rode down his elevators and called Mexicans rapists: “Well, it looks like Joe is going to be the nominee, so I guess I’m sitting this election out.”

    I’d laugh if I wasn’t busy rage-crying.

  14. EddieInCA says:

    Harris was finished the moment she went after Biden for busing. She didn’t know it at the time, and the initial bump disguised the fact. But I recoiled at that attack because it was so. unneccessary. There are many, many things one can go after Biden with, but busing? Seriously? WTF? Why?

    Off topic.. Based on the latest Iowa poll, which could be an outlier, Warren is done there. Trendlines don’t usually change this close to an election. And her trend in Iowa is terrible. Also, Mayor Pete has probably peaked as well. As it gets closer and people start paying attention, Biden is making his comeback, as expected by the professional class.

    If Biden wins Iowa and New Hampshire, then wallops everyone in SC, it’s over. But Bernie and Liz wont’ get out as they have so much money.

    My money is STILL on Biden/Harris.

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  15. Neil Hudelson says:

    @EddieInCA:

    Also, Mayor Pete has probably peaked as well. […] Biden is making his comeback

    Unless you are looking at different polls than I (which is totally possible), I don’t see data indicating what you are saying.

    The Emerson College Poll released last night shows Biden in the lead, which it always has. But, it shows a smaller lead than previously, with a Sanders surge. With regards to Buttigieg, it has him gaining two points. Not a surge of support, but growth in polling is the opposite of peaking. The next previous major Iowa poll I can find was taken just before Thanksgiving, and has Buttigieg at +7. (It’s a different poll than Emerson, so you cannot compare one to the other. Again, Emerson also shows growth in support for Buttigieg.)

    Turning to New Hampshire, WBUR just released their latest polling. I’m sure you’ll know where I’m going with this: Buttigieg in the lead, but within the MOE for both Biden (+1) and Sanders (+2).

    Agreed that Warren seems to be in a bit of a freefall, but she’s been here before and has clawed her way back. I wouldn’t count her out just yet.

  16. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    Darn, too late to edit the comment.

    Ok, I pulled Emerson’s previous poll. It had Biden and Warren tied at 23 points each. The newest poll has Biden still at 23 points, but Warren falling away. So Biden has experienced no growth at all, but Sanders and Buttigieg have both grown their support.

    https://emersonpolling.reportablenews.com/pr/iowa-2020-dead-heat-with-biden-and-warren-mayor-pete-continues-to-build-and-sanders-slides

  17. EddieInCA says:

    @Neil Hudelson:

    Fair enough. Let’s see what the next few weeks show, especially after the holidays. My guess is that Biden will rise, Sanders will rise, and Buttegeig and Warren will slip further, as Warren voters split between Sanders and Biden, with a few going to Buttegeig.

    But Warren can still have a great Iowa caucus as she has, by far, the best ground organization of all the candidates.

  18. 95 South says:

    Also, Rubio and Harris were both gearing up their attacks on the front-runner when a second-tier candidate torched them in a debate.

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  19. Gustopher says:

    I never had any sense of what Harris wanted for America. With Biden, Bernie, Warren and Buttigieg, I have a fairly strong idea. Even Klobuchar (who would become the President of small accomplishments and binders being thrown at staffers).

    Harris? Nothing. I could not tell you if she is left or right in the primary, or what she really wanted to accomplish.

    I liked her. I liked listening to her. I hope she runs again when she has something to say.

  20. Neil Hudelson says:

    @Gustopher:

    I’m also happy that Harris will be free from campaign constraints while participating in the Senate Impeachment trial.

  21. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Many of my friends are POCs were really negative on Harris as a result of the types of prosecutions she chose to prioritize as AG in CA, which perpetuated the prosecution and sentencing disparities towards POC in the criminal justice system. Short version is many of them have told me directly and/or through social media posts that they see her as a tool of a corrupt CJ system that punishes POC for existing.

    So it doesn’t surprise me at all that the one person they could find to write this editorial is also a prosecutor.

  22. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Neil Hudelson:
    Did you see her rip Baghdad Barr this afternoon…for doing the Presidents bidding and undermining the IC, while indicating that she thinks he should be investigated? To which Horowitz said the law prevents it, but that he would like to see the law changed.

  23. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @95 South:

    when a second-tier candidate torched them in a debate.

    Your hero came into the race as a Reality TV B-list celebrity and dominated the majority of the TV coverage…including almost daily interviews on MSNBC and constant coverage on CNN. He then won NH and SC.
    I doubt he was ever second tier. I mean in the primaries.
    He’s second and third tier in every other respect.

  24. 95 South says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: It was Christie. Yo don’t know anything, do yo?

  25. DeD says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Instead the AA vote seems to be sticking with Joe.

    That’s because we know, viscerally, that White America is not going to accept anyone but another white man in this cycle and the next. We see “that side” of White America fighting for the life of its long-established power dominance, and we know we need our own “white savior” to stop the relentless slope the U.S. is on right now. We are reflexively aware how much more worse this can get for us.

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  26. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Predictably, the media narrative never gives the black man his due. Black females will invariably support generic Democratic Candidate in predictable numbers. The variable group, is Black men…of which Trump outperformed the last several Republican candidates and HRC underperformed significanly in my demographic in 2016 vs Obama’s numbers in 2012. This is the group that will stay home in significant numbers if Biden is not the nominee. Sure, his Obama affiliation is a factor but not the only factored. Like I’ve mentioned before Biden is the only candidate who could walk into an inner city barbershop and seem completely comfortable in his own skin. Its a skill unto itself. He clearly doesn’t take himself too seriously.

    I don’t believe the polls are capturing a sizable portion of Black men that believed that Biden is the only guy that candidate with the poker face to make Trump look away first in a staredown.

  27. Lounsbury says:

    @DeD: We are reflexively aware how much more worse this can get for us.”
    2nd Term Trump would be very, very bad indeed.

    @Jim Brown 32:
    “Like I’ve mentioned before Biden is the only candidate who could walk into an inner city barbershop and seem completely comfortable in his own skin.”

    I don’t think one needs to restrict this to “ethnic minority” barbershop – the guy has a “normal guy” feel and charisma. His numbers on also the white working class guys comfort seem there too.

    Of course the Activist Left chez vous seem to prefer the Corbyinist route.