Move staves off embarrassing defeat in home-state California

Kamala Harris's decision to end her sinking White House campaign on Tuesday is an attempt by the California senator long seen as a rising Democratic star to preserve her future prospects, including as a potential vice president.

"Getting out now actually preserves a lot of her strength as a vice-presidential candidate," said Democratic strategist Max Burns. "The last thing she wanted to do was come in sixth or seventh place in Iowa and then worst-case scenario, go on to South Carolina and finish second or third there."

The prospect of Harris as a running mate has been the subject of much speculation given her unique profile as a woman of Jamaican and Indian heritage in a party that is becoming more female and less white.

Aimee Allison, the founder of She the People, an advocacy group that seeks to empower women of color, said Harris should be on the eventual Democratic nominee's short list.

"She is a tough campaigner with strong ties to networks of black voters in the South where Democrats must win," Allison said. "The top of the ticket must appeal to the base, and the Democrats should learn the lesson of 2016. No all white ticket."

But whether she is tapped as a running mate will depend in part on who the Democratic nominee is. A white man like Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders or Pete Buttigieg would have an incentive to pick someone like her to balance the ticket, while another female U.S. senator like Elizabeth Warren may have less to gain.

Campaigning in Mason City, Iowa, on Tuesday, Biden said Harris was "a first-rate candidate and a real competitor" after her announcement. "I have mixed emotions about it because she is really a solid, solid person." He didn't respond to a question about whether he would consider her for vice president.

Harris had sunk to the low single digits in national and early-state polls, with her hopes of winning the presidency fading by the day. She also risked a humiliating defeat in her home state that could have emboldened a primary challenger to her Senate re-election bid in 2022. She pulled out just ahead of the deadline to withdraw from the state's presidential ballot.

"If she were to get fourth or fifth place in California, what does that mean for her future?" said Adrienne Elrod, a former aide to Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign. "It's a state she won resoundingly in 2016. What would that mean for her spot in the Senate?"

Harris's campaign was hamstrung by her struggle to convey clearly what she stood for in an election where voters demand authenticity in politicians.

In January, Harris said on CNN that she supports eliminating private insurance to achieve Medicare for All. Six months later, after a series of wobbly and shifting answers, she backed away from the Bernie Sanders bill she had co-sponsored and released her own plan that sought to split the difference between a government-run insurance plan and the preservation of a private insurance option.

But the damage had been done, and Harris never quite recovered, despite a brief surge in the polls after she confronted Joe Biden in the first debate in June. Her reputation for equivocating was worsened by hazy positions on issues like eliminating the Senate filibuster and allowing ex-felons to vote.

In an email to supporters on Tuesday, Harris said "it is with deep regret -- but also with deep gratitude -- that I am suspending my campaign today." But she left no doubt that she plans to stay in public life: "I want to be clear with you: I am still very much in this fight."

Some Harris allies were surprised by Biden's deep and enduring support among black voters, a vital Democratic constituency that has overwhelmingly stuck with the former vice president in surveys. That reservoir of support had all but blocked Harris's likely path, which was through South Carolina and the delegate-rich Southern states that vote early on the primary calendar.

Democratic consultant Hilary Rosen said Harris's reputation hadn't been damaged and she would have other opportunities.

"People recognize her enormous talent as a senator," Rosen said. "Many of us are excited to have her in the Senate when Donald Trump's impeachment trial comes up with her fully concentrated on that."

(Michael Bloomberg is also seeking the Democratic presidential nomination. Bloomberg is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.)

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