Theories Abound Over Why Harris Is Floundering in Her Home State

October 14, 2019 Updated: October 15, 2019

News Analysis

“Why is Kamala Harris not 50 points ahead in the polls?” you might ask.

That’s at least one question Harris supporters and Democratic strategists have been pondering since the U.S. senator’s recent plunge in popularity.

The latest polls do not bode well for the U.S. senator even in her home state. A Real Clear Politics poll conducted Oct. 3 shows Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 23 percent of the projected vote in the California Democratic primary race, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden at 22 percent, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at 21 percent and Harris at a distant eight percent. South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is two points behind her.

Nationally, the Real Clear Politics average shows Harris trailing Buttigieg at under five percent—a drop of more than 15 percent since June. And an Oct. 8 Quinnipiac poll pegs Harris at three percent nationally.

Yet, going back just a few months, Harris had taken a surprising lead, trailing only former Vice President Joe Biden in her bid for the nomination. Even before she officially entered the race, some pundits had dubbed Harris the Democratic front-runner. She seemed to be the darling of Democratic Party, and a June 28 to July 1 Quinnipiac poll put Harris on Biden’s heels, just two points behind his 22 percent.

A former prosecutor and attorney general with strong local political ties in California, Harris was—and still is—well positioned and funded to win. But, the media limelight Harris enjoyed at the outset of her campaign in late January has faded—and fast.

Did she slip out of the media spotlight, or was she pushed? The jury is still out on exactly why support for Harris has plummeted, as pundits try to explain the exact cause of her early political demise. But one thing is clear: The honeymoon is over.

So, what happened?

Debate Difficulties?

Harris appeared caught off guard when she took flak from U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) over her record as a prosecutor in the second set of Democratic debates in July.

“When you were in a position to make a difference and an impact in people’s lives, you did not—and worse yet, in the case of those who are on death row, innocent people, you actually blocked evidence from being revealed that would have freed them until you were forced to do so,” Gabbard said.

“There’s no excuse for that and the people who suffered under your reign as prosecutor. You owe them an apology.”

Soon after the debate, Harris dropped into the single digits in national polls and has been in a slump ever since.

Democratic Party Shift?

Harris, maybe more than any of the Democratic candidates—even Biden—is a loyal supporter of Obama-era policies—the same ones that led presidential candidate Hillary Clinton down the path to defeat in the 2016 presidential election.

So, perhaps one story behind the polls is that even Democratic voters who supported former President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 don’t want see an Obama sequel.

When one considers the Democratic candidates are moving progressively left in their rhetoric, ideology and platforms, it also could be Harris is just not keeping up with the crowd.

Harris, like Obama in 2008, positioned herself as more of a moderate than Warren, who is known for her disdain of Wall Street, and Sanders, an unabashed socialist by his own admission.

At a time when the far-left fringe of the new Democratic Party has rejected the rule of law—as evidenced in its support for globalist ideology, open borders and sanctuary city policies, some even calling for the abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)—as a former prosecutor, Harris could be seen as representing the status quo, authority and the establishment.

It’s clear the Democratic base wants big change, and Harris may not reflect the same sentiments.

Other Theories

With so much recent media attention focused on friction between President Donald Trump, and Biden, the Obama-era VP, it’s possible that Harris has decided to sit back and wait for her rivals’ campaigns to implode rather than re-entering the fray. Perhaps, for awhile, no news is good news?

Some Democratic strategists have suggested that Harris could do a better job of making sure her message to voters is clear, but at times she has flip-flopped, leaving her supporters confused.

Harris is also often seen as being stiff, and the more she tries to shed this image, she could come across as less than genuine.

Meanwhile, in comparison to front-runners Warren, 70, Biden, 76, and Sanders, 78, it would seem that Harris’s age is an obvious advantage. At 54, she is much younger than her septuagenarian rivals and appears to be in relatively better health than Biden, who is showing his age both physically and mentally, while Sanders suffered a heart attack last month.

What’s Next?

With heightened uncertainty over Biden and the foreign business dealings of his son, Hunter, panic over Warren’s often less than authentic recollections of her past, and worry over Sander’s health, it’s possible Harris could see a comeback.

Though most pundits are not ready to rule out victory for Harris, the cards may not be stacked in her favor. It may all hinge on what happens in next week’s third Democratic debate, set for Tuesday, Oct. 15 on CNN and co-hosted by The New York Times.

Some potential good news for Harris came last week when Gabbard told her supporters in a video message she was “seriously considering boycotting the next debate.” However, on Monday, Gabbard said on Twitter she would be attending the debate after all.