Af­ter a spec­tac­u­lar launch, Har­ris is ‘run­ning in place’

Cal­i­for­nia poll puts sen­a­tor in fourth place in home state as ri­vals grab spot­light

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By Casey Tolan [email protected] ba­yare­anews­

Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris started her pres­i­den­tial cam­paign with a bang, fill­ing the streets of down­town Oak­land with 20,000 fans and com­mand­ing na­tional at­ten­tion.

But in the al­most five months since, Har­ris’ poll num­bers have fallen and the me­dia spot­light has shifted to other con­tenders. Her strug­gles were un­der­scored last week when a new poll from UC Berkeley and the Los An­ge­les Times showed the sen­a­tor in fourth place in Cal­i­for­nia, her home state. At 13%, she’s even dropped be­low the cut­off for win­ning any statewide del­e­gates.

There’s still a long way to go un­til the first pri­mary votes are cast in Fe­bru­ary, and polling lead­ers in past pres­i­den­tial races have fallen hard. But as Har­ris has been over­taken by Mas­sachusetts Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren and South Bend, In­di­ana, Mayor Pete But­tigieg, she’s started to shift her fo­cus to blast­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and lean­ing into her record as a pros­e­cu­tor.

“Her launch was spec­tac­u­lar,” said Bob Shrum, a for­mer Demo­cratic strate­gist who’s worked on many pres­i­den­tial cam­paigns and is the di­rec­tor of the Jesse M. Un­ruh In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics at USC. “But since then, she seems al­most to be run­ning in place.”

Har­ris’ star also has slipped na­tion­ally, from a peak of 12.3% in pri­mary polls in late Fe­bru­ary to 6.3% last week, the low­est point since her an­nounce­ment, ac­cord­ing to a polling av­er­age com­piled by RealClearP­ol­i­tics.

She has a chance to re­cap­ture some of her early mo­men­tum on the de­bate stage this month — on June 27, she’ll share the spot­light along­side for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den, Ver­mont Sen. Bernie San­ders and But­tigieg, the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee an­nounced Fri­day. Her cam­paign is al­ready hyp­ing the face-off, which could play to Har­ris’ court­room-honed de­bat­ing skills.

“Get ready for @Ka­malaHar­ris to dom­i­nate the stage,” tweeted Maya Har­ris, her cam­paign chair and sis­ter.

Ka­mala Har­ris’ cam­paign has seen its share of ups and downs. She’s posted strong fundrais­ing num­bers and rolled out a steady stream of well-re­ceived pol­icy pro­pos­als on key Demo­cratic is­sues, from im­mi­gra­tion re­form to abor­tion rights to gun con­trol. But she’s also made some mis­steps, such as seem­ing to call for scrap­ping pri­vate health in­sur­ance in sup­port of Medi­care for All, an an­swer she’s since tried to walk back. At other times, she’s ap­peared too cau­tious, call­ing for a “con­ver­sa­tion” on is­sues like vot­ing rights for pris­on­ers or for­giv­ing stu­dent debt, in­stead of tak­ing clear stands.

She’s also lag­ging in me­dia at­ten­tion. A weekly FiveThir­tyEight anal­y­sis

of how many times can­di­dates are men­tioned on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC shows that Har­ris hasn’t led her Demo­cratic ri­vals since early Fe­bru­ary and has usu­ally been over­taken by other con­tenders.

Some Har­ris sup­port­ers at­tribute that in part to sex­ism, ar­gu­ing that the lead­ing male can­di­dates like Bi­den, But­tigieg and San­ders have been draw­ing a dis­pro­por­tion­ate share of the spot­light and aren’t sub­ject to the same flak when they dodge ques­tions. And sup­port­ers stress that Har­ris has been the un­der­dog in past cam­paigns — but has never lost a race.

“These cam­paigns are a long, gru­el­ing slog,” said Brian Brokaw, a Demo­cratic strate­gist in Sacra­mento who pre­vi­ously worked on Har­ris cam­paigns but isn’t on her pres­i­den­tial team. “Be­ing num­ber one or a close num­ber two is a pretty pre­car­i­ous place for any can­di­date to be this far out, be­cause you can re­ally go nowhere but down.”

Still, other ob­servers

point to how Har­ris’ cam­paign has strug­gled to lock onto a sin­gle, clear mes­sage about why she’s run­ning.

“For a while, she was the truth-teller. Then she was tak­ing on Trump. Now she’s lean­ing into her his­tory as a pros­e­cu­tor,” said a Cal­i­for­nia Demo­cratic strate­gist who asked not to be iden­ti­fied to speak can­didly about the race. “It seems like there hasn’t been a fo­cus — her cam­paign is still try­ing to find a mes­sage that gets trac­tion.”

Last week’s Cal­i­for­nia poll il­lus­trates some of Har­ris’ chal­lenges. Un­der the state’s pri­mary rules, only can­di­dates who get at least 15% of the vote will re­ceive any of Cal­i­for­nia’s 144 pledged statewide del­e­gates (although those who miss the cut­off could still go home with del­e­gates if they do bet­ter in spe­cific con­gres­sional dis­tricts).

No­tably, Har­ris isn’t lead­ing among likely vot­ers in any age, gen­der, ide­o­log­i­cal, racial or re­gional group in Cal­i­for­nia. Each of the other top can­di­dates has a

clear base of sup­port: Bi­den wins among moder­ate and older vot­ers, San­ders dom­i­nates among young vot­ers, and War­ren is lead­ing among the most lib­eral vot­ers (even beat­ing San­ders).

“When you look at Har­ris, there’s no iden­ti­fi­able con­stituency,” said Mark DiCamillo, the di­rec­tor of the Berkeley poll. That “weakness” might stem from the sen­a­tor’s at­tempt to be “all things to all peo­ple,” he sug­gested.

There is some good news for Har­ris in the poll. She has a higher fa­vor­a­bil­ity rat­ing — 74% — than any other can­di­date in the race. She also leads among vot­ers’ sec­ond choices, at 21%. Com­bin­ing first and sec­ond choices, she ties with Bi­den for sec­ond place, a sin­gle point be­hind War­ren.

“A lot of peo­ple like her,” said Rose Kapol­czyn­ski, a Demo­cratic strate­gist. “But in this huge field of can­di­dates, if you’re ask­ing them to com­mit to Ka­mala Har­ris for pres­i­dent, they’re not ready.”

Ul­ti­mately, the Cal­i­for­nia

vote will be shaped by the re­sults of the first four early states, and Har­ris has been in­vest­ing heav­ily in Iowa staff and mak­ing a spe­cial em­pha­sis on South Carolina and Ne­vada. She’s fo­cused her lat­est pol­icy pro­pos­als on con­crete ex­ec­u­tive ac­tions she could take right af­ter get­ting into the White House — in a sub­tle con­trast with ri­vals who are push­ing for more far-reach­ing over­hauls of the U.S. econ­omy that are un­likely to pass a di­vided Congress.

She’s also mak­ing hard­eredged at­tacks on Trump, hop­ing to cap­ture some of the magic of her most vi­ral mo­ments ques­tion­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials in Se­nate hear­ings.

“We’re go­ing to want on that stage some­one who can do more than just give a beau­ti­ful speech,” Har­ris de­clared at her most re­cent MSNBC town hall, ar­gu­ing she can “suc­cess­fully pros­e­cute the case” against the pres­i­dent.

The sen­a­tor took that talk­ing point to its most lit­eral con­clu­sion in an

NPR in­ter­view Wed­nes­day, say­ing the Depart­ment of Jus­tice should pur­sue ob­struc­tion of jus­tice charges against Trump once he leaves of­fice.

The pres­i­dent fired back, ar­gu­ing in an in­ter­view that Har­ris was only try­ing to get at­ten­tion.

“She’s run­ning for pres­i­dent, she’s do­ing hor­ri­bly, she’s way down in the polls,” Trump said. “And I must say, Poc­a­hon­tas” — his deroga­tory nick­name for War­ren — “is re­ally clean­ing her clock.”

For a cam­paign look­ing to paint her as the tough­est con­tender against the pres­i­dent, the broad­side was a bless­ing. A few hours later, Har­ris blasted off a fundrais­ing email to sup­port­ers with the sub­ject “Trump just at­tacked me.” The pres­i­dent was tar­get­ing her, she wrote, be­cause he “is start­ing to feel the heat.”

Now she just needs to con­vince Democrats that she’s the spark.


U.S. Sen. Ka­mala Har­ris speaks at a rally launch­ing her pres­i­den­tial cam­paign at Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oak­land on Jan. 27.


Pete But­tigieg, the mayor of South Bend, In­di­ana, seen at In­di­ana Univer­sity last week, is among the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial hope­fuls who have over­taken Har­ris in a new poll.

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