In an emotional moment for many Indian American women, California Senator Kamala Harris announced Dec. 3 that she was bowing out of the 2020 presidential race.
Harris, once considered the heir apparent to President Barack Obama as she began her quest last January, told supporters in an e-mail that she was dropping out due to financial constraints. “I’ve taken stock and looked at this from every angle, and over the last few days have come to one of the hardest decisions of my life. My campaign for president simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need to continue.”
“I’m not a billionaire. I can’t fund my own campaign,” the Indian American senator said, obliquely referring to fellow Democratic contenders Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg. “And as the campaign has gone on, it’s become harder and harder to raise the money we need to compete,” she said.
“In good faith, I can’t tell you, my supporters and volunteers, that I have a path forward if I don’t believe I do. So, to you my supporters, it is with deep regret — but also with deep gratitude — that I am suspending my campaign today,” wrote Harris, the daughter of the late Indian American cancer researcher Shyamala Gopalan.
At the end of October, several publications noted that the Harris’ campaign was hemorrhaging funds faster than it was taking money in. An India-West analysis of the Harris campaign’s Federal Election Commission noted that Harris had raised more than $35 million, but had spent more than $12 million, including $2 million in salaries. A memo from the campaign announced that the candidate was laying off several staff members. (See earlier India-West story here: https://bit.ly/385LIWI)
Indian American venture capitalist Shelly Collins Kapoor, who served on Harris’s National Finance Committee, told India-West Dec. 3: “I knew something was up, but I didn’t know it was this.”
“There is such a crowded field of candidates — many who shouldn’t be there — sucking up all the oxygen. Kamala is a true leader and bowed out gracefully,” said Kapoor, noting that Harris will continue her work in the Senate and will be “an extremely valuable asset” to the impeachment proceedings of President Donald Trump.
Trump, without hint of condescension or irony, tweeted: “Too bad. We will miss you Kamala!”
Fellow Democratic contender Joe Biden tweeted: “Kamala Harris is an incredible talent with unlimited potential. Her career has been defined by taking on those who abuse power and seeking equity and justice for all people. Her intellect and insight will continue to be needed by the Democratic Party and the country.”
“She’s a first-rate candidate and a real competitor and I have mixed emotions about it because she is really a solid, solid person and loaded with talent,” Biden later told reporters.
South Bend, Illinois Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is leading the Democratic primary race in many polls, tweeted: “Kamala Harris has spent her career advocating for the voiceless and the vulnerable. I am grateful for her leadership and the courage she brings to the Senate and the national debate. I know she will continue to fight fearlessly on behalf of the American people — and our democracy.”
Kapoor, who has previously been active in several national political campaigns, told India-West she had been fielding offers from several Democratic races all morning, but added that she was unsure whether she would jump into another race. “She’s my gal,” said Kapoor of Harris.
Indian American political activist Harini Krishnan, who also served on Harris’s National Finance Committee, as well as in several other capacities on the campaign, tearfully told India-West: “I am devastated by today’s news.”
Krishnan said Harris called her major supporters Dec. 3 morning, saying she had “crunched the numbers” to determine she could not “compete against self-funded billionaires.”
“She was stoic but you could hear her disappointment,” said Krishnan, noting that Harris had dropped out despite qualifying for the Dec. 19 debate, which will be held at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California.
Krishnan stated that Harris had to face down the “misogynistic war” of pundits and media. “I have been all in for Kamala from the start. I saw her as the candidate to go toe to toe with Donald Trump, but also as the person to rebuild unity in our country, like President Obama.”
Indian American Shikha Hamilton was also in tears as she spoke with India-West. “I can’t even begin to describe to you how sad I am,” she said. “It is truly heartbreaking to see someone so qualified dropping out.”
Hamilton also served on Harris’s National Finance Committee as well as in other capacities on the campaign. She too blamed the media for not giving Harris the visibility accorded to Biden and Buttigieg. “Moving up the ladder as a woman of color is extremely difficult. Even with those obstacles in her way, she forged ahead and remained inspiring.”
Hamilton’s daughter Avani — like Harris — is mixed-race. Hamilton said she saw in the candidate a vision of the future of America, as more and more of its residents claim two or more ethnic identities.
Hamilton too said she has been courted by other presidential campaigns all morning, but said she does not have a second choice. “I need to see some diversity in our presidential race. It is critical when minorities are being treated so badly by our president.”
Shekar Narasimhan, co-founder of the AAPI Victory Fund, also stressed the need for diversity in the Democratic primary. “If we end up on Dec. 19 with an all-white stage, it’s not going to be great for the Democratic party,” he told India-West.
The Victory Fund has not yet made an endorsement for the primaries.
Narasimhan said that Harris, at the start of her campaign, had a clear path to victory that was marred by inconsistent messaging. “There was a clear lack of ‘this is who I am, this is what I stand for’. That just took its toll,” he said, adding that Harris also failed to gain much traction with the Indian American community.
“She started with a lot of hope. This is extremely disappointing,” said Narasimhan.