More details on Harris’s surprise exit from the race

First up today, more on Senator Kamala Harris’s exit from the Democratic primary yesterday afternoon. As with all major candidates who leave the race, we’re going to talk about the campaign. On this one, unlike the others, a LOT has been written in the past few days, and there’s plenty to get into. So, let’s dive in.

First up, Harris announced her campaign on January 21st of this year. She spoke before a crowd of more than 20,000 people in Oakland, California. As the second black woman elected to the Senate, and with major backing in her gigantic home state, Harris was immediately in the top tier of a crowded field.

The biggest moment for her campaign came at the first DNC debate in Miami. She went after former Vice President Joe Biden over issues of race. The specifics had to do with Biden’s opposition to school integration via busing in the 1970s, and shortly after that moment, Harris rose in national polls.

But since then, Harris has faced a variety of political problems and a major dip in the polls. Her position on Medicare for All was unclear, and various attempts to clarify it didn’t seem to help much. Her campaign went through a series of slogans and short-hands for policy, looking for a simple way to package what Harris was all about. Those slogans included: “Kamala Harris For the People,” “Justice Is on the Ballot,” “the 3 A.M. Agenda,” and even to some extent, “I was that little girl,” referencing the busing stuff.

Those shifts in messaging aren’t unique to Harris—lots of people in this field have had to reboot their campaigns at times. In an article for New York Magazine, Gabriel Debenedetti summed up what happened:

“[…] Harris’s campaign, dogged for months by questions about her health-care stance, her political ideology, and, ultimately, her staff’s infighting, never seemed to settle on a single consistent answer to a question voters kept asking: What was she about? At times on the trail, she presented herself as a matter-of-fact progressive, a comforter-in-chief, and an unapologetic prosecutor. Harris, and those who’ve known her for decades, insist all of these are accurate descriptors, but that at her core she’s a results-oriented pragmatist with a long-running disdain for ideological boxes. That, they often said, is precisely what the country could have used right about now.”

One of the points in that article was about campaign infighting. According to multiple in-depth media reports, the most recent being a piece in the New York Times this past weekend, Harris’s campaign suffered from a lack of clarity about who was in charge. Harris’s sister, Maya Harris, was campaign chair. But her campaign manager was Juan Rodriguez. And then a long list of strategists and advisers were also in the mix. As the media focused on those issues it made things worse for her campaign. Reading again from New York Magazine:

“As she slipped into fifth place or worse in national polling, and as she fell far behind in the first-to-caucus state where she bet it all, she cut her payroll and struggled to raise money, all while fighting off a widening stream of stories about disarray among remaining aides. Staff morale plummeted, and private finger-pointing burst into public, with her campaign manager and her sister mired in the middle.”

And here’s one more notable bit from that same article, which gets the issue of being a prominent black woman running for president. She is only the third black woman to ever attempt it, and it was clearly difficult to sum up her identity and history and political stance in a simple way. Okay, reading one last time from New York Magazine:

“At the t-shirt shop, she raised her eyebrows and, with a little smile that then turned serious, said she’d been thinking about something, and was going to try it out on me. She was going to say a phrase, and would ask what image I pictured in response. “The boy next door,” she said, then paused. That week, all the buzz on the ground in the state had been about Pete Buttigieg. “There is an image there. And you can think about certain people on the debate stage that could be attributed to.”
“Are there four words [that] would describe who I am? There’s no frame of reference,” she continued. […] “Like, we have terms for that guy. He’s the boy next door. That’s your uncle, who’s at the Thanksgiving dinner, who does this thing and that. There are images. The girl next door, there’s an image for that, too.””

In a four-minute video announcing the end of her campaign, Harris listed a series of accomplishments. But one of them stood out, as it was also something she brought up in the most recent debate—the idea that Democrats all too often take major constituencies for granted. And at the debate, she highlighted black women as one of those key groups who need to be in the Democratic coalition. You can hear more on that in the debate recap show from two weeks ago. But basically, Harris said, you’ve got to speak to these voters directly and offer them something more than just being their default choice because you’re a Democrat. I’m going to play a relevant clip here from Harris’s video yesterday. Listen in:


At this point, many in the media have noticed that the current list of candidates who have qualified for the December debate are all white. While that may change with Gabbard and Yang, it’s still a reminder that we went into this race with a historically diverse field, and now as the year closes, we find that diversity radically diminished.

So ultimately, the big question I had yesterday was why did Harris end her campaign so abruptly? According to media reports, after a big New York Times story over the weekend, Harris audited her campaign’s finances and determined that there was simply not enough money there to keep going. At the same time, many commentators pointed out that if Harris becomes a Vice Presidential contender, dropping out NOW rather than several months from now—after more battling on debate stages—might be a good idea. Harris spent 316 days in the race, and she will be missed.

Yang’s campaign faces death threats

Next up, a rather horrible story that you need to hear about nonetheless. Andrew Yang’s campaign has received what it considers credible death threats in New Hampshire. They have contacted the FBI for investigation and stepped up security around Yang himself. In an article by Tal Axelrod in The Hill, the plot was laid out in some detail.

“Emails sent to Yang's campaign and reviewed by The Hill showed a user going by the name "HitmanYang" threatening to shoot members of Yang's camp while they were in the Granite State.
Many of the emails referenced the campaign’s tweets, threatening that if the number of tweets from the candidate reached an unspecified threshold that members of the campaign would be shot.
One of the emails suggested that more than one individual was involved and that money had been pooled to bet on how many tweets Yang's campaign would send over a span of about a week.”

The story was posted at 10pm last night. Around that time, Yang himself tweeted what seemed to be a reference to it. He wrote, “Don’t worry about it.”

The impeachment update

And now, the impeachment news in three minutes or less.

Yesterday, the House Intelligence Committee released its report summarizing its findings in the impeachment inquiry so far. The rumors I had heard around both timing for the release and its length were both wrong—it was released around 4pm Eastern, and it is 300 pages long. It also includes a SIX-PAGE list of what it calls “key people and entities,” along with yet another appendix dealing with all the acronyms in the report. It also contains 1,501 footnotes, some of which are multiple pages long. I’m telling you these statistics in part just to explain how immensely long and detailed this report is.

Okay, so what did it say? And how do I communicate that in three minutes or less? Well, gosh. Um. I’m just going to read the five take-away headlines from an article by Amber Phillips for The Washington Post:

“1. Democrats lay out why Trump should be impeached. [...] Abuse of power, [...] Obstruction of Congress, [...] and Compromising national security.
2. Trump’s White House gave Democrats their most solid evidence.
3. Democrats describe broad complicity in the Trump administration.
4. Devin Nunes’s name is repeatedly listed in the report.
5. They feel the need to impeach fast.”

The big surprise in the report is that there are a bunch of phone records obtained from AT&T. These show the timing of various phone calls and text messages between people involved in the Ukraine matter, but don’t have any information about what was said. As the Post reported, ranking member Nunes, the top Republican on the committee, is shown in those phone records calling and texting with Rudy Giuliani on multiple occasions. It’s not clear why that happened. Again, we have no idea what’s in those calls or text messages.

The other big take-away is that the House Intelligence Committee did not suggest specific articles of impeachment, because that’s not their job. They are presenting evidence and leaving it up to the Judiciary Committee to figure out whether any articles should be drafted. There’s a link to the report in the show notes, and, like I said, it is wicked long.

Okay, so that sets up what’s happening today. This morning, the House Judiciary Committee opened hearings with four law professors who are experts on impeachment. More on that tomorrow, but I want to read from a live-blog by Joanie Greve in The Guardian:

“Chairman Jerry Nadler closed his opening statement by pushing back against some Republicans’ argument that Democrats should postpone the impeachment investigation, given that the 2020 election is less than a year away.
“We cannot wait for the election to address the present crisis. […] The integrity of that election is one of the very things at stake.””

One of the Super PACs supporting Booker calls it quits

Here’s a quick one. You may recall that a few weeks ago, a new Super PAC was formed to support Senator Cory Booker. And on that same day, Booker said he didn’t want Super PACs involved in the race, regardless of which candidate they supported. Well, that recently-created Super PAC, which is called United We Win, is still doing its thing. They plan to spend a million dollars on digital ads supporting Booker. More on that one in a moment.

But meanwhile, the OTHER Super PAC that Booker didn’t want is called Dream United. It has now closed up shop. Reading from an article by Maggie Severns in Politico:

“...This year high-dollar donors did not want to support a Booker super PAC, [Democratic donor and activist Steve] Phillips said in a statement on Wednesday. Dream United filed only one disclosure with the Federal Election Commission, which showed the group raising $1.1 million [dollars] from a handful of donors, with Phillips’ wife, Susan Sandler, contributing the bulk of the money.”

The remaining Super PAC supporting Booker tried to hire social media influencers

And here’s a reminder of why you might not want a Super PAC running around and doing stuff on your behalf, but without your permission. The group I mentioned in the previous story, United We Win—that is the pro-Booker Super PAC that still exists—tried to hire social media influencers to promote Booker on their channels. In a story by Tanya Chen in BuzzFeed News, we found out how one influencer felt that political ads crossed a line, while things like cosmetics and other consumer products don’t.

“Some, like [Amanda] Johnson, immediately were put off by it. They felt politics, like religion, are off-limits for paid ads.
"It comes down to impact," Johnson said. "If someone tries a face cream, it’s like $20 [dollars]. If they vote for this person and they don’t even know what they stand for, and now this person becomes president, and now they’re being elected off of 'Oh, they told me to vote for this person, that’s why...' That’s why it doesn’t make me feel good."
"The impact of this is much greater than just a product," she added.”

The sponsorship offer has now been removed, and the Booker campaign has been very clear that they had nothing to do with this. This was a Super PAC working on its own.

But this is yet another look at how advertising around politics is changing—and a test of how we feel about that. Platforms like Twitter and Google are changing their procedures specifically around political ads. But this is the first story I’ve seen in this campaign cycle about social media influencers being hired to promote candidates. I suspect it will not be the last.

An update on that Georgia senate pick

And to close out today’s show, here’s an update from Georgia.

On Monday this week, I reported that Georgia Governor Brian Kemp was expected to name entrepreneur Kelly Loeffler to fill a soon-to-be-vacant Senate seat. He has done so, and this may set up a clash with President Trump, who wanted that seat filled by Doug Collins, a Congressman from Georgia.

Today, Loeffler released a statement detailing her policy positions and essentially arguing that even though she hasn’t held political office, she holds conservative positions and may be just as reliable a pro-Trump Senator as Collins would have been. Reading from that statement:

“[H]ere’s what folks are gonna find out about me: I’m a lifelong conservative. Pro-Second Amendment. Pro-military. Pro-wall. And pro-Trump. I make no apologies for my conservative values, and will proudly support President Trump’s conservative judges.”

Loeffler will begin serving in January, and then there’s an election in November 2020 for the final two years of that term.