The senator from California was coming off a star turn in the first debate of the Democratic primary campaign — telling her personal story powerfully even while effectively exposing Joe Biden’s weakness over his record on busing. She was in command, comfortable on the stage, presidential.
So what happened? How did Harris go from the clear alternative to front-running Biden in late June to needing to make a drastic strategy change to stay relevant in mid-September?
The answer is this: No one thing happened. A confluence of things happened.
1) Harris was unable to follow up her strong first debate with similar performances in the second and third debates. Particularly in the second debate, in July, she struggled as her rivals went after her record on health care, among other issues.
2) She couldn’t decide what she wanted to be. Was she the attack dog making the case against the establishment? Was she the tough prosecutor? Was she the unity candidate? The liberal lion? She played all of those roles at some point over the summer. But she has yet to settle on one in particular.
3) Elizabeth Warren happened. Warren’s rise over the past three months tracks pretty closely with Harris’ fall. When Harris announced for president, she was the one with the big crowds and all the excitement. That candidate is Warren now.
None of these factors are insurmountable. There are 137 days left before the Iowa caucuses on February 3 — and, as Harris’ rise and fall have shown, a lot can happen in a lot less time. But her fall is striking because it was so hard to imagine less than three months ago. Maybe her comeback will seem just as unlikely if and when she can make it.
The Point: The arc of Harris’ campaign to date is a lesson to anyone running for office. That lesson? Don’t peak too early.