Can Kamala Harris Reboot Her Campaign? Yes, She Can
It looks like we've reached the "can this campaign be saved?" stage of Kamala Harris's candidacy. It's a shame. She's an awesome senator and a great person. She showed true leadership when she boycotted a criminal justice reform forum at Benedict College when she learned the organizers gave an award to Donald Trump. She also vocally defended Katie Hill, treating her as the victim of revenge porn and not just the kooky star in a sex farce. She was the only Democratic presidential candidate to have Hill's back.
However, the stories out this week describe a cratering campaign. Both Harris and frontrunner Joe Biden are cash-strapped. Harris has more cash on hand, but Biden's now willing to accept dark money from super PACs. His campaign has argued that the only way to defeat the enemy is to become the enemy. Like Martin Scorsese and Frances Ford Coppola, Biden hasn't seen enough superhero movies to know this isn't a winning strategy.
Harris is sticking to her guns on super PACs but she might have to pawn them. She took in just $11.8 million in the last quarter, far below Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Democratic donor favorite Pete Buttigieg easily outperformed her, as well. Now Harris is slashing staff and cutting salaries like the final days of Blockbuster. This will affect her operations in such early states as New Hampshire and Nevada, as well as California, the state she represents. California might actually matter in this year's primary, but Harris is at risk of being Rubio-ed on her home turf. Recent polls show her running fourth behind Warren, Sanders, and Biden.
Harris is still putting everything into Iowa. She plans to spend Thanksgiving there, and it'll be cold AF. Barack Obama might've inadvertently set a precedent that black candidates must win the Iowa caucus to prove white people will vote for them. Members of Twitter's #KHIVE still contend that a strong showing in Iowa will help loosen Biden's death grip on black voters, especially in South Carolina. Yesterday, Cory Booker, who's still in the race singing bipartisan "Kum ba yah," claimed that Obama was trailing Hillary Clinton among black voters at this point in the 2008 primary. That has the rough shape of truth and the barest whisper of hope. Obama had actually topped a few South Carolina polls as early as April 2007. Booker's been a flat line in South Carolina polls, and even during her brief first debate bump, Harris was never within striking distance of Biden.
Reporter: “You’ve been accused of flip flopping — specifically on Medicare For All. You were a supporter of Bernie… https://t.co/08NutrSOn9— chris evans (@chris evans)1572200708.0
One important difference is that in 2008 Democrats often ranked the Iraq War as the most important issue in the upcoming election. Clinton voted for the war. Obama didn't. This year, Democrats are desperate to rid the country of Donald Trump, and many have convinced themselves that an older white man who slightly resembles Trump from a distance is the only way to win over moderates and the coveted Bret Stephens vote.
If Harris's campaign has failed to launch, it's unfair to blame her entirely for the mood of the electorate. Of course, know-it-all pundits and Democratic insiders disagree.
"She's from f---ing California. The idea that you don't have support of high-dollar donors doesn't make any sense," said a Democratic donor who maxed out to Harris' campaign but is disappointed by her inability to build a large-scale fundraising operation. "I blame her."
Fundraising doesn't occur in a vacuum, and the media defines narratives. Articles present voter concerns about a woman candidate's "electability" as a reasonable question. Is this the right time for "diversity" when the fate of the nation's at stake? Buttigieg is gay but the media focuses on his white male, midwestern appeal. A recent New York Times story framed his sexuality as an issue specifically for black primary voters instead of a potential deal breaker in swing states. Warren observed a while back that big-money donors are predominately white and male so naturally flock to white male candidates. She's managed to do well not courting them.
Warren defied expectations in ways Harris has not. The #KHIVE suggests that the media deliberately ignores Harris. It's true that Warren more often leads news cycles and has more viral moments. But Warren made "I have a plan for that" a campaign slogan and then started doling them out on the regular. Harris also has great plans, and we've covered them. But she's suffered from a branding challenge. Warren defined herself as the candidate for Democrats who want significant change and actual progress. Biden defined himself as the candidate for Democrats who want a return to normalcy or what they imagine was "normal." I suspect this is why Harris has struggled with black voters. White Democrats might fondly recall the Obama years as a time of "civility," but black Democrats carry the scars of the Tea Party. We remember that Obama's civility was rarely reciprocated. There was festering racial resentment that helped elect Trump. Perhaps black voters just don't want to send another soldier into the breach.
This is not to say that all is lost. If you still support Harris, then donate to the sister. Share articles about her on social media. If you're centrist-inclined, talk her up as a responsible alternative to the almost 77-year-old Biden. If LGBTQ and women's issues are a priority for you, show the receipts where she's proven herself a champion for these causes. There's still time.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle. Tickets are on sale now for his latest Nordo collaboration, "Curiouser and Curiouser," an adaptation of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" and "Through the Looking Glass." It promises to feel like an actual evening with SER (for good or for ill).