For this, Harris probably has her home state — and the way she has approached her job there — to blame.
And it’s true that, when the end comes, political obituary writers will point to a dysfunctional campaign structure, while others will highlight flaws in the candidate. But analysts seeking to understand the Kamala Harris flop need look no further than Harris’s ostensible selling point: her record in California. After nearly three years as the state’s junior senator, Harris doesn’t have much to show for herself.
Harris, too, sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee — and, like Feinstein, drew national attention to herself through the confirmation battle over Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh. But beyond this, California voters don’t have fond memories of Harris policy accomplishments. Nor has she managed to generate much excitement about her political fortunes: When Harris first entered the presidential race, polls revealed California voters to be ambivalent about her White House aspirations.
In fairness to Harris, timing has been a problem. She has never served in the Senate majority. Given the hyperpartisan nature of the chamber, that limits opportunities to advance legislation. Yet one of her Democratic rivals, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, has nonetheless managed to be a prolific policymaker — thanks to a pragmatic approach that earns applause from Senate Republicans.
Harris’s pre-Senate résumé isn’t a great one to fall back on, either. Before heading to Washington, Harris was California’s attorney general. Her record there was decidedly mixed — and a tough sell to a woke, progressive electorate given her positions on sticking points such as prisoner releases and recreational marijuana. While seeking the nomination of a Democratic Party that keeps moving left, Harris has had to apologize for championing a California anti-truancy law that led to prison time for parents whose kids where chronically absent from the classroom.
Harris’s pre-A.G. job, as San Francisco’s district attorney, is also proving problematic. Her tough-on-crime prosecutorial approach has been criticized in presidential debates and seems to have been thoroughly repudiated by San Francisco voters: They just elected to Harris’s former post a public defender named Chesa Boudin who ran on a social-justice platform that, among other planks, called for closing jails and requiring that prosecutors write “racial impact statements” for each case they pursue.
Which might also become Harris’s presidential epithet. Harris, often called a “female Obama” for her biographical diversity and telegenic appeal, doesn’t lack for style. She just hasn’t offered much in the way of substance — the opposite of Elizabeth Warren’s policy-heavy climb to the top of the Democratic heap. If Wednesday’s debate ends up being Harris’s last this campaign cycle, it will be because national voters have come to realize what Californians have known all along.