Kamala Harris just ended her campaign in a stunning early exit and Democrats are reeling

kamala harris
  • Once considered a 2020 frontrunner at the beginning of this year, Sen. Kamala Harris' sudden exit from the 2020 Democratic presidential field shocked many of her fellow Democrats.
  • Harris announced her departure from the race on Tuesday amid discouraging polling numbers and reports of financial struggle, infighting, and turmoil within her campaign team.
  • Many of her fellow 2020 contenders and other Democrats expressed sadness and surprise at her departure, which also sparked a wider conversation about gender and race in politics.
  • Some Democratic operatives argued Harris' exit demonstrated political savvy, while others said it illuminated what they call sexist and racist treatment she's received from pundits and the media. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories

Once considered a 2020 frontrunner, Sen. Kamala Harris' sudden exit from the 2020 presidential field on Tuesday surprised her fellow Democrats.

Despite qualifying for the Dec. 19 Democratic debate, Harris announced her departure from the primary amid discouraging polling numbers and reports of financial struggle, infighting, and turmoil within her campaign team.Advertisement

"I was very surprised by it," Christine Pelosi, a Democratic strategist and the daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, told Insider. "It was rather shocking when I got a text from someone - I thought, 'that can't be.'" 

Pelosi said she thought Harris had enough grassroots support to hit 15% of the vote in the Iowa caucuses in February - the threshold necessary for candidates to earn delegates. She thinks Harris' financial struggles were the nail in the coffin. 

Harris was also facing a looming deadline in her home state, where the ballot will be finalized later this month. A poor primary performance there could've had broad implications for her future in both the 2020 race and the Senate. Ian Russell, a Democratic congressional strategist, said the timing of Harris' exit demonstrated "savvy."

"This way she doesn't risk a drubbing in California that could lead to some ambitious Democrat primarying her for the Senate seat," Russell told Insider. 

Harris, formerly California's attorney general and San Francisco's district attorney, was immediately recognized as a rising Democratic star upon her election to the US Senate in 2016 and quickly positioned herself as one of the Senate's most outspoken and progressive members. Some Democratic operatives lamented Harris' departure. Advertisement

"Kamala Harris is so much better and more qualified than many of the candidates still in the race," Rebecca Katz, a progressive New York-based strategist, told Insider. 

But Democratic strategists say Harris won't be leaving the national spotlight anytime soon. 

Adrienne Elrod, a Democratic strategist and former spokesperson for Hillary Clinton, told Insider that she was "saddened" by Harris' departure but thinks the senator will have "a prominent place" in the party for "decades to come." Advertisement

"While her campaign clearly had some struggles, Kamala Harris is a trailblazer and brought so much passion, energy, and plenty of smart, creative ideas about how to make our country a better place to the primary debate," Elrod said. 

Jesse Ferguson, a former spokesman for Hillary Clinton, told Insider that Harris is "a young, rising-star senator with an influential role in the Senate."

He added, "This is far from her last act in politics."Advertisement

Some are already speculating that Harris will be an attractive vice presidential running mate. 

"I'm sure there's a lot of healing and mourning that needs to go on, but I think she'd be on anybody's shortlist to be vice president," Pelosi said. 

Harris' historic candidacy also sparked commentary on the role of gender and racial bias in American politics

With Harris' exit from the race, the six candidates who have qualified to participate in the December Democratic primary debate are all white, a striking contrast to the diverse Democratic electorate. Advertisement

Pelosi, who went to law school with Harris and has long been a supporter of the senator, argued that Harris received more criticism from pundits and the media over her "message and management stumbles" than did many of the white and male candidates. 

"You really can't tell the story about Kamala Harris 2020 without speaking of the sexism, the 'misogynoir,' and the big money in politics," she said. "I credit her with the integrity to see she could overcome one or two, but not all three, of those factors." She argued that the party and the media's handling of Harris' exit from the race will impact how black women perceive the party and politics generally. Advertisement

"The only black woman in the race has left the stage, so how your treat her demise will be a sign to other black women about how you value them," Pelosi said. 


Harris received public displays of support from her family and some campaign staffers:


Other 2020 Democrats and Democratic activists were sad to see her go:


The Trump campaign reacted with glee, posting a tweet referencing Harris' feud with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard:

Gabbard herself, however, tweeted out a gracious and laudatory response to Harris' departure from the race: 


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