Image Credit: Gage Skidmore
What started as a promising campaign halted abruptly when Kamala Harris, the US Senator for California, recently announced she was dropping out of the presidential race. She gave lack of financial resources as a primary reason for her decision, stating “My campaign for president simply doesn't have the financial resources we need to continue.” When she first entered the race, the former prosecutor’s mixed Indian and Jamaican heritage marked her out as a potential frontrunner, in a campaign where diversity was seen as key. A crowd of over 20,000 at her campaign announcement speech provided stark evidence of the support she quickly gained, with the Washington Examiner highlighting that it exceeded President Obama’s announcement speech.
Initially, the promise seemed to be well-founded as her attack on Joe Biden’s race record stole the headlines in the first Democratic debate in June. As she pointed out that she directly benefited from the same desegregation policy of bussing that then-Senator Biden had opposed, the clear contrast presented her as a progressive alternative to an out-of-touch establishment frontrunner. This was immediately reflected in the polls, with a CNN/SSRS poll conducted after the debate placing her 2nd behind Joe Biden at 17%, more than double her 8% in the same poll in May. Notably, this was better than both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who are among the present frontrunners behind Biden. However, the latest version of that poll in November had her polling at a meagre 3%. Now, instead of battling with the aforementioned frontrunners, she was tied with less well known candidates, such as Michael Bloomberg and Andrew Yang.
Ironically, that strong debate performance could be seen as the reason for her spectacular downfall. As she stole the headlines, she also attracted widespread attention on her political positions in the aftermath. Questions were asked on her record as prosecutor, where she contributed to imprisoning many convicts for marijuana-related offences. This put her at odds with the progressive view that the United States must reform its punitive criminal justice system, and also contradicted her current position that marijuana should be legalised.
The failure to clarify her position may have further resulted in her downfall. Biden stood out as an establishment moderate opposing policies such as universal healthcare due to its cost, Sanders and Warren were also very clear on where they stood on the political spectrum by backing universal healthcare through Medicare for All. However, Harris opposed it after co-sponsoring the same bill in 2017 in the Senate. Yet, whilst she indicated she would get rid of private health insurance as President, she then contradicted herself by stating she would not abolish it afterwards. British readers may indeed compare Harris’s ambiguity to the Labour Party’s neutrality on Brexit. Just as they were criticised and punished for their ambiguity, Harris also suffered consequences after being perceived to be ambiguous.
Harris’s decision to drop out came despite her qualification for the debate on 19th December. Instead of only just qualifying for debates and carrying on, dropping out and focusing on the incoming impeachment trial in the Senate may be seen as a better move for her political credentials in the long run. At the age of 55, which is considered young in the world of presidential elections, Harris still has ample opportunity in the future to run another presidential campaign. “Don't worry, Mr. President I'll see you at your trial”, tweeted Harris in response to Trump’s sarcastic jibe at her dropping out. With the impeachment proceedings set to advance to the Senate as a trial following the House of Representatives impeachment of Trump, Harris will be relishing a return to a more familiar role of questioning.
After various debates and frenetic campaigning throughout 2019, the Iowa caucuses in February will mark the official beginning of the Democratic primaries. Despite prolonged attacks from fellow candidates, ranging from Julian Castro’s jibe at his age to the aforementioned criticism by Harris on his record on race, Biden still leads the pack in all major polls. In Real Clear Politics’ latest poll released on 18th December, he polls at 27.9%, closely followed by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren respectively.
The surprise among the frontrunners has been South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has risen from near anonymity to fourth in all major polls. In fact, he leads all candidates in most polls for the Iowa caucuses, including Real Clear Politics’ Iowa poll at 22%, showing himself to be a more popular and young moderate in a state that Trump won in 2016. Buttigieg is also seen as a moderate, opposing Medicare for all like Biden. However, whilst Biden has been criticised for his lack of oratorial prowess, Buttigieg is viewed as a charismatic and youthful alternative, as evidenced by his rise in the polls. Whilst other candidates such as Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker and Andrew Yang remain in the race, with Harris dropping out it is widely believed that the nomination will be won by one of the four frontrunners.