Iowa, the first state to cast ballots in the 2020 Democratic primary, is now a make-or-break state for California Sen. Kamala Harris’ presidential ambitions, her top campaign aides said in a conference call.
It is also a make-or-break state for the presidential ambitions of New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan.
The Hawkeye State should be awfully crowded, and Harris — who spent a brief time in the top tier of candidates alongside former Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — will be a part of the crowd.
“We’ll be spending a lot more time in Iowa, expect that to increase exponentially,” Harris campaign manager Juan Rodriguez told reporters. “We want to make sure that we have a top three finish. That will give us a strong slingshot into the rest of the early primary states.”
“I would expect we spend about half the month of October in the state of Iowa,” communications director Lily Adams said.
Harris’ new commitment to Iowa, which will include hiring 60 more organizers and opening 10 new offices in the state, shows the state’s enduring importance, and the media’s enduring focus on it. At the beginning of the cycle, many progressives thought the state’s status would diminish in 2020, with more candidates focusing on winning over voters in delegate-rich California, South Carolina and other diverse states voting later in the calendar.
Instead, only a handful of candidates’ political fortunes are not entirely reliant on the state: Biden, the overall front-runner and the leader in South Carolina; Sanders and Warren, who are seen as having a leg up in New Hampshire; investor Tom Steyer, who can continue his campaign as long as he continues to pour money into it; and nontraditional candidates like Andrew Yang and Marianne Williamson.
Harris spent much of the late summer fundraising, with little time in the early voting states. An NBC News tally found it had been more than 70 days since Harris had visited South Carolina, and more than a month since her last trip to Iowa. Her campaign defended the focus on raising cash, noting it was funding the expansion into Iowa and pointing out Harris brought significantly less campaign money into the race than candidates who it left unnamed. (The candidate is Warren, who had a war chest of more than $10 million.)
“We didn’t come in with millions and millions of dollars that we’d raised in 2018,” Adams said. “We spent 2018 raising for other candidates.”
Harris’ brief spike in the polls came after a confrontation with Biden during the first debate. But that showdown had little lasting impact.
“We saw certainly a sugar high after that first debate. I don’t think any of us thought we would bounce up and stay there for the rest of our lives,” Adams said. “I don’t regret certainly anything about how she handled herself in the first debate.”