Kamala Harris’ team might publicly insist that their candidate is not rattled by her downward trajectory in polling, but that’s not what they’re saying in private. Thanks to a briefing memo left in a restaurant, Politico got a good look at the Harris campaign’s concerns over her “summer slump.” Needless to say, they’re taking the collapse seriously:
A briefing memo accidentally left behind at a restaurant here showed Kamala Harris’ staff expected her to be grilled on her lack of presence in the state as well as her campaign’s “summer slump.”
The document, obtained exclusively by POLITICO, detailed intricacies of her campaign’s relationships with Granite Staters she was set to meet last weekend — from how much her campaign has donated to local politicians to advice she received from a local TV reporter. It included talking points to rebut expected criticisms from voters or reporters, such as the limited number of visits she’s made to the first-in-the-nation primary state and her lackluster poll results.
The timing on this revelation isn’t terribly propitious. Harris has actually arrested her slide in the RealClearPolitics aggregate average of polls at 7.2%. That’s in the same range Harris was in before the first Democratic debate at the end of June, when her attack on Joe Biden more or less doubled her polling support.
That raises an uncomfortable question for Harris. Is this really a “slump” or “collapse,” or is it just a return to her normal position in the race? Many observers figured Harris would be the candidate best positioned to knit together the various strands of progressivism, identity politics, and practicality in 2020, but she’s been a mediocre presence in the race almost from the moment she launched her campaign. It became apparent very quickly that Harris had not thought in depth about any of the major issues of the cycle, especially health care as she pinballed all over the place on private health insurance and Medicare for All. After sponsoring Bernie Sanders’ bill in the Senate, Harris disavowed it last month when pressed to answer for its potential costs and impacts.
The campaign needs yet another reboot, and this time it’s aiming for something more familiar to Harris:
Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) is building her Democratic presidential campaign, in large part, around her experience as a prosecutor, a job she regularly tells voters she took to help improve what she viewed as a broken and biased system from the inside. The criminal justice plan she released Monday morning seeks to overhaul that system — and to eliminate the long-standing biases and disparities that have long plagued the ways it handles Americans of color.
Harris’s plan aims to significantly reduce the number of people incarcerated in the United States by ending mandatory minimum sentences, legalizing marijuana and funding reentry programs to reduce recidivism.
The campaign argues today that Harris’ experience as a state attorney general makes her the most qualified to reform criminal justice in America. That runs into two obvious problems. First, Harris has done almost nothing about this as a member of the US Senate, which calls her passion and credibility on this point into question. More important, however, is Harris’ track record as California’s AG:
Harris has faced criticism of her prosecutorial record since she entered the race. Some of those critiques are specific, centered on policies such as the one she implemented to combat truancy as San Francisco district attorney. That policy threatened legal action against parents of chronically truant students, which some activists argued had an outsize effect on impoverished families and families of color.
Other critiques center on Harris’s lack of action on issues of accountability, arguing that when she had the power to order DNA testing that could have exonerated an inmate on death row, she did not do so, or that she did not initiate independent investigations of county prosecutors or individual police shootings while she was serving as California’s highest law enforcement officer. In many of those cases, Harris chose to defer to local jurisdictions of district attorneys.
Here’s another question, although whether it’s a problem remains to be seen. Why is Harris only now embracing criminal justice reform as her central focus in 2020? It’s been a politically sexy topic ever since Kim Kardashian got Donald Trump to embrace it in the summer of 2018. This should have been Harris’ central focus from the start of her campaign, where her obvious experiential edge over the other candidates in the field would have made her nearly untouchable. Instead, Harris chased all of the other progressive hobby horses first, distinguishing herself only in her superficial grasp of those issues, before belatedly developing a platform she should have had ready from the start.
Her campaign may have fumbled this campaign memo at a restaurant, but Harris has been fumbling the entire campaign from the start. It’s tough to see how she recovers now, even with yet another reboot.