Harris failed with those she needed most: black voters and women

  • Eugene Scott

    Eugene Scott

  • Dropping out: Democratic candidate Kamala Harris (Photograph by Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP).

    Dropping out: Democratic candidate Kamala Harris (Photograph by Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP).


Kamala Harris ended her bid for the White House unable to rally significant support from the voting blocs her campaign and many political watchers thought would play a significant role in sending her to the Oval Office: black voters and women.

The California Democrat’s campaign was loaded with historical symbolism from its earliest moment. The first black woman elected to the US Senate from California announced her pursuit of the Oval Office on the birthday of civil rights icon the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. And she regularly paid homage to late congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to seek a major party’s presidential nomination, during her campaign.

But the biracial lawmaker with an unfamiliar name who some believed was best situated to carry on the Obama legacy was never able to persuade large swaths of those who backed the former president to support her.

Despite having viral, breakout moments during the Senate’s investigation of Russia’s interference into the 2016 presidential election, Harris remained largely unknown to many Americans before launching her campaign — including some among the demographic group some believed would propel her into the upper tier of the campaign.

Her campaign was a reminder that being well known in Washington and political circles is not the same thing as having national recognition. While some more established liberal candidates were working to convince voters that they were best positioned to undo Donald Trump’s political decisions, Harris was in many ways still introducing herself. And that put the junior senator at a bit of disadvantage — even with black women, one of the Democratic Party’s most influential voting blocs.

Some of Trump’s biggest critiques come from black women — a group that votes against the GOP at higher rates than most. But while many black women long for representation at the highest level of government, some voters questioned whether a black woman can attract the broad support needed to defeat Trump. This concern, along with former vice-president Joe Biden’s long history with black voters, is part of what sent Biden flying past Harris in polls with black voters shortly after launching his campaign.

Danielle Moodie-Mills, host of the “#WokeAF” podcast, said last week that the former vice-president who enjoys widespread name recognition is a safe bet with many black voters.

“You have older black voters who are definitely on his side because they are looking to see where are the white voters who voted for Donald Trump going to go,” she said on MSNBC. “We understand what oppression and discrimination looks like on regular basis, and we understand Donald Trump to be a lethal threat to our way of life. And so we are going to go ... the way that seems the safest.”

There were also questions about Harris among some of those groups she sought to win. Her history as a prosecutor — and role in advocating for tough sentences for people of colour — forced her to answer questions that voters looking for a candidate committed to criminal justice reform repeatedly asked.

And some black Americans questioned whether the daughter of a Jamaican immigrant raised by an Indian woman could respond to the issues affecting black Americans calling on the United States to re-examine the continuing effects of slavery on racial gaps.

In her resignation later, Harris pointed towards fundraising being the biggest obstacle that kept her from moving forward.

“My campaign for president simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need to continue,” she wrote. “And as the campaign has gone on, it’s become harder and harder to raise the money we need to compete.”

Harris noted that she was not able to self-fund her campaign like some of her billionaire competitors, but she does have more money than some of her competitors. In fact, enough to qualify for the December debate, something not all of her competitors have done.

With Harris’s exit, the stage for December’s Democratic debate primarily consists of white candidates and older candidates during a time when the Left’s constituency is younger and more ethnically diverse. Despite this shift, longstanding perceptions of leadership remain among some voters.

Kimberly Peeler-Allen, co-founder of Higher Heights, a political action committee that helps black women get elected to office, previously told The Washington Post that black women seeking office often have a harder time than white men in getting people to get behind their campaign.

“I think a lot of it has to do with our perception of what leadership looks like. For umpteen years, the majority of elected leaders have been white and male,” she said.

“You come and counter that with a woman — and a woman of colour, and a black woman at that — seeking the highest office in the land, it’s something out of the norm.”

Regular frustrations with conversations about electability led Harris’s defenders to argue that she was the most prepared candidate to defeat Trump. But for those who were hoping that Harris would break the glass ceiling that 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton could not, 2020 was simply not Harris’s time. And as clichéd as it sounds, in politics timing is often everything.

Eugene Scott writes about identity politics for The Fix. He was previously a breaking news reporter at CNN Politics

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Published Dec 4, 2019 at 8:00 am (Updated Dec 4, 2019 at 7:47 am)

Harris failed with those she needed most: black voters and women

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