Booker, Biden could gain ground from Kamala Harris' departure, strategists say

Sen. Kamala Harris was the most high-profile and well-known presidential candidate to date to drop out of the race for the Democratic nomination.

And with the former California attorney general’s suspension of her White House campaign comes the natural question – which candidates will benefit from the senator’s departure?


Democratic strategists neutral in the primary race who were interviewed by Fox News agreed that the departure of Harris – the only black female candidate in the hunt for the nomination – won’t dramatically alter the horserace but could help, along the margins, some of the remaining candidates in the still large field of contenders.

Among those mentioned who could benefit are Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, former Vice President Joe Biden, South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts.

Booker – one of two remaining black candidates in the race along with former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick – gets the most mentions. While the former Newark, New Jersey mayor is considered the best orator in the field and has built up talented teams in the early voting states, he remains low in the polls, has struggled with fundraising and for the first time may miss qualifying for the next Democratic primary debate.

But a long-time Democratic consultant close to Booker’s inner circle pointed to South Carolina - the first southern state to vote in the primaries – where black voters make up a majority of the likely Democratic presidential primary electorate.

“I do think as we get closer to the South Carolina primary date, African Americans start looking very closely at the candidate, and with the field winnowing down to two African Americans, they’re going to get very serious and give Cory Booker a good look,” emphasized the consultant, who asked to remain anonymous to speak more freely.


The Harris campaign had been on a downward trajectory since August, and the candidate was hovering at just over 3 percent in an average of the most recent national polls and more importantly an average of the latest surveys in Iowa, which kicks off the presidential nominating calendar.

Booker – who’s close with Harris – said Wednesday he is frustrated that her voice will now be silenced on the campaign trail. But he inadvertently may benefit. Booker noted in an interview with BuzzFeed Wednesday that the 8 a.m. hour of the morning after Harris' departure was his campaign’s second-best hour of fundraising since he declared his candidacy in February.

Pointing to the erosion of diversity in the field with Harris dropping out, he said “there is a backlash going on.”

To date, Biden retains an overwhelming advantage among black voters nationally and in South Carolina. But a Democratic strategist and presidential campaign veteran noted that Harris’ “potential was to consolidate African American voters.”

The strategist – who also asked for anonymity – said even though Harris “didn’t have enough vote share,” her departure “opens the door for Cory Booker to get a shot with voters. If Biden stumbles and has a real poor showing in Iowa, it opens the door to Booker to be the candidate in South Carolina.”

Veteran Democratic consultant Lynda Tran told Fox News that “voters from communities of color excited about the most diverse primary field in history may feel they have a home with the Booker campaign.”

But another Democratic strategist and presidential campaign veteran who asked for anonymity said any boost for Booker would fall far short, stressing that “Booker may gain on the margins but that is likely not to be enough of the momentum burst he needs.”

Patrick, who declared his candidacy just three weeks ago, could also benefit. But one of the strategists – pointing to Patrick’s slow startup – said “there’s potential there for Deval but it’s yet to be seen if he can take advantage.”

There’s also an advantage for Biden. Harris always had the potential to resonate with black voters, which are a key constituency for Biden. One of the strategists noted that “Biden no longer has the threat of Harris being able to eat into his vote share.”

Asked Wednesday if he’d consider Harris as his running mate if he wins the nomination, Biden told reporters in Iowa that “of course I would. Look, Senator Harris has the capacity to be anything she wants to be. I mean it sincerely. I talked to her yesterday. She's solid, she can be president someday herself, she can be vice president, she could go on to be a Supreme Court justice, she could be attorney general. I mean she has enormous capability.”

Another strategist predicted that Buttigieg and Warren could benefit from Harris dropping out, pointing out that “Kamala had support from highly educated white voters as well as younger to middle-aged African American voters.  So you can see some going to Warren and Buttigieg, and others going to Biden.”

But all of the strategists agreed the end of the Harris campaign won’t be a game-changer for any of the other candidates.

Tran, who ran communications for the Obama-era grassroots group Organizing for America and was a founding partner of the communications firm 270 Strategies., noted that “Harris’s departure likely means other candidates remaining in the field will get a second look from both her core grassroots supporters and the grasstops supporters who either endorsed her, wrote large checks to her campaign, or all of the above.”

But she emphasized that “voters will remain largely motivated by the issues — especially economic issues — and I don’t think there will be a seismic shift either way.”

Fox News' Allie Raffa contributed to this story