Kamala Harris opened her historic presidential bid in Oakland, California, in January to a crowd of over 22,000 people. She suspended it in December, telling followers that, “My campaign for president simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need to continue.”
I happened to be on CNN discussing impeachment when the news broke, and it was a bit surreal discussing it as the lone black woman on that panel, and as a sorority sister of Kamala’s (we are both Alpha Kappa Alpha women). I felt sadness and disappointment that the “sister” who had everything in the world going for her still could not crack that glass ceiling for women, and most certainly for women like her and me.
Harris, was always a long shot to get the Democratic nomination. Yes, she’s a sitting United States senator from the largest state in the union, and a former state attorney general. Smart. Attractive. Gives a good speech, connects well with people, and has raised millions.
Yet, she had two big things going against her: She is a woman. And she is black.
Let me be clear, before I break this all down for you: Harris did not run a very disciplined or focused campaign. She was all over the place. One week it was Medicare For All. The next it wasn’t. One week it was “I am a tough prosecutor who can handle Donald Trump” and the next it was “I am the best leader for climate change.” She never really found her voice and even as the crowded Democratic field began to thin, she found herself slipping out of its top tier.
Why? What happened?
For starters, news articles pummeled her disorganized campaign and a campaign team led by the candidate’s sister. Then there was the scathing letter of resignation from Harris’ former State Operation Director Kelly Mehlenbacher, who before signing on with Mike Bloomberg wrote that "this is my third presidential campaign and I have never seen an organization treat its staff so poorly." The hits kept coming and Harris withdrew just in time to keep her name from appearing on the ballot in California, where a hometown loss could have seriously damaged her standing ahead of a potential Senate re-election bid in 2022.
As Harris rightly pointed out in what turned out to be her final debate, black women’s votes and our volunteerism are fundamental to Democratic political success. With the writing on the wall for her campaign, Harris let loose and let her party know that she, like many black women before her, had been passed over, not really seen, and not afforded a seat at the table of power that they had helped set for so many others.
One has to ask why is it that Mayor Pete, a small town mayor from Indiana with no real hope of winning higher office in his own state has tons of money flowing into his coffers and has surged in the polls while garnering media adulation. How is it that someone like Harris has been passed over for a 37-year-old with a limited record?
Why Mike Bloomberg, starting with billions of dollars but no support at all, can rejoin the party to jump in the race while Harris can’t hang on?
Why Joe Biden could claim that he had the backing of “the only African-American woman who's ever been elected to the United States Senate — meaning Carol Mosley-Braun, who served one term in Illinois in the 1990s —while on the debate stage with Harris, who shot back: “The other one is here!”
I know the answer, as do millions of women and women of color who live the double standard everyday. Just look at who remains at the top of the Democratic field: the group is all white and, with the exception of Elizabeth Warren, all male. They have the money. They have the access. They have the remaining seats at the table.
In the final analysis, I believe that Harris made a wise choice to withdraw now. She is still a young woman at 55, and a United States senator. She can run for president in four years if Trump wins re-election. Or she may become the first woman and first black person ever to serve as vice president of the United States of America. Time will tell, but my money is still on a Biden-Harris ticket in 2020. And I am proud of Harris because she made an impact.
In becoming the first black woman to approach the top of the Democratic field, she made the path just a little bit easier for some future woman of color to break the world’s most hardened glass ceiling: the presidency of the United States of America.