Kamala Harris has suspended her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, a dramatic reversal of fortunes for a candidate who began the race with promise.
Two months before the Iowa caucuses, Harris’s departure was unexpected. At the start of her campaign, Democrats viewed the California senator as one of the party’s strongest contenders against Donald Trump – a barrier-breaking former prosecutor who could rebuild the coalition of voters that helped elect Barack Obama twice.
But she struggled to define a clear rationale for her candidacy and in recent weeks her campaign was beset by upheaval and layoffs.
Harris notified her staff on Tuesday afternoon shortly, according to a campaign aide, before her campaign emailed supporters.
In the email, Harris wrote: “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.”
As the news dropped, Harris’s husband, Douglas Emhoff, tweeted a picture of the couple embracing with the caption: “I’ve got you. As always.”
Harris officially launched her campaign in January with an impressive rally in Oakland that drew nearly 22,000 people and even earned plaudits from Trump, who called it the “best opening so far”.
She posted a strong performance in the first debate in Miami in June, in stark opposition to the former vice-president, Joe Biden.
But the polling and fundraising boost that followed that debate performance was short-lived, and after that she never managed to break into the first rank of candidates, which Biden still leads from the Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
Harris recently shifted her focus to Iowa, the first state to vote, in hopes that a top-tier finish could propel her forward. But Buttigieg has moved into leads in Iowa and New Hampshire, the next state to vote.
Harris was the only African American woman in the primary, a point of pride for her campaign.
“Our campaign uniquely spoke to the experiences of black women and people of color – and their importance to the success and future of this party,” Harris said in the email to supporters.
“Our campaign demanded no one should be taken for granted by any political party. We will keep up that fight because no one should be made to fight alone.”
The deadline to appear on the primary ballot in California is Friday and polling showed that Harris was trailing far behind in her home state, a troubling sign for any presidential hopeful.
Harris had already met the fundraising and polling requirements to qualify for the December debate in Los Angeles. With her withdrawal, six candidates are now expected to participate in the debate – all of them white. There are nine days left for other candidates to qualify.
The primary race has been shaped by progressive ideas and Harris found herself stuck between the sweeping populism of Warren and Sanders and the return-to-normal appeal of Biden.
She began by casting herself as a reform-minded progressive, signing on to Sanders’ Medicare for All bill in the Senate. But her prosecutorial past and a shift on Medicare for all policy drew criticism from the left that she struggled to overcome.
At the same time, she was unable to chip away at Biden’s strength among black voters, a crucial Democratic constituency that her campaign identified as a priority.
Her campaign, which drew inspiration from Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman in Congress, initially presented Harris as the candidate “speaking truth” in response to Trump’s persistent attacks on women and minorities as well as the urgency of acting on gun violence and criminal justice reform.
But her wavering on policy reinforced the “Cautious Kamala” reputation she developed as she climbed the ranks from San Francisco district attorney to attorney general of California and then US senator.
Supporters say Harris, the daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, faced a double standard as a woman of color running for the presidency in the shadow of Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump in 2016. Recently she began to speak about what she called the “elephant in the room” – her electability as a woman of color.
In a final iteration of her campaign’s messaging, Harris presented herself as the candidate best equipped to “prosecute” the case against Trump. “Justice is on the ballot,” she told voters in the last debate.
Supporters eager to see Harris take on Trump may yet have a chance next year, when the Senate is likely to hold an impeachment trial against Trump. As a member of the Senate judiciary committee, Harris has become well known for her sharp questioning of Trump administration officials and she is likely to be a prominent voice.
Her Democratic rivals responded to the news with a mix of shock and regret.
Biden told reporters he had “mixed emotions” about her departure while praising Harris as a “first-rate intellect, first-rate candidate [and] real competitor”.
Buttigieg celebrated the California senator’s long career and predicted she would continue to play a vital role in the Democratic party.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang said he was “stunned” to see Harris end her campaign and thanked her for offering his family “help and guidance when she didn’t need to”.
Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who clashed with Harris during the debates, said she respected Harris.
“Love you, sister,” said New Jersey senator Cory Booker.
In a video, Julián Castro, the former housing secretary under Obama and the only Hispanic candidate running for president, assailed the media for its coverage of her campaign, saying that as a black woman she was held to a double standard that was “grossly unfair and unfortunate”.
Leah Greenberg, the co-executive director of Indivisible, a national progressive group, said: “We need leaders who represent the diversity of our party.”