Kamala Harris Drops Out Of Presidential Race

Dec 3, 2019
Originally published on December 3, 2019 7:38 pm

Updated at 3:25 p.m. ET

California Sen. Kamala Harris is dropping out of the presidential race, citing a lack of funds. She informed her campaign staff of the decision on a conference call and later sent an email to supporters, in which she wrote "my campaign for president simply doesn't have the financial resources we need to continue."

Harris' departure, two months before voting and caucusing begin in the presidential contest, marks an abrupt end to a campaign that, for much of the winter and spring, looked like that of a top-tier presidential contender.

"I've taken stock, and I've looked at this from every angle, and over the last few days, I have come to one of the hardest decisions of my life," Harris said in a video announcing her decision. "As the campaign has gone on, it has become harder and harder to raise the money we need to compete."

Harris kicked off her campaign in front of 20,000 supporters in Oakland, Calif., and consistently drew large crowds in Iowa, South Carolina, and other early primary states. She was among the top tier of candidates in both polling and fundraising and briefly surged toward the very top of the field shortly after the first presidential debate, when she confronted former Vice President Joe Biden about his early opposition to federal busing policies.

But that exchange was a high-water mark of sorts for her campaign, and as Harris dropped in the polls over the summer and fall, she had to lay off campaign staff and all but shutter operations in New Hampshire, and she struggled to raise money from donors.

Harris, who came from behind in the polls in her runs for both San Francisco district attorney and California attorney general, tried to stay in the race by focusing her efforts on Iowa but ultimately ended her bid exactly two months before the caucuses there.

Amid a crowded field filled with both moderate and progressive candidates, Harris struggled to carve out her own policy lane. She shifted positions several times on a defining issue for Democrats: health care. Harris initially backed the total elimination of private health insurance, only to later roll out a health care plan that allowed private plans as long as they met government standards.

Harris backtracked in several other high-profile moments, including her criticism of Biden's anti-busing stances as a senator. She later admitted that her views of the federal government's role in setting local policies was essentially the same as Biden's.

Still, Harris was one of only seven candidates to qualify for December's debate. At the moment, nine days before the deadline, no other nonwhite candidate has qualified for the debate stage.

That means that after a historically diverse field of candidates entered the Democratic primary race, the next debate is likely to consist of all white candidates.

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California Senator Kamala Harris is ending her presidential campaign. She made the announcement in an online video.


KAMALA HARRIS: In good faith, I cannot tell you, my supporters and volunteers, that I have a path forward if I don't believe I do.

CHANG: She had hoped a victory in Iowa could turn around a struggling campaign. The California senator is the highest-profile candidate to end her bid for the White House. NPR's Scott Detrow reports.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: The Harris campaign began with a bang; a high-production, high-energy Oakland rally in front of 20,000 supporters.


HARRIS: I stand before you today to announce my candidacy for president of the United States.

DETROW: Harris began with a broad condemnation of President Trump and, mirroring her reputation as a senator and high-profile committee hearings, looked like someone ready to fight.


HARRIS: When we have children in cages, crying for their mothers and fathers, don't you dare call that border security. That's a human rights abuse.


HARRIS: And that's not our America.

DETROW: But even if it wasn't quite clear at the time, the rally foreshadowed problems that would dog Harris' campaign for months. She framed her whole run as a continuation of the work she did as a prosecutor, first as San Francisco's district attorney, then as California's attorney general.


HARRIS: I walked into the courtroom for the first time and said the five words that would guide my life's work; Kamala Harris for the people.

DETROW: For most of Harris' career, the political move was to show how she was still tough on crime even though she was progressive. But in 2019, the political winds had changed, at least among the activists who dominated the early portion of the primary. And Harris was criticized over and over for her role in the criminal justice system, so Harris walked away from her prosecutor's identity. By mid-summer aboard her sleek campaign bus in Iowa, Harris was framing her run as a focus on pocketbook economic issues.


HARRIS: People want a president who is going to be interested in the things that keep them up at night.

DETROW: Harris spent much of the spring and early summer toward the top of the polls. She briefly surged toward the very top after attacking former Vice President Joe Biden in the first debate for his opposition to mandatory federal busing policies early on in his Senate career.


HARRIS: You know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.

DETROW: But by mid-summer, Harris' campaign began to stall. In the fall, there was another slogan pivot as Harris dropped back down to the single digits. Suddenly, she was back to her time as a prosecutor.


HARRIS: In 2020, justice is on the ballot.

DETROW: The shifting slogans underscored a broader trend. In a crowded primary field, Harris kept changing how she talked about key issues, like health care. Right out of the gate, she was for single-payer and told a CNN town hall she wanted to totally eliminate private health insurance.


HARRIS: Who of us has not had that situation where you've got to wait for approval, and the doctor says, well, I don't know if your insurance company is going to cover this? Let's eliminate all of that. Let's move on.

DETROW: She never seemed to fully back that approach, though. And the full plan she rolled out this summer included a role for private health insurance. Former Vice President Joe Biden and other candidates criticized her on the debate stage.


JOE BIDEN: You can't beat President Trump with double talk on this plan.

UNIDENTIFIED MODERATOR: Your response, Senator Harris?

HARRIS: Absolutely. Unfortunately, Vice President Biden, you're just simply inaccurate in what you're describing.

DETROW: Harris' decision to end her campaign marks a sudden end for a run mirrored on the type of inspirational message put forward by Barack Obama in 2008. Harris is just the third African American woman to run for president and the daughter of immigrants. Democratic strategist Karen Finney says Democratic voters are often drawn to inspirational storylines like that but not as much in this campaign.

KAREN FINNEY: We always want to be inspired, but we want to win. And I think in this instance, a lot of calculations that voters have made have been - and in terms of why certain candidates are gaining support or seem to have more, you know, solid support than others is, you know, there's almost this feeling that voters don't want to take too big of a chance.

DETROW: Finney says its candidates of color like Harris who have been hurt by that calculation.

FINNEY: I think we've seen a pattern, unfortunately, this cycle of our candidates of color not able to raise the same kind of dollars that we've seen other candidates.

DETROW: Harris had qualified for this month's debate but now won't be participating. And as a result, there's a real chance that the party that put so much stock in diversity, a party that can't win a national race without strong support from minority voters, could be looking at an all-white debate stage in a couple of weeks.

Scott Detrow, NPR News, Washington.

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