Juan Rodriguez, Harris’ campaign manager, told reporters Thursday the California senator needs to finish third in the Iowa caucuses in 2020 in order for her to succeed in the following early nominating states and to keep her “competitive heading into super Tuesday calendar states.” The announcement sets expectations high for Harris, especially considering recent polls have her trailing former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the state.
Rodriguez and Harris spokeswoman Lily Adams announced that the California senator plans to visit Iowa every week in October and is increasing her footprint on the ground by 60 organizers, doubling her current staffing and bringing the campaign’s total to 131 organizers in Iowa.
This is a change for Harris, who has spent considerable time on the fundraising circuit and in other early nominating states. Harris, according to the Des Moines Register’s count of events in Iowa, has hosted 47 events in Iowa over 19 days, a figure that lands her in the bottom half of Democratic candidates.
“We want to make sure we have a strong top three finish,” Rodriguez bluntly said on a conference call with reporters, adding that the goal means “more Kamala Harris on the stump and campaigning in early primary states.”
Harris is far from the first candidate to employ this Iowa-centric strategy. Then-Sen. Barack Obama’s win over John Edwards and Hillary Clinton in Iowa proved to voters in later nominating states that the Illinois Democrat was able to compete in the primary and, eventually, win the presidency.
But Harris’ campaign laying down a marker on the finish they need in Iowa also comes with plenty of risk. Should Harris finish lower than third, the fact that the campaign said Harris needed a top three finish – and didn’t get it – could sink her campaign.
Harris’ summer has been a roller coaster. She scored the biggest victory of her campaign in June, when, at the first debate, the senator excoriated Biden on his past opposition to busing as a way to desegregate schools. She rocketed up in national and state-based polls following the first Democratic debate, with one survey showing her in second place, only behind Biden.
But in the subsequent weeks, and as questions lingered about the validity of Harris’ attack against the former vice president, the senator’s poll numbers began to return to where they were early in the nominating fight, which has worried some Harris aides and led other Democrats to question Harris’ ability to win the nomination.
Adams called the bounce Harris experienced in the polls after the first debate a “sugar high” that the Harris’ campaign knew would not last. The spokeswoman added the campaign expects “to see some bouncy polls ahead.”
The Harris team also said the senator will separate herself more from Biden, Warren and Sanders. Adams, without naming the other candidates, described Biden as offering a message that “looks back to the way things were.” She then described Warren and Sanders as “far more strict ideological candidates who, I believe, will contribute to the partisan rancor that we’ve seen in Washington for a long time.”
Adams and Rodriguez said her overall “3 a.m. message,” focusing on issues that keep Americans awake at night, will not shift. They stressed she will focus on how those issues are common across the country and will look for solutions to best unify the country around solving those problems.
Adams said the change in strategy in Iowa reflects the “reality” that “voters are going to look to these very early contests” to determine which candidate has the “broadest appeal across the party” and the best ability to defeat President Donald Trump.
Both Rodriguez and Adams argued that Harris has built big enough “nest eggs” from fundraisers hosted this summer and earlier this year that she can afford to increase her campaign’s paid organizers and spend less time on the fundraising circuit. Adams declined to reveal how much Harris expects to raise in the third fundraising quarter, which closes at the end of September, but said “we had one of our best fundraising days last week online.” Adams said the increased investments reflect the campaign’s third quarter fundraising success.
“You would not be hearing from us talking about investments in Iowa, doubling our staff there, increasing our offices there, if we didn’t feel like we had raised the necessary resources to do that,” Adams said.
The campaign also expects to double its organizing manpower in South Carolina by the end of November, Rodriguez said.