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  • Feldman Strategies

Harris support fades at critical stage

By Julia Manchester 9/19/19

Sen. Kamala Harris's (D-Calif.) support in polls is showing signs of fading, in the latest sign that her presidential bid is losing momentum after a knockout performance in the first Democratic debate. 

An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll this week showed Harris’s support at 5 percent, down 8 points from the last one in July, well behind the top three contenders: former Vice President Joe Biden and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

Perhaps more ominously for Harris, she took fifth place in an Emerson College poll surveying her home state of California on Tuesday, trailing Biden, Warren and Sanders, as well as tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang

There are concerning signs for Harris in early contest states as well. 

A poll conducted by the Democratic group Focus on Rural America showed Harris trailing a number of 2020 hopefuls, including South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), clocking in at 5 percent support. 

And an Emerson College New Hampshire poll released last week showed Harris in fifth place behind Biden, Warren, Buttigieg and Sanders.  

Her failure to crack into the top tier in polls reflects a campaign that has failed to capitalize on the strong buzz she received after memorably attacking Biden on his stance on busing to desegregate schools during the first debate. That moment catapulted her in the polls and led to a surge in fundraising.

But her campaign is now showing signs of stagnating at a critical time in the race, with the Iowa caucus now just months away.

Strategists blame a number of factors, including what some see as her inconsistency on policy issues such as “Medicare for All” or criminal justice reform — a problem at a time when Sanders and Warren have articulated a clear progressive vision, while Biden is widely associated with centrist stances on key issues.

“The biggest problem for Kamala Harris right now is people are asking what does Kamala Harris stand for,” Democratic strategist Andrew Feldman told The Hill. 

“And that is not a good question for people to be asking about a presidential candidate or any campaign.” 

Harris’s strategy in early states such as Iowa and New Hampshire has also been questioned at a time when Sanders and Warren are aggressively going after the states.

Tallies kept by media outlets such as FiveThirtyEight show Harris has spent considerably less time in those two states than many of her 2020 rivals, though she did launch an Iowa bus tour earlier this year.

“We haven’t seen her on the ground consistently in Iowa since she did the Iowa bus tour and said that Iowa was a priority,” said Feldman.

“If you lose Iowa, if you lose New Hampshire, if you lose Nevada, you’re not going to be able to catch Joe Biden in South Carolina,” he added.


Another problem for Harris has been the emergence of Warren, who is sucking in media attention while attracting big crowds, placing her firmly as a serious alternative to front-runner Biden.

Harris will face a key test when candidates disclose their quarterly fundraising haul after the reporting deadline at the end of the month.

Harris’s campaign raised around $12 million in each of the two quarters so far, well above many other 2020 Democrats but below top-tier candidates like Sanders. 

“If she shows a substantial drop-off not only from her previous fundraising, but from her standing among other candidates, she’s in even more trouble,” Feldman said.


However, strategists say hope is not all lost for the Harris campaign, who has enough time to retool her campaign before Iowa.

“She is resonating with people in smaller groups,” Anthony Robinson, political director at the National Democratic Training Committee, said in an interview with The Hill, referring to Harris’s presence at town halls and on social media. 

“If she can find a way to translate that energy that’s with smaller groups into a kind of large focus, then I think that she could pick up energy.” 

Robinson also noted that Harris understands the ebbs and flows of campaigns from her experience running for California attorney general and senator, and most likely is prepared for the criticism coming her way. 

“Her prosecutorial track record is going to be scrutinized more, and she just has to stop in there and kind of take that. So that's going to ebb and flow,” he said. 

Harris could also change up her campaign stylistically, which some strategists say could be less scripted. 

The senator shared a personal side to her stance on health care earlier this month when she discussed her mother’s death due to colon cancer with health care activist and Medicare for All advocate Ady Barkan earlier this month. 

“She breaks down when she talks about the challenges her mother went through with cancer,” Feldman said. “You see a different side of her than when you see her scripted and trying to stay in the moderate lane.” 


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