The Memo: Harris can still have impact, despite exit

The Memo: Harris can still have impact, despite exit
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Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisRep. Bobby Rush endorses Bloomberg's White House bid Actor Michael Douglas endorses Bloomberg for president Democrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover-up,' 'national disgrace' MORE (D-Calif.) has dropped her bid for the Democratic nomination, but that doesn’t bring an end to her potential influence on the contest.

Harris is a strong potential running mate for the eventual nominee.

The California senator is also well-connected to some big fundraisers in Democratic politics. Even as she dropped out of the race on Tuesday, a super PAC aligned with her had begun booking advertising time in Iowa worth at least $300,000. (The group had to swiftly cancel the ad buy.)

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A Harris endorsement could yet be valuable — demographically, with women and black voters, and geographically, in her home state and in South Carolina, where she had been running more strongly than in other early states.

To be sure, it is important to keep Harris’s likely impact in perspective. 

When she announced her withdrawal from the race, she was in sixth place nationally in the RealClearPolitics average of polls, drawing only 3.4 percent support and already behind former New York City Mayor Michael BloombergMichael Rubens BloombergSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions MORE, who only entered the race on Nov. 24.

In South Carolina, she was fifth, with 6.3 percent support, while in California she was fourth, with 8.7 percent. 

The dangers of a humiliating defeat in the Golden State are widely assumed to have played some role in Harris’s decision to pull out.

But the competition for Harris’s support — and her donors — has already begun. 

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CNBC reported on Wednesday afternoon that her key fundraisers had begun receiving calls from allies of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Trump says impeachment lawyers were 'really good' MORE, South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Hillary Clinton tears open wound with her attack on Sanders MORE, Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSanders joins Biden atop 2020 Democratic field: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions Sanders holds four-point lead on Biden in new California poll MORE (D-Minn.) and Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerPatrick backs reparations in unveiling 'Equity Agenda for Black Americans' Booker ahead of Trump impeachment trial: 'History has its eyes on us' Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial MORE (D-N.J.).

Biden told reporters Wednesday that “of course” he would consider Harris as a running mate if he becomes the nominee. 

“I’m not good at keeping hard feelings,” he added, referring to the tense exchanges between the two over race-related topics at the first debate in Miami in June. 

Democratic sources note that the unusually splintered nature of the field this cycle could lend Harris more influence than would normally be wielded by a candidate in her position as she considers whether to make an endorsement.

“Ordinarily, a candidate who never even got to the ballot and is not polling well is not going to have an effect on this election,” said Paul Maslin, a Democratic pollster in Harris’s native California. “But the exception to that is this balkanized field. If several candidates are still competitive post-Nevada [the third state to vote, just before South Carolina], it could matter.”

Susan Riordan, a South Carolina Democratic activist who supported Harris — and who spoke briefly with her in Columbia on Wednesday as the campaign began winding down — asserted that the senator could have considerable influence in the Palmetto State’s primary, especially with black voters.

“She has definitely gotten the support of a strong group of black women who were behind her, who helped her begin to canvass across this state,” Riordan said. “I don’t see another candidate, except for Joe Biden, who has that kind of standing in the black community.”

Harris’s exit has frustrated some Democrats who take pride in their party’s diversity but who worry this is not being reflected as the primary enters its most crucial phase. 

As of Wednesday, no nonwhite candidate had qualified for the next televised debate, which is scheduled for Dec. 19 in Los Angeles.

Harris could, perhaps, help another candidate increase black support if she gave them her backing — something that would be particularly welcome in the case of Buttigieg, who has struggled badly in that regard. 

But, again, there are caveats. Harris’s campaign believed that popularity with black voters would be one of her biggest assets, and she appeared to score a hit in the first debate when she went after Biden on his record on school busing.

In fact, black support has remained steadfast for Biden, and Harris’s post-debate surge faded over time.

Still, her appeal as the eventual nominee’s running mate is clear. 

Some Democrats note that the criticism most often cited about her campaign — that she never crystallized why she was running or found a clear ideological position — would not be relevant if she were a vice presidential nominee.

Instead, Harris would bring her advantages — debating skill, powerful oratory and charisma — to the ticket without any obvious downside.

“I would say she is certainly among the top possibilities for the vice presidential nomination, especially if Biden or Buttigieg wins,” said Democratic strategist Robert Shrum.

Harris was seen as a top-tier candidate from the time she entered the race with a massive rally in Oakland in January. At that time, it seemed inconceivable that she would drop out two months before the Iowa caucuses.

But, despite her campaign’s disappointments, Democrats contend she has done herself no lasting damage. 

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Many expect her to shine during President TrumpDonald John TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign MORE’s trial in the Senate, if he is impeached by the House, and to be reelected in California in 2022 unless another job materializes in the interim.

“I know a lot of people feel she fell on her face. I disagree,” said liberal commentator Bill Press, a former chairman of the California Democratic Party and a columnist for The Hill. “She made a good impression nationally. and I think she established herself as a real force in the Democratic Party.”

Press added: “As a senator, now she can be much more influential, have a much stronger presence, and of course there are other options. Vice presidential nominee? For sure. Attorney general? Absolutely. And, I think, she could still be a future nominee of the Democratic Party.”

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.