Big day for Joe, now knowing how close he is to locking down Harris’s three percent of the electorate.

To put that differently, I understand what she’d get out of this endorsement. I’m not sure what Biden gets, especially in a race that now looks to be a battle between him and Bernie Sanders. If instead he was facing a showdown with Elizabeth Warren, the backing of a prominent woman colleague of Warren’s in the Senate would be a signal to undecided Dems that they shouldn’t feel pressured to choose a woman candidate.

But against Bernie, that doesn’t matter. At best, Harris’s endorsement of Biden would serve to balance Warren’s eventual endorsement of Sanders — although Biden’s already likely to “balance” that with Amy Klobuchar’s endorsement. And since Biden already has strong support among black voters, the support of America’s best-known black woman official shouldn’t add much to his take. If Harris had serious influence with black voters she wouldn’t be an ex-candidate right now in the first place.

But yeah, Harris herself obviously has a reason to do this. At some risk.

Democrats close to Ms. Harris said she wanted to carefully consider the potential impact of her endorsement; was mindful that two of her female colleagues, Senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, were still in the race; and was uneasy about the prospect of backing a candidate only to see him or her lose California…

A 55-year-old woman of African and Indian descent with law enforcement credentials, Ms. Harris was already likely to be on Mr. Biden’s short list [for VP], should he emerge as the nominee. Yet she could bolster her chances to be his running mate if she backed his campaign at a critical time, particularly if he did not win in either Iowa or New Hampshire next month and needed a boost in Nevada and South Carolina. And even if she is not chosen for vice president, she would be a leading contender for a cabinet post, such as attorney general…

The risk for Ms. Harris would be if she were to get behind Mr. Biden only to see him lose in California, which votes on March 3 as part of Super Tuesday. A survey of the state’s Democratic voters, conducted this month by the Public Policy Institute of California survey, found that Mr. Biden was in second place to Mr. Sanders, of Vermont. But the poll highlighted the strength of the progressive bloc in the state: Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren combined were capturing 50 percent of the vote.

It makes no sense for her to endorse before Iowa or New Hampshire knowing how uncertain the result is in those states. If you think Harris’s influence is meager now, imagine her rolling out a big announcement on Biden’s behalf a week before Iowa and then watching him get clobbered on caucus night. Plus, like the Times says, she won’t want to knife Warren or Klobuchar while they’re still in contention lest she be accused of betraying the sisterhood. Better to sit tight and see in IA and NH whether Biden’s for real. Ideally for Harris, he’d win one state and lose another. Then, with the race in some doubt, she could throw her support to him and hope he comes up big in Nevada and South Carolina. (If he wins both early states then he won’t need her support, of course.)

The interesting scenario is *Bernie* winning Iowa and New Hampshire. What would Harris do then? It’s hard to imagine her disappointing her old friend Joe again after having done so once already with her attack on him at the first primary debate over busing. But if Bernie suddenly looks like he has a real chance to win, Harris could protect her left flank in California and endear herself to otherwise chilly progressives by surprising everyone with a Sanders endorsement. I don’t think he’d reward her with the VP slot — she’s too different ideologically — but certainly she’d become a player for a cabinet position. (Would lefties tolerate her as AG given how dismally they viewed her record in California?) Even if she didn’t end up in the cabinet, an alliance with Bernie would likely ward off any progressive primary challenges to her for Senate in 2024. And it would position her to run for president again down the line as a slightly more authentic progressive herself, a politician who went all-in on socialism when the 2020 primary was momentarily in doubt.

Plus, who knows? If Harris turned out to be an effective surrogate for Sanders on the trail, maybe he would consider her for VP. The support of an extremely prominent black pol would be valuable to him in countering the narrative that black Democrats are lukewarm about him. Her home state of California is potentially hugely important in the primary too, with Biden and Sanders separated there right now just two-tenths of a point. He could use someone on the stump in such an enormous state to help make the sale, and someone who’s well-known there already would be that much more valuable.

Her problem is that it’s hard to see at this point how Harris’s endorsement is worth more than even, say, Andrew Yang’s, never mind Elizabeth Warren’s or Pete Buttigieg’s. (Or Mike Bloomberg’s!) If you were Biden or Bernie, headed for a showdown in Nevada and South Carolina, would you be working harder to bring the Yang Gang onboard or whatever constituency Harris supposedly commands? The Yang Gang is loyal to their guy and might heed his endorsement. Who’s heeding Harris’s?

There’s only one potential endorsement that’s both interesting and possibly influential among the current field, and that’s Buttigieg’s. Warren and Yang will go for Bernie. Klobuchar and Bloomberg will go for Joe. Buttigieg, however, occupies an ideological space somewhere between the two. And although he’s tacked towards the center recently, that appears to have been a strategic decision in response to the fact that Bernie and Warren were monopolizing the left. If Buttigieg finished a distant third or fourth in Iowa and New Hampshire, he’d have no chance of being nominated but might still command a large enough share of the electorate that his support would be meaningful to whoever received it. And then he’d face a new strategic decision: Even if Biden looks stronger than Sanders after the first two states, is it worth it to Mayor Pete given his long-term future in the party to endorse Bernie anyway and try to reclaim some progressive cred with the left? If he backs Biden they’ll never forgive him. If he backs Sanders, even in what looks to be a losing cause, he has a talking point for his next presidential primary in 2024 or whenever.