Where Harris Went Wrong – The New York Times

Hi. Welcome to On Politics, your guide to the day in national politics. I’m Nick Corasaniti, your host on Tuesdays for our coverage of all things media and messaging.

We start today with the sudden news that Kamala Harris, the barrier-breaking senator from California who began the primary in the top tier of candidates, has dropped out of the Democratic presidential race.

My colleague Astead W. Herndon covered Ms. Harris’s campaign from the beginning. I checked in with him a few minutes ago to get his thoughts.

So, Astead, that news caught me by surprise. Were there any indications that she was on the brink of dropping out?

We knew her campaign’s financial situation was dire, just not how seriously. We knew there was turmoil, but not this bad. And we knew she was in a tough position of her own making: If she reshuffled her top staff, it would likely trigger the resignations of her consultants or require firing her sister, who was her campaign chairwoman. Instead, she chose to drop out.

We like to focus on messaging here in the Tuesday newsletters. It seemed one area Ms. Harris struggled with was a consistent message.

Yep. There were many versions of Harris’s message. “For the People,” “3 a.m. agenda,” “Dude Gotta Go,” “Justice Is On the Ballot” — all these came from one campaign. Our reporting showed two factors here: She did not have a guiding political ideology herself, and the organizational problems meant that, as one staff member told me, the message was up to “whoever won the next argument.”

Ms. Harris also began with a strong fund-raising apparatus that our colleague Shane Goldmacher wrote about in March. Was she struggling with cash?

Big time. Harris had raised a decent amount of money, but her campaign invested in ways that were unsustainable. She was forced to lay off staff in her Baltimore headquarters and in New Hampshire last month. She also did not have enough money to put up a television advertisement in Iowa. She claimed that it was because she was not a billionaire or did not have money to transfer from her Senate campaign account, but some of her staff said it was mismanagement.

Hindsight is always 20/20 (no pun intended), but looking back, where do you see some of the campaign’s biggest missteps?

I think fundamentally the campaign thought they could be everything to everyone, and that was incorrect. Also, they made bad assumptions about how black voters would get behind her early in the primary.

How will her decision to end her campaign ripple through the Democratic race?

Her staff is top tier and she has a lot of endorsements, so the remaining candidates will fight over those people — particularly for her endorsers in the Congressional Black Caucus. But the problem with her campaign was that there weren’t enough donors or voters — so it remains to be seen how her exit really affects the state of play on the ground.


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Antagonizing billionaires is a favorite tactic for Senator Elizabeth Warren: Her campaign sells a mug that says “billionaire tears” and she has a television ad that criticizes some billionaires by name. The ultrawealthy provide a natural foil for her wealth tax proposal.

Now, Ms. Warren has two billionaires competing against her in the Democratic primary, and one, Michael R. Bloomberg, also happens to own a media company. So, on Wednesday, the Warren campaign will air a single ad on Bloomberg’s cable news channel in the New York City market for $792.

It’s hardly an investment that would break through the noise of the escalating political advertising wars, but the G.R.P. of the ad (that stands for gross rating point, an advertising metric that measures impact) is not the goal.

Instead, it’s another troll by the Warren campaign of yet another billionaire (though that $792 will still go to Bloomberg’s bottom line). The campaign confirmed that it would be a new ad, but would not disclose any details for fear of “tipping their hand.” (That’s a humorous campaign dodge given that the ad is already created, the buy is already placed, and its purpose is to generate earned media, which this newsletter item is. But, sure.)

To buoy her paid media (that’s advertising), Ms. Warren is also capitalizing on some earned media (that’s news coverage) from Bloomberg as well: She’ll be interviewed by Joe Weisenthal on Bloomberg TV Wednesday night at 6:15 p.m.


It’s a favorite digital political shenanigan: buy web addresses of variations on a prospective candidate’s name before he or she enters the campaign, and then turn the site into an unflattering mockery.

In 2015, when Senator Ted Cruz became the first major candidate to enter the Republican presidential primary, tedcruz.com redirected to a simple black page with gray text, saying “Support President Obama. Immigration reform now!” The Cruz campaign was forced to use tedcruz.org for its official website. Mr. Cruz used to drive home his web address in his stump speech by repeating it three times in a row, with staccato arm gestures, at any opportunity.

Later that year, after Carly Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard executive, announced her campaign for president, the website carlyfiorina.org displayed another simple page: “Carly Fiorina failed to register this domain. So I’m using it to tell you how many people she laid off at Hewlett-Packard,” followed by 30,000 sad-face emoticons.

Now, there’s President Trump. His main re-election slogan is “Keep America Great,” a play on his 2016 slogan of “Make America Great Again,” but the web address of keepamericagreat.com was already owned by someone else. This week, Tom Steyer, the billionaire Democratic presidential candidate, bought the domain himself for an undisclosed amount.

It now sells “Steyer for President” bumper stickers that proclaim in black and yellow capital letters: “Trump Is a Fraud and a Failure.”

Getting a sticker requires a $3 donation to Mr. Steyer’s campaign. (The stickers might be helping: The Steyer campaign said today that it had reached 200,000 donors, helping him qualify for this month’s Democratic debate.)

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