Harris seeks Iowa edge with army of volunteers

Harris seeks Iowa edge with army of volunteers
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DES MOINES, Iowa — Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisTrump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' Trump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' 2020 Democrats look to cut into Biden's lead with black voters MORE (D-Calif.) does not have the largest staff on the ground in Iowa. She has not held the sorts of barnstorming tours on which some of her top rivals have embarked, and she does not lead in the polls.

But Harris’s campaign is quietly building an army of volunteers that she hopes will allow her to build momentum toward Iowa’s February caucuses, a strikingly complex contest in which candidates must receive 15 percent of the vote in any given precinct to win delegates to the national convention.

“That’s the thing that keeps us up at night, making sure we’re viable everywhere,” said Will Dubbs, who runs Harris’s campaign in Iowa. “Fundamentally, the Iowa caucuses are about organizing.”

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Harris’s campaign has held a series of volunteer trainings it calls Camp Kamala, wooing college students on five campuses around the state and training attendees on the finer points of organizing.

The campaign declined to say how many students and volunteers went through the program, but an initial group of five regional organizers began work this week, and another five will start next month.

When Harris makes stops in Sioux City, Council Bluffs and Des Moines this week, her campaign will use a sophisticated set of tools to identify and track those who show up.

They keep tabs on how voters find out about an event they attend, whether through Facebook or by text message using unique SMS short codes. And they track those voters’ top four preferred choices.

After caucusgoers attend one of Harris’s events, the campaign follows up with everyone in the room — within 24 hours.

The goal, Harris insiders say, is to create a network of supporters and shepherd them through the caucus process, a much more laborious undertaking than simply showing up to vote in a primary on Election Day.

To be counted in the caucus, voters have to show up at a specific time and place on what is usually a frigid winter night and stay through the initial tallies and at least two rounds of voting before they can head home. The process is not always welcoming for those who are participating for the first time.

“It’s easy for people to fall through the cracks, and our commitment is, if you want to follow this process, we’ll take you through it every step,” said Deidre DeJear, who ran for Iowa secretary of state in 2018 and who now chairs Harris’s Iowa campaign. “The biggest priority is including people who don’t typically get included.”

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Other candidates have built out big staffs much earlier than Harris. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' Trump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' 2020 Democrats look to cut into Biden's lead with black voters MORE (D-Mass.) has 50 staffers on the ground in Iowa. Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony Booker2020 Democrats look to cut into Biden's lead with black voters 2020 Democrats look to cut into Biden's lead with black voters Overnight Health Care: Democrats attack after Trump revives talk of ObamaCare replacement | Cruz, Ocasio-Cortez efforts on birth control face major obstacles | CVS investing M to fight teen e-cig use MORE (D-N.J.) has close to 40 — and a network of more than 80 extended family members who live in Iowa and volunteer on the campaign. Former Rep. John DelaneyJohn Kevin DelaneyFive takeaways from first Democratic debate lineup Five takeaways from first Democratic debate lineup Democratic presidential hopefuls react to debate placement MORE (D-Md.), the first candidate to join the race, has two dozen staffers.

Most candidates have spent more time wooing Iowa voters than has Harris. Delaney has already hit all 99 counties in Iowa, totaling 167 events over nearly two months in the state. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) has raced through 44 events in just 15 days. Former Colorado Gov. John HickenlooperJohn Wright HickenlooperPoll: Biden leads Sanders by 22 points Poll: Biden leads Sanders by 22 points Democrats' 2020 Achilles's heel: The Senate MORE (D) and Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharOvernight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Overnight Health Care: Democrats attack after Trump revives talk of ObamaCare replacement | Cruz, Ocasio-Cortez efforts on birth control face major obstacles | CVS investing M to fight teen e-cig use MORE (D-Minn.) have both clocked nearly 30 events.

Harris, by contrast, has spent just seven days in Iowa since announcing her campaign. She has made an impression in those seven days — in April she drew a standing-room-only crowd in Iowa City, home of the University of Iowa, and hundreds more at a stop in Ames, home of Iowa State University.

“Kamala impressed people when she was here last fall. We haven’t seen a lot of her since then,” said Sean Bagniewski, who chairs the Polk County Democratic Party in Des Moines.

Harris starts her latest swing in the middle of the pack, trailing front-runners Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' Trump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' 2020 Democrats look to cut into Biden's lead with black voters MORE and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersTrump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' Trump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' 2020 Democrats look to cut into Biden's lead with black voters MORE (I-Vt.). Recent polls show Harris narrowly behind South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegTrump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' Trump hits polling on Fox News: 'Something weird going on at Fox' 2020 Democrats look to cut into Biden's lead with black voters MORE (D), tied with Warren and narrowly ahead of O’Rourke, Booker and Klobuchar.

With eight months before Iowans hold their caucuses, every campaign is focused on identifying and winning over as many voters as possible. That universe of potential voters, aides to multiple candidates said, is expanding rapidly.

Observers and operatives planning for the caucuses expect a massive turnout this year, one almost certain to eclipse huge crowds in 2008 and 2016. In both those races, first-time caucusgoers energized by then-Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaProgressive activist: Democratic nominee will 'need to ride a little bit to the center' Progressive activist: Democratic nominee will 'need to ride a little bit to the center' Juan Williams: Trump's incredible shrinking GOP MORE (D-Ill.) in 2008 and Sanders in 2016 fueled their strong showings.

Harris’s team wants to turn this year’s first-time voters into delegates. Unlike primary states, caucuses reward campaigns that can keep their supporters together over several hours of debate and the very public act of standing up in front of neighbors and friends when casting a vote.

“Organizing in this area looks like building relationships,” DeJear said in an interview. “We’re just trying to bring some of the essentials back to Iowa.”