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Advice: Kamala Harris cannot hold the spotlight and returns to her daily work

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It somehow seemed appropriate that the news about Kamala Harris's withdrawal from the presidential race on Tuesday would be quickly erased by the release of her accusation report by the House Intelligence Committee. Even in the retreat, Harris could not hold the spotlight.

Ten months ago, Harris made a blistering debut as a Democratic presidential candidate, who was fast becoming the most popular candidate in the race that was not called Bernie Sanders. She had charisma, she had one miraculous first day of fundraising, and she had an ace in the hole: her home state of California would maintain its primary position in early 2020 and presumably shower Harris with love and delegates.

But then South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg became the "it" candidate, at least in the eyes of the media. And then former Vice President Joe Biden stepped in, and Elizabeth Warren began her long climb. Despite a sharp rise after her strong performance in the first debate, Harris sank in the middle of the pack, surpassed by candidates on the left and in the middle. Polls now put her support on the low to medium grades, even in Iowa, what she was count on saving her candidacy.

I leave it up to the campaign staff to give a better explanation why that happened. I cover Harris since her first run for the Attorney General in California, and she impressed me as sharp and persuasive. But she also struck me as a cautious politician, someone who doesn't want to fight, who can alienate supporters. Instead, the fights she fought were often against figures that Democrats quickly demonized – for example, Wall Street banks and for-profit colleges or Brett M. Kavanaugh. That does not mean that they were all wrong fights; they just weren't lonely.

Yet there is no punishment for such things in the Democratic presidential primary. A bigger problem for Harris seemed to be the lack of a coherent message. In health care, for example, she was for one payer, but she wasn't. Unfortunately, it didn't matter her new plan was better; the point was that people could not quickly understand what she was arguing for.

In a smaller field, Harris would have been better able to show her personality and her strengths as a lawyer. In a large field, where she is happy to get 12 minutes time on camera in a three-hour debate ….

I know it is risky to suggest that policy is very important in these races. But if a few dozen candidates compete for the spotlight (and the accompanying campaign contributions), it really helps when voters can choose your message from the line-up. Everyone knows what Sanders is for. They also know that Warren is the anti-Wall Street candidate with a plan for everything, that Biden represents a return to the normality of the Obama administration, and that Buttigieg is the man who speaks very, very well. (Relax, Mayor Pete devotees – that's just a joke. Although he really speaks very, very well.)

Who is Kamala Harris? She is the first-year senator from California and will stay that way for at least another three years.

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