And hopes for her were awfully high. She seemed like a potentially great candidate: a strong résumé of positions at the local, state, and federal levels; a base in the country’s most populous state; evident charisma. But she was never able to persuade significant numbers of voters to support her.
There are a number of reasons to which you could point to explain her difficulties. According to reports, her campaign was hampered by disorganization and mismanagement. Her fundraising couldn’t keep pace with that of other candidates such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). She struggled with questions about her record as a prosecutor and her health-care plan (which was perfectly reasonable but didn’t slot neatly into the public option vs. Medicare-for-all conflict to which the debate is often reduced). It’s also hard to say whether her race and gender hurt her ability to amass support, and if so, how much.
One problem, though, stands out: As appealing as she may have been in many ways, Harris was never able to explain why she was running for president. It’s an answer you’d expect every candidate to know long before they make their announcement speech, but a surprising number of them don’t. The winner, though, almost always does.
Of course, we know that the real answer for every candidate, at least in part, is “I’m running for president because I want to be president.” If you think even highly ideological candidates such as Sanders aren’t fiercely ambitious, you’re fooling yourself.
But to stand the best chance at success, a presidential campaign has to be about something. Joe Biden is running to reset the clock to four years ago and restore civility and reason to our politics, his own version of “Make America Great Again.” Warren is running to end corruption and take power away from the plutocrats warping the system for their own ends. But why was Harris running? She never told us, at least not in a way that was clear and concise enough for voters to grasp.
To be clear, there are candidates still in the race who still haven’t told us. And as much as I hesitate to say they should pander to our "10-second sound bite” culture, it’s not an unreasonable thing to demand that candidates should be able to communicate in a sentence or two what their candidacy represents. It’s particularly important during a primary when the policy distinctions between the candidates are relatively small compared with what they will be in the general election. Voters have to know who the candidates are, but they also have to know what voting for you says about them.
Like many, I’m sorry to see Harris leave the race (though she’ll be around for some time; she’s only 55). It’s particularly disconcerting that she was the only nonwhite candidate to have qualified for the next debate; an all-white debate is not exactly a good look for the party where most nonwhite voters reside.
But in the end, the campaign trail makes its merciless judgment, and Harris didn’t have what it takes. At least not this year.