Harris readies a Phase 2 as she seeks to rejuvenate campaign

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) will make the case for her own electability and why she can beat President Trump in the coming weeks, seeking to inject momentum into a campaign that appears stalled after former Vice President Joe Biden’s entry into the race. 

Harris has struggled to break into the news cycle and move up in the polls as Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have become the clear top two candidates.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) also have leapt past her in some surveys.

Some Democrats see her as too cautious, drawing comparisons to Hillary Clinton and her 2016 campaign.

But Harris sees herself as entering a new phase of the race, allowing her to frame the debate after an initial stage aimed at introducing herself to the electorate. 

“It’s a crowded field, and I think she’ll emphasize why she’s the best candidate to win,” one ally said of the coming Harris pitch. “Voters will understand why she’s running and why she’s uniquely qualified to be the nominee now that they know who she is.” 

A senior aide to the Harris campaign said it is taking the long road.

The Iowa caucuses are more than six months away, and Harris intends to focus on policy rollouts and big speeches. She’s also putting her foot on the gas to raise money to ensure she stays in the top tier.

Harris had arguably one of the best starts in the 2020 race. 

She launched her campaign earlier than most of her opponents, forgoing an exploratory committee and raising $1.5 million in the first 24 hours. She also drew 22,000 people to her official kickoff event in Oakland, Calif. 

And while she’s continued to attract large crowds at events, she’s struggled to gain ground with Biden in the race, something some political observers blame on the Democratic primary electorate’s obsession with finding a candidate who can beat Trump.

Democrats have overwhelmingly indicated that above all they want a candidate who can win, and residue from Clinton’s loss to Trump has raised questions about whether a woman can defeat him. It’s an issue Warren has also had to deal with.

“Sadly for many voters, she may not fit the template of a U.S. president despite a strong record and national profile,” said Democratic strategist Basil Smikle. “Her race and gender put her in conversations to be someone’s No. 2 but not top of the ticket.” 

In recent days, Harris has begun to have a public dialogue about electability. And she did break into the cable news discussion when she was asked about whether she’d be a good vice presidential pick. 

“I think Joe Biden would be a great running mate — as vice president, he’s proven that he knows how to do the job,” she said. 

Harris has cranked up the volume on Trump, calling him out for trying to incite “domestic terrorism.” 

She joined Warren in calling for Trump’s impeachment, a move some of her opponents have been reticent to take. 

Earlier this month, she also made headlines when she grilled Attorney General William Barr during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. 

“Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested you open an investigation into anyone?” Harris asked Barr. 

When the attorney general said he was grappling with the word “suggest,” Harris swapped words.

“Hinted? Inferred?” she pressed.   

The questions drew a smile from her 2020 opponent Cory Booker, the New Jersey Democrat seated next to her on the panel.

Democrats say she needs many more moments like those if she is to get traction in the race.

“As she’s on the campaign trail she just needs to keep showing the savage wit that Trump is complaining about and her prosecutorial questioning burns that get her viral video moments during the congressional hearings,” said Democratic strategist Eddie Vale, who is not affiliated with any presidential campaign.

Vale added that the challenge Harris is facing “isn’t unique to her but emblematic of what most of the field is dealing with in trying to find ways to break through in a 24-candidate WWE Royal Rumble.” 

Other strategists say Harris needs to work more on getting attention.

Vale said recent policy proposals on equal pay and pay for teachers has earned Harris “some good attention,” but others say she needs to be more consistent.

“Breaking through in this media environment is hard, and those who are succeeding so far are the candidates who have picked a lane and stuck with it,” said one political strategist who worked on former President Obama’s presidential campaigns.

While all candidates will inevitably have their ups and downs on the campaign trail, the strategist added that Harris has been “using the strategy another candidate used last week, rather than charting her own path.”

CNN host S.E. Cupp said on her show recently that Harris “needs to zero in on a strong message that sets her apart and then just stay the course.”

While aides to Harris acknowledge that Biden and Sanders are the current front-runners, fluctuation in the field behind them suggests voters are still in the getting-to-know-you phase of the campaign and there’s room to move up.

A good performance at next month’s initial debates could give Harris a boost, solidifying her top tier status, they say.

“It’s still very early, she’s very smart and she has smart people around her,” said one ally. “She knows what she needs to do.”

Tags Bernie Sanders Cory Booker Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Hillary Clinton Joe Biden Pete Buttigieg William Barr
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