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 — even among the groups many people thought would propel her. 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 President Trump’s political decisions, Harris was in many ways still introducing herself. And that put the junior senator at a bit of a disadvantage — even with black women, one of the Democratic Party’s most influential voting blocs.
Some of Trump’s strongest criticism comes 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 could 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 radio show “WokeAF,” said last week that Biden, 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 a 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 her role in advocating for tough sentences for people of color — 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 reexamine the ongoing impact of slavery on racial gaps.
In her announcement ending her campaign, Harris pointed toward 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 the billionaire candidates, 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, long-standing 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 Fix 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 color, 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 candidate most prepared to defeat Trump. But for those who were hoping Harris would break the glass ceiling that 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton could not, 2020 was simply not Harris’s time. And as cliched as it sounds, in politics, timing is often everything.