Unthinkable: Could Kamala Harris finish fourth ... in California?

Kamala Harris started out the 2020 primary cycle as a potential frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination. Instead, Harris looks as though she won’t finish in the top three of her own home state. A new poll from UC Berkeley shows the former state attorney general and current senator in fourth place, well behind Joe Biden and two of Harris’ Senate colleagues from the East Coast:


The findings from a UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, done for The Times, provide bad news for some of the contenders, starting with Sen. Kamala Harris. …

Although Biden leads the race, he’s far from a commanding front-runner in the state that will send the largest group of delegates to next year’s Democratic nominating convention. Biden has support from 22% of likely Democratic primary voters, the poll found. That’s similar to his level in a recent poll of voters in Iowa, which holds the first contest of the primary season, but well below his standing in some national surveys.

Warren and Sanders followed close behind, with 18% and 17% respectively, essentially a tie.

Harris, at 13%, and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind., at 10%, round out the top tier. No other candidate topped 3%, and many received less than half a point of support.

It’s impossible to overstate what an epic faceplant this would be, if Berkeley’s polling is accurate. The stars were all aligned for Harris’ ascension to the Democratic presidential nomination. Hillary Clinton’s unexpected defeat increased demand for a woman in the White House. Harris’ status as a woman of color fulfilled progressives’ identity-politics agenda. Lastly and most importantly, California’s shift to the start of the primaries in 2020 practically rolled out the red carpet for a favorite son/daughter to grab the brass ring.


Missing a layup like that won’t just keep Harris from getting the nomination in 2020. It will likely discredit her as a presidential contender in later cycles too, especially if she finishes up as badly as this poll suggests. Not only is she losing in her home state, Harris is losing to three East Coast Democrats. Her closest competition in terms of geography in this poll is Jay Inslee, who barely even warrants a mention.

Harris’ standing is so poor that she wouldn’t win any Golden State statewide delegates if the primary was held today, Philip Klein notes:

California is the largest prize for Democrats, with 416 delegates being awarded based on the results of its primary, or more than one-fifth of the delegates needed to win the nomination on the first ballot. Traditionally, California votes late in the primary process, by which point the nominee is basically decided. But this time around, the state is scheduled to vote on March 3 — part of the first batch of states to vote after the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.

Under the allocation rules, 144 delegates will be awarded proportionately based on the statewide vote, and 272 will be awarded based on Congressional district. But to qualify for delegates, a candidate has to receive at least 15% of the vote at either level.

Thus, if this poll is an accurate reflection of the electorate, it would mean that Harris would be shut out of statewide delegates in her home state. True, given that she’s at 13% statewide, it stands to reason that there are probably a number of California’s 53 districts in which Harris is likely above the threshold, so she wouldn’t come out of the primary empty-handed. But a forth-place finish would be an extremely disappointing showing, that most likely would prove fatal to her candidacy.


Can one make an assumption that Harris might have regional centers of strength? Let’s go back to the Berkeley poll and take a look at the demographic and regional breakdowns. They are uniformly mediocre for Harris, who simply has no power base at all. Other than outscoring everyone else as their second choice — 21%, with Elizabeth Warren right behind at 17% — Harris gets only lukewarm support across the board.

So what about regional centers of support? Harris comes in fourth in her home region of San Francisco, only mustering 13% while Warren gets 23% and Biden 21%. (Sanders barely edges Harris at 14%). Harris picks up her biggest share of support from the Central Valley at 16%, but that’s still a fourth-place finish. She ties Warren for third in Orange County, but they both only get 14% while Biden scores 24%.

What about the other key demos in the Democratic electorate? Harris finishes tied for a very distant third with Pete Buttigieg among African-American voters (14%), twenty points behind Biden (34%) and eighteen points behind Warren (32%). She gets 15% for a third-place finish among women, with Biden and Warren tied at 21%. Very liberal voters put her in third behind Warren and Sanders; moderate/conservative voters put her in third behind Biden and Sanders, although “undecided” beats both Harris and Sanders in that demo. She’s closer to the leaders among “somewhat liberal” voters but still ends up tied for fourth with Mayor Pete.


Finally, let’s remember that Harris was the second person officially in this race. She had California to herself and only Warren as significant competition for weeks. That was the time to make hay in the home state. Harris squandered her advantages and now might face an early exit thanks to her home-state shift in the primary order rather than an opportunity to clinch the nomination. That would be an astounding failure if it unfolds as this poll predicts at the moment.

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Ed Morrissey 4:41 PM on September 29, 2023