With a field of over 20 at its largest, there is no shock that the majority of campaigns did not survive to Iowa. The candidate that had the most potential, but failed arguably the hardest was Kamala Harris. Before any critique of her campaign is offered, it is important to note that she faced an incredible amount of racism from both voters and the media. Had any white candidate, more specifically any white man, made the mistakes she made, they would not have been ridiculed to the extent she was, and they would not have had the trouble she did fundraising and sustaining themselves beyond the fall of 2019. The Harris campaign broke barriers for black women, which is not something that should be taken for granted, but she did not do it without flaw, which is what eventually led to her demise.
Despite these biases, there are valid critiques to be made regarding her campaign, all of which can be done while keeping in mind the unfairness with which she was treated. During the fall of 2018, Senator Harris became a star in the party. Throughout the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, and other Senate hearings that session, she continually impressed people in the party with her skillful questioning and determination to get an answer from those testifying. Due to this rise in popularity, her candidacy for president seemed inevitable. In early 2019 when she announced, she had one of the largest crowd sizes at her kickoff event. Going into the race, she was perceived to be a potential front runner, as she was popular in the party and decently progressive, that, though, was not the case. Shortly after her kickoff, her campaign began to make blunder after blunder, with most of the mistakes being due to one problem, a lack of identity within the ideological lanes of the party. While trying to paint herself as the penultimate progressive, she signed onto Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All bill in the Senate in April of 2019. During her campaign, though, Sen. Harris proposed her own version of the bill, also called Medicare for All. Her plan was much less progressive than Senator Sanders, leaving a number of progressives deeply frustrated by her seeming lack of moral clarity on the topic.
The campaigns’ next major blunder came when the Senator released her proposal to reduce the student debt crisis. The plan was released, and contained a number of confusing elements, such as debt forgiveness for pell grant recipients that start a business upon graduating from college. The plan was widely criticized for being too moderate, and simply too confusing. People were seeing Harris’s opponents release calculators that would tell you how much debt you would be relieved of, and here she was releasing a plan that was so complex, and had so many requirements, it would help only a small fraction of people.
Any critique of the Harris campaign would be remiss to ignore what might have been the most damning critique, her record on criminal justice, a topic that is very important to a large group of voters. During her time as District Attorney of San Francisco, and then Attorney General of California, she made decisions that were seen as retrogressive, making many distrust that her commitment to criminal justice reform was sincere. Having a bad record on an issue is not always an immediate disqualifier, as it is only natural for people to change over time, but usually change is only accepted after an open and honest discussion is had. Throughout her campaign, Harris was defensive of her record, making clear that she had some regrets, but maintaining that she was a progressive prosecutor, and only worked to advance the rights of those convicted. Harris continually seemed uninterested in opening a dialogue regarding her record, and never was able to appease those who existed in the communities she hurt. This is a good place to discuss the racism Senator Harris faced. Within the field of Democratic candidates, Harris was running against Joe Biden, the architect of the 1994 crime bill that is widely seen as a large part of the reason the criminal justice system is currently in the state it is, Bernie Sanders, a voter for said crime bill, and Cory Booker, who had his own potentially problematic record on criminal justice. Having this conversation was vital for all people in the race, especially those with unfavorable records on the subject, but no candidate was pressed as much, and given as little leeway as Kamala Harris.