(CNN) — Sen. Kamala Harris of California launched a seven-stop tour of Iowa on Monday to galvanize the early vote for down-ballot Democratic candidates — as prospective 2020 presidential candidates aggressively jockey for position, signaling their intentions to donors and Democratic voters.
The tour serves as Harris’ reintroduction to Iowa’s influential Democratic activists, who will hold the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses to decide who will challenge President Donald Trump in 2020. Harris last campaigned here in 2008, for her longtime friend Barack Obama, not long before his strong finish in the Hawkeye State served as his slingshot toward the White House.
Back then, Harris was the relatively unknown San Francisco district attorney. She reminisced in Indianola on Monday that in addition to door-knocking, she became the Obama campaign’s de facto pizza-delivery person during that week in Iowa because “no job was too small.”
On Monday, Harris returned to Iowa as one of the brightest stars in the Democratic firmament, one who has built goodwill within the party by flying around the country to stoke Democratic enthusiasm for the November midterm elections.
She drew a crowd of 500 to an evening rally by the Polk County Democrats. Sean Bagniewski, who heads the group, said he hadn’t seen that level of energy for any of the prospective 2020 candidates who have visited thus far.
“We are better than this,” she said earlier Monday at the Brickhouse Tavern in Indianola to an enthusiastic group of voters, who nodded appreciatively when she decried the “powerful forces that are trying to sow hate and division” in America. “This is a fight that is born out of love of country. We are prepared to fight for the best of who we are.”
Harris sidestepped the question of her own presidential ambitions, however, as she so often does.
When asked by a reporter in Ankeny what she would say to female voters who want her to run in 2020, she replied: “Please vote in the next 15 days and get all your friends to vote.”
Fresh off weekend stops in Wisconsin, Harris spent Monday campaigning for Cindy Axne — who is challenging two-term Rep. David Young for his seat in Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District — as well as other Iowa state and US House candidates. At each stop, Harris was surrounded by well-wishers, some of whom begged her to run for president.
Because of the size and breadth of the potential 2020 field, the likely Democratic contenders have not been shy about setting down their markers as they fan out across the country to help congressional candidates.
- Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s aides sought to signal the strength of her ground operation in a recent interview with The Washington Post, not long before she unsuccessfully attempted to rebut Trump’s attacks on her claim of Native American heritage by producing a DNA test.
- Julian Castro, a former secretary of housing and urban development who was recently in Iowa, has told Rolling Stone magazine that “I’m likely to do it.”
- Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey barnstormed Iowa earlier this month after telling New York Magazine that it would “irresponsible” not to consider running for president.
- Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was in the Hawkeye State last April making the case that mayors “get things done.”
- Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont campaigned Sunday in Iowa with Democratic congressional candidate J.D. Scholten.
Harris, who has raised nearly $7 million this year for US Senate candidates in close races, had offered her star power this week to the Iowa Democratic Party — telling it she would go wherever she was most needed to help elevate down-ballot female candidates.
Her close allies and advisers believe she could be a force in Iowa in 2020 — one who, like Obama and Sanders, is uniquely positioned to galvanize progressive white voters, millennials and college students to build a strong coalition in the state.
The lack of enthusiasm among younger voters, particularly African-Americans and Hispanics, was one of the central forces that led to Hillary Clinton’s defeat in 2016.
Beyond Iowa, Harris allies believe she has strong potential to galvanize African-American voters, particularly women, who have been the deciding factor in early-voting South Carolina and many of the Southern states that will vote days later on March 3, 2020.
Harris also has a unique, and often overlooked, advantage now that California has also moved its presidential primary to March 3. Not only does she have a vast fundraising network across the state that is known as the nation’s political ATM, but as a home state senator she is far better known there than many of the others who might run.
In what is already a well-honed stump speech, the senator kept her focus Monday on the midterms. During a gaggle in Ankeny, she called out Trump for his rhetoric on illegal immigration and the administration’s handling of relations with Saudi Arabia after the death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
She rejected Trump’s recent statements about the caravan of immigrants traveling from Central America to the US border.
“Our strength has always been that we are a tolerant country, that we are welcoming in particular those who have fled harm,” she said. “The idea that we’re vilifying any one group, and the fear-mongering — that’s not in the best interest of our country.”
“What our country wants, and what the people of our country want, is they want leaders who are focused on the challenges that they face every day,” said Harris, who recently introduced a plan for middle-class tax cuts. “Can they put food on the table and pay the bills by the end of the month, consistently, every month of the year? That’s what people want us to be talking about.”
She also called for stronger action to make it clear that the death of Khashoggi at the hands of the Saudis would be not be tolerated.
“By all accounts, that man was murdered,” Harris said. “We cannot support any system that would allow a journalist to be killed because you don’t like what he said. One of the foundations of our democracy is the freedom of the press. … Anytime that there is an effort to destroy that, and to intimidate journalists — much less harm them — that’s the moment that we have to say, ‘Enough is enough. This is not going to reflect our values. We will not support it, and there should be consequences.’ ”
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