Since the early days of this presidential primary cycle, there’s been a quiet but intriguing narrative that Kamala Harris was a much stronger candidate than her national polling might suggest. The gist is that while most years, California is just an ATM for Democratic presidential candidates, this cycle the Golden State will vote on Super Tuesday, March 3. The whole process is so much earlier than usual that absentee and early primary ballots will be mailed out the day of the Iowa caucuses.
California has 495 delegates to the Democratic convention, and they are awarded proportionally — almost a tenth of the total 4535 hard delegates. The pro-Harris theory is that while everybody else is scrambling over a share of Iowa’s 49 delegates or New Hampshire’s 33 delegates, Harris can set herself up to win big in her home state and walk away with, say, 250 or so delegates just out of California, setting herself up to be the frontrunner after Super Tuesday.
It’s an intriguing theory, but history is full of candidates who thought they could make their big move after Iowa and New Hampshire and found themselves sputtering on fumes by the time their preferred primary rolled around. In Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 campaign, Florida was supposed to be the firewall, but winning tends to beget more winning, and losing tends to beget more losing. It’s really difficult to become the nominee if you don’t win Iowa or New Hampshire. The only Democrat who’s done it is Bill Clinton in 1992, and that was an oddity because Senator Tom Harkin was a home-state candidate in Iowa (so most observers discounted it), and Clinton was the “comeback kid” who finished second in New Hampshire that year. (Some might also argue that Hillary Clinton’s win in Iowa last cycle was so close it shouldn’t even count.)
The other hitch in the Harris focus-on-California theory is that it presumes Harris would have a big advantage in her home state. Apparently not! Today’s Emerson poll is a five-alarm fire for the Harris campaign: “Vice President Joe Biden is tied with Sen. Bernie Sanders at 26 percent and Sen. Elizabeth Warren is close behind at 20 percent. A significant drop is seen between this tier and the next group of candidates; entrepreneur Andrew Yang is in fourth at 7 percent, followed by Sen. Kamala Harris at 6 percent.”
Fifth place in her home state? A month ago, SurveyUSA had her in fourth place at 17 percent, just a point behind Sanders! Maybe this Emerson result is an outlier, because if it isn’t . . . to quote the wise philosopher Bill Paxton, “game over, man, game over!”