Going into the 2020 Democratic nomination contest, experts predicted that the relatively early primary in the huge state of California would provide a big boost to Sen. Kamala Harris' presidential ambitions, but a new poll finds that if the race were held today, she wouldn't even qualify for statewide delegates.
The survey from the Los Angeles Times/UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies found a wide-open race in California, with Joe Biden leading the pack with 22% among likely Democratic voters, Sen. Elizabeth Warren at 18%, Sen. Bernie Sanders at 17%, Harris at 13%, and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 10%.
California is the largest prize for Democrats, with 416 delegates being awarded based on the results of its primary, or more than one-fifth of the delegates needed to win the nomination on the first ballot. Traditionally, California votes late in the primary process, by which point the nominee is basically decided. But this time around, the state is scheduled to vote on March 3 part of the first batch of states to vote after the early states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina.
Under the allocation rules, 144 delegates will be awarded proportionately based on the statewide vote, and 272 will be awarded based on Congressional district. But to qualify for delegates, a candidate has to receive at least 15% of the vote at either level.
Thus, if this poll is an accurate reflection of the electorate, it would mean that Harris would be shut out of statewide delegates in her home state. True, given that she's at 13% statewide, it stands to reason that there are probably a number of California's 53 districts in which Harris is likely above the threshold, so she wouldn't come out of the primary empty-handed. But a forth-place finish would be an extremely disappointing showing, that most likely would prove fatal to her candidacy.
When Harris entered the race, the relatively early California primary was cited by a number of insiders in making the case that Harris was the actual front-runner. A big win in her home state, it was thought, could help her break out from the pack if she performed well early, or perhaps recover from any early state disappointments.
Yet as the LA Times explains the results, "Harris draws consistent support from across demographic groups and ideological lines and is widely cited as a second choice by voters, but she has no constituency that she dominates, the poll found."
Generally speaking, it isn't a big deal to be behind this early in the race, given that there's plenty of time for voters to get to know you and your opponents. But Harris already has high name recognition in California, where she served as attorney general and won statewide election as a senator. This suggests that she doesn't enter the race with any particular home-field advantage in California, which weakens the case that she will take the nomination at least for those who were assuming a big win in the state in making the case for her electoral strength.
Some other takeaways from the poll.
" This is another poll suggesting Biden's front-runner status is on much shakier ground than it seemed after his initial announcement bounce.
" It's another impressive showing for Warren, who continues to threaten Sanders' second place position in the race.
" If the California poll result ends up similar to this, with at least five candidates grabbing delegates (when taking into account the district level), it would increase the odds that Democrats go into their convention without any candidate having secured a majority of the delegates, and thus without a presumptive nominee.