Harris campaign faces crossroads

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Overnight Health Care: Cigarette smoking rates at new low | Spread of vaping illness slowing | Dems in Congress push to block Trump abortion rule Democratic senators introduce bill to push ICE to stop 'overuse' of solitary confinement MORE (D-Calif.) energized Democratic fundraisers over the weekend with her enthusiasm and prescription for defeating President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE, according to donors who attended her events. 

“I'm convinced she's the next president of the United States,” one longtime Democratic fundraiser told The Hill after attending a sold-out gathering at director Spike Lee’s home on Martha's Vineyard, the Massachusetts island where dozens of Democratic power brokers spend the summer. The fundraiser was one of three events held for the senator over the weekend.  

Other donors echoed the sentiment, praising Harris’s exuberance and ability to excite people in the room.

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The former California attorney general has long been seen as a candidate with crossover appeal who can win over moderates and liberals alike and who has the ability to catch fire in the race. 

But her campaign has lost steam nearly two months after an electric performance at the first Democratic debates, strategists and political observers say. 

Five polls taken after the second round of Democratic debates put her in the single digits, consistently behind former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses GOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California MORE and Sens. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Following school shooting, Biden speaks out: 'We have to protect these kids' MORE (Mass.) and Bernie SandersBernie SandersButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California On The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings MORE (I-Vt.).  

As a result, Harris’s trip to an enclave of the Democratic base at the height of the summer vacation season comes with her campaign at something of a crossroads. 

The daughter of an Indian mother and Jamaican father, Harris has an inspiring background and life story that seems to speak to the times. 

She has strengths that compare favorably to all of her main rivals, from her age, her ethnic background and even her state: She’s a Californian to the core, growing up in a state that is now a bastion of Democratic power. She’s a relatively new face to the national political stage, but she also has experience as a former attorney general and now senator. 

Yet Harris also has some weakness, some of which strategists say have been exacerbated by her campaign to date. 

She’s positioned herself as both a progressive and a moderate, causing her to be viewed as “inauthentic,” said one Democratic strategist. 

“I still don’t think anyone really understands why she’s running,” the strategist said. “And if you’re running for president and you don’t know why you're running, no one else will either.” 

Earlier this month, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver said Harris “seems to be stuck in between Joe Biden, on the one hand, and Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders on her other more left-leaning hand.”

“And that’s starting to show up in the numbers,” Silver said. 

He pointed to a Quinnipiac Poll which showed that “there’s no single group of Democrats—say wealthy or young or black” among whom Harris is polling at higher than 10 percent.” 

The large field, which includes two dozen candidates, has also made it tough for Harris, political observers say.

“It's so hard in a field of two dozen to capture attention on a relatively regular basis and if you don't have that attention you tend to drift downward,” said Cal Jillson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. “And really it's happened to almost everyone.”

Jillson said while Harris had her breakout moment in the first debate, when she challenged Biden’s opposition to federal busing, the electorate’s “second sense of it was more mixed.” 

A Harris campaign spokesman did not respond to a request for comment. 

Another strategist, who is not attached to any of the campaigns, said Harris has suffered because she’s been “very cautious with her approach” drawing comparisons to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonJordan calls Pelosi accusing Trump of bribery 'ridiculous' DOJ watchdog won't let witnesses submit written feedback on investigation into Russia probe: report What are Republicans going to do after Donald Trump leaves office? MORE’s cautious campaign in 2016. 

Basil Smikle, who served as the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party and is a former aide to Clinton, said Harris has been unable to overcome the initial perception of her candidacy.

“To her detriment, many voters initially viewed Harris as a good VP pick for someone like Biden and she didn’t have the built-in national constituency that Biden, Warren or Sanders possessed,” Smikle said. 

But Smikle said there’s time for Harris to recover. 

“She’s well-established in the top tier of candidates and benefits from any slippage in Biden’s black voters and redistribution of support when others drop out of the race,” he said, adding that as of now, “Harris has the money to stay competitive through the early states and perhaps until super Tuesday when her home state of California gets to vote.”  

Another factor that could work in Harris’s favor: Biden’s recent verbal gaffes. 

“His lead is a bit tenuous,” Jillson said.  “And once you get below him there are negatives with Sanders and Warren with some people who think they’re too far left. 

“What that means for Kamala Harris is be as solid as you can be to always be there for a second look,” he added. “Some people that look beyond Biden and see Bernie and Elizabeth Warren, will keep looking.”