Harris’ Iowa pivot struggles to turn interest into momentum

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An ironing board decorates the front of a campaign office for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. in Mason City, Iowa., on Nov. 9, 2019. Harris often tells the story about setting up an ironing board outside grocery stores to meet voters during her first political campaign for San Francisco district attorney. (AP Photo/Kathleen Ronayne)

MASON CITY, IA – As he watched Kamala Harris speak recently at a historic hotel in northern Iowa, Jim Davis told the California senator she reminded him of Jimmy Carter, the little-known Georgia governor whose success in the 1976 caucuses helped vault him to the White House.

“You’re doing it the same way — you’re earning it,” the 66-year-old Davis said.

But he was not ready to commit. Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar also have his attention.

This is Harris’ challenge as she reorients her once-promising campaign almost exclusively around Iowa, which holds the first caucuses on Feb. 3. The people who come to see her may walk away impressed, but it’s not translating into a groundswell of support.

Despite her almost singular focus on Iowa, a recent Monmouth poll said just 3% of likely caucus-goers are backing her. That’s down from 12% in August. Other polls also show her falling to the bottom of the Democratic field in Iowa and nationally over the past several months.

Her aides say a top-three finish in Iowa is necessary to keep her bid alive, and they project confidence she can again rise to the top, noting polling shows only about a third of Iowans are committed to a candidate.

“Our message is resonating in Iowa,” Harris told reporters after speaking to about 100 people in a small-town brewery last Sunday. “We’re going to continue putting our resources into signing people up and harnessing that enthusiasm.”

But initial interest in her candidacy has waned compared with the 20,000 people who showed up at her February campaign launch, albeit in California. Her once-large crowds in Iowa have dwindled to several hundred people as competitors like Buttigieg easily pull more, though local Democrats say she’s attracting a respectable amount of attention.