By Jim EllisDec. 5, 2019 — Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) became the first of what one might consider the top-tier candidates to end her presidential effort, but the announcement timing on Tuesday likely has more to do with her 2022 Senate race than the presidential contest.
The California candidate filing deadline is tomorrow, so Sen. Harris deciding to end her presidential effort means she won’t be on the Golden State presidential primary ballot, and thus avoids an embarrassing loss within her own constituency. Recent polling was forecasting her in the single-digit range even in California.
Obviously, losing any race in one’s home state reveals political weakness, and though she is virtually invulnerable against a Republican in the 2022 general election, the same might not be true if her opponent were a strong Democrat.
Under the California election system that features the jungle primary concept, variations of which are also seen in Washington state and Louisiana, members of the same party can advance into the general election. Florida voters will have the opportunity of adopting that jungle primary concept via ballot initiative next year.
Because California and Washington hold regular primaries before the general election, a pair of candidates always advance irrespective of percentages attained. Conversely, Louisiana holds one election concurrent with the general, meaning a candidate exceeding 50 percent is elected outright; otherwise the top two finishers advance into a December run-off election.
In the California 2022 Senate race, for example, two candidates will move into the general election from their March or June primary (California has continually alternated their primary election dates between the two months, depending upon the political situation at the time the legislature acted) so long as more than one candidate files. Thus, a strong Democrat — and California has many such individuals — could challenge Sen. Harris, draw a relatively meager percentage in the primary while finishing second, and then rally to make a serious general election challenge against her.
Other previous presidential candidates have often found the political going much tougher than expected when returning home to seek re-election after engaging in the national contest, and it remains to be seen if Sen. Harris will find her road to re-election any bumpier.
How does the Harris exit affect the remaining presidential candidates? At this point, the answer is unclear but there are a certain number of votes that will now go to other candidates. Looking at the upcoming national debates that will feature a smaller stage, some of the lesser known candidates should now have a better opportunity to build momentum.
Though Sen. Harris had qualified for the next debate on Dec. 19, she obviously will not participate. At this point, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Amy Klobuchar have earned a podium along with Mayor Pete Buttigieg and businessman Tom Steyer.
Sen. Cory Booker, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, and businessman Andrew Yang are all within potential range of qualifying but still need to meet the polling requirement. Obviously, with a smaller pool of candidates on the debate stage, more airtime will be awarded to each participant. This could allow one of the lower-tier candidates an opportunity to break into the first tier.
Assuming he can stay in the race, watch for Sen. Booker to now make a major play for South Carolina. African Americans typically control the Democratic primary in the Palmetto State, and with Sen. Harris now out, it comes time for Sen. Booker to make a serious play here. Biden has a strong South Carolina lead, but coalescing the black vote, if Booker can demonstrate such an ability, could substantially change the playing field.
Sen. Harris’ exit will also affect the California primary, which polling finds is almost evenly split among Biden, Warren, Sanders, and now Buttigieg. It’s possible the group will grow even tighter as the remaining Harris supporters will individually soon begin finding a new candidate.