“She's covered a lot of areas that I was concerned with, like the income disparity between the rich and poor,” said Whitehorn, 69. “We need those specifics, because we've seen a lot of people come fast out of the gate and never finish.”
Harris's campaign, which recently almost totally shuttered its New Hampshire operation to focus on Iowa, is working doggedly to avoid that fate. So are some other Democrats who have made big splashes in the race. Joe Biden, who led in polls of Iowa until this summer, is about to embark on a week-long “No Malarkey” bus tour around the state. Just weeks after the party's Liberty and Justice Dinner, where Democrats spoke in front of tens of thousands of Iowa voters, they are engaged in a much less flashy grind for every single vote.
Biden and Harris, who have lost the most altitude since the summer, have returned to the state with outwardly down-to-earth campaigning — small venues, with plenty of time for in-person interaction. As Mike Bloomberg enters the presidential race with a $34 million ad buy, bypassing Iowa entirely, his competitors are getting ever more personal.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has slipped behind South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg in this month's polls, is returning soon for repeat visits to Democratic strongholds such as Waterloo and Iowa City, evidence of just how unsettled the party's liberal voters still are. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has prioritized organizing infrequent or unlikely caucusgoers, has held just one large, star-studded rally — a climate change event with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. He has spent more time, in Iowa, on unfussy town halls at which he encourages voters to share their health insurance horror stories.
“Look, there are multiple historic candidacies in this field, and people want to take closer looks,” said Sue Dvorsky, a former state party chair who endorsed Harris and came to her Washington town hall. “We don't have any more big events between now and the caucuses. We're heading to that hunkered-down, family thing we always do in Iowa. And Kamala is charismatic in these rooms.”
This type of campaigning is a comfortable fit for Biden, who has never drawn huge crowds in Iowa and who excels at long voter interactions on rope lines or in retail stops. It has been more of an adjustment for Harris, whose campaign held splashy, line-out-the-door rallies at the start of her campaign, faithfully captured and shared on social media. A campaign that once speculated about a win in Iowa is now reintroducing the candidate as an alternative to rivals who've been getting more attention.
The days of boasting about a “top-tier” candidacy are over. The Harris now campaigning in Iowa and South Carolina, the states where her retooled campaign is focusing, is asking voters whether they really want to write off a qualified black female candidate before they spend some time with her.
“Honestly, I'm not looking backward,” Harris said in an interview before a stop in Muscatine, Iowa. “I can't. There's too much in front of us. And so my focus is on the people I'm about to go speak with here in Muscatine. My focus is on the weekend of action that we have in South Carolina. That's my focus. And that's where my focus should be.”
In Muscatine and Washington, where Harris stumped before that brief South Carolina trip, her promise was on display just as much as her challenges. The Muscatine event filled a bar not far from the local headquarters of the Warren campaign, which was bustling, and the Biden campaign, where the lights were off. But the people who'd huddled in to see Harris said they'd liked her immediately and signed up as soon as they could only to be stunned as candidates such as Buttigieg took off and she faltered, something they frequently attributed to media coverage.
“People love her as soon as they meet her,” said Jill Forbes, 52. “It's been a little frustrating, if I can be honest with you.”
Onstage, Harris put together an argument that had eluded her for much of the campaign: She had experience, and she won. In Washington, she emphasized that she had run the second-largest justice department in the country, as attorney general of California; in Muscatine, she took a question about insulin prices as the cue to talk about how she'd fight the drug industry.
“A lot of prescription medication was born out of federal funding and research and development for that drug,” Harris told an audience of around 100 Democrats. “Your taxpayer dollars. So, for any drug where they fail to play by our rules, and if that drug came about through federal funding and research and development, I will snatch that patent.”
“Can we do that?” asked someone in the audience.
“Yes, we can do that!” Harris said. “It's a question of whether you have the will to do it. I have the will to do it.”
Biden's tone could hardly be different from Harris's. On Saturday, in Knoxville, he told a crowd of about the same size as hers in Muscatine that rival candidates were relying on too many promises of executive action, talking too little about working with the other side.
“Executive orders are basically menus to abuse the power of the presidency,” Biden said.
But like Harris, Biden had staged the event as a low-key, personal introduction to him, with plenty of time to be personally convinced. Biden's team has begun holding events in the round, allowing the avuncular candidate to roam and make eye contact with the attendees or joke with them.
The mood in the crowd was similar to the mood at Harris's events, too, with voters eager to see the candidate and puzzling over why he was not in the lead. Robert Mann, 56, had shown up early and sat outside the event, resting his prosthetic legs; he had expected a larger crowd, he explained, and was a little nervous that Biden did not have one.
“I’ll be honest: I think he looks a little frail to people,” Mann said before Biden spoke. “He looks not quite sharp. I think he’ll get better with time.”
Biden's presentation, calm and conversational, avoided any comparisons to the flashier Democrats. The goal was the same as Harris: to persuade people, with personal attention, to sign up and caucus for them. About 45 minutes into his remarks, Biden trained his eyes on Mann.
“Sir, are you a veteran?” Biden asked.
“Diabetic,” Mann said.
“Diabetic,” Biden repeated. “You know, one of the things we're looking at here is you're in a situation where … you're a hell of a guy, man. No, I'm not joking. The prosthesis you're wearing? We're making gigantic advances with prostheses. It's going to cost a lot of money. It should be available to you. Period. Period.”
It wasn't dramatic. It was the sort of conversation Biden intended to have, hundreds or thousands more times, before the clock ran out on the caucuses.
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ON THE TRAIL
ATLANTA — The protesters blended right in with the crowd at Elizabeth Warren’s Thursday night speech at Atlanta Clark University. They arrived together and sat together on bleachers far from her stage but close to the media. When Warren organizers started a dance, they danced along. Only when Warren began speaking did 100-odd people take off their heavy clothes to reveal T-shirts that read “Powerful Parent Network,” and shortly after that they began stomping their feet, making it impossible for Warren to continue.
“Our children, our choice!” they chanted. “Our children, our choice!”
The PPN, it turned out, was a newly founded node of a pro-“school choice” network, with bottomless funding and a plan to make itself visible at the Democratic debates. It protested Warren’s event because she had released a plan to end school vouchers that divert money from public schools to charter schools. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who had rallied at nearby Morehouse College just a few hours earlier, had a similar plan, but not a similar protest. And Warren agreed to meet the leader of the protest afterward, leading to a newsy blunder: She said that her children “went to public schools,” though her son, Alex, attended private schools after the fifth grade.
“Nothing in my plan says we’re going to close any existing charter schools,” she said. “If I don’t have the pieces right, I’m going to go back and read it.”
The protest and its aftermath disrupted what had been planned as a set-piece speech: Warren's tribute to the black labor movement and the 1881 black washerwomen strike. “Black women led, but soon, the handful of white washerwomen who’d stood on the sidelines realized that the only way to better wages was to follow the lead of the black women,” she said. “Working women standing together.” She delivered those remarks only after Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, a co-chair of her campaign, urged the protesters to calm down — which they did. While Warren faced some criticism for deferring to Pressley, it was part of the message: She was deferring to black women.
That has been Warren's strategy since the outset of her campaign, and it has slowly paid dividends. The audience for the Atlanta speech was noticeably diverse, in a way some of her events in African American-majority places had not been. In that audience were locals and students who'd taken a campaign bus from South Carolina State University, a historically black college several hours away.
The competition for HBCU voters is intense and led by Sanders. His Morehouse speech was just one stop on a permanent HBCU organizing tour that his campaign launched two months earlier. The event took full advantage of that, bringing Morehouse students into a two-hour seminar, culminating with a speech from the designer of Sanders's HBCU funding plan and remarks from Sanders himself. As he's done more this cycle than he did in 2016, Sanders emphasized the direct civil rights action he'd taken as a college student — an action captured on T-shirts worn by several people in the crowd, which portrayed the young Sanders being dragged by police.
“I guess I'm one of the few candidates for president of the United States who will tell you, proudly, that I was once arrested in my country for fighting housing segregation in Chicago. I'm sure that is usually not the kind of thing that presidential candidates advertise, going to jail. But it's a better way to go to jail than the corruption that currently goes on in the White House.”
Polling has found Sanders consistently ahead with black voters under the age of 30, a demographic he won during many of the 2016 primaries. Warren, less known at the start of this campaign, has polled in the low teens with all black voters in Southern states. Both candidates consistently lose the overall black vote to Joe Biden, who has taken a more traditional approach, locking up surrogates from the political class.
“If you notice, I have more people supporting me in the black community that have announced for me because they know me, they know who I am,” Biden said in Wednesday night's debate.
In Atlanta, Biden went from the debate to a reception co-hosted by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance-Bottoms; he passed on a Thursday morning breakfast with Al Sharpton's National Action Network but met with black mayors, who emerged with praise for Biden's plans and personal connection. One day later, he scored another coup: An endorsement from the longest-serving black official in South Bend, Ind., who made Biden's (and other Democrats') point for him: that Pete Buttigieg had not built strong black connections.
The three black candidates for the nomination, who have persistently lagged behind on black support, have built their own networks and, in the process, urged harder looks at Biden. Former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who entered the race this month, has made the fewest inroads; Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) has prioritized criminal justice reformers and legislators on his trips to South Carolina. Sen. Kamala D. Harris's weekend trip to South Carolina was focused on black women and, during it, she made a pointed comment about Biden's record. After taking months of criticism for her record as a prosecutor, she asked whether black voters really could trust her less than Biden, who has apologized for some of his anti-crime legislation.
“There are people on that debate stagge that wrote the crime bill, that voted for the crime bill, that have never had any language about reforming the system until they decided to run for president,” she said.
But at the end of a week focused on black voters, Warren was the only candidate protested by some of them. Reaction to the protests, on the left, was muted, as the funding behind school choice campaigns comes heavily from conservative donors. But the donors and activists had reach and were not part of the groups Warren had built strong ties to. The parents were there to be skeptical of Warren, but just in case, she has given them a meeting.
The latest on the impeachment inquiry:
Mike Bloomberg, “Rebuild America.” The first spot of Bloomberg's 2020 bid looks a lot like the spot he prepared for his aborted 2016 run. Back then, he was going to seek the presidency as an independent; now, he's a Democrat, and there are a few nods to that in the narration. The introduction to Bloomberg's record includes references to how he “created tens of thousands of affordable housing units” and “raised teachers' salaries” in New York City. It enters the Democratic fight about health care with a version of Joe Biden's argument: “Everyone without health insurance is guaranteed to get it, and everyone who likes theirs can go ahead and keep it.”
Tom Steyer, “Too Bad.” The other billionaire seeking the Democratic nomination is deep, deep into his TV ad campaign, cycling through the messages he launched with. His latest spot, which began running the day before the last debate, emphasizes his push for a term-limits amendment. “Congress shouldn't be a lifetime appointment,” Steyer says. “But members of Congress and the corporations who bought our democracy hate term limits. Too bad.” It's not clear that corporate interests are opposed to term limits; during the heyday of term limits campaigning, conservative business groups lobbied heavily for them.
And then there were 18, again: Mike Bloomberg is officially running for president. Like President Trump, to whom Bloomberg does not want to be compared in any way, he flirted with White House bids before. Unlike Trump, he never considered it until he had electoral experience. The first attempt to generate interest in a Bloomberg candidacy came in 2008, when he was finishing his second term as New York City's mayor.
The slow, methodical process by which Bloomberg explored this bid drained some of the drama about it. We know the basics: He will not compete in the first four primary states, he will not seek campaign donations, and, if elected, he will not take a salary. (Bloomberg didn't take one as mayor, either, though his wealth was far greater when he returned to the private sector.) Running as a Democrat also codifies what Bloomberg has said since 2016: He will not try to disrupt the two-party system, despite years of effort trying to draft him into that cause. (Americans Elect, an aborted 2012 third-party effort, was created in part to be a Bloomberg vehicle, should he have run.)
Turning down donations will also keep Bloomberg off December's debate stage, which the campaign has acknowledged. While DNC Chairman Tom Perez told The Post that the party will revisit its debate rules in January, any change to the rule requiring grass-roots donations could spark a backlash, and Bloomberg has not sounded particularly interested in these debates, anyway.
In the first few hours of his candidacy, Bloomberg has been a piñata for the Democrats' two left-wing candidates. After Bloomberg reserved $34 million in TV ads, more than any Democratic primary campaign in history up to this point, Elizabeth Warren tweeted that Bloomberg had found a “way to pay less under my wealth tax … in a Warren administration, he and his billionaire friends would finally have to pay their fair share.” Bernie Sanders, on the New Hampshire campaign trail, repeatedly invoked and derided Bloomberg.
“We do not believe that billionaires have the right to buy elections,” he said. “That is why multibillionaires like Michael Bloomberg are not going to get very far in this election.”
Joe Biden. He won the endorsements of Tom and Christie Vilsack, the former governor and first lady of Iowa and still among the most popular Democrats in the state. “I think Joe Biden is best positioned to win the states that have to be won in order to get 270 electoral votes,” Vilsack told reporters after making the announcement Saturday in Des Moines.
Kamala Harris. She was endorsed by California Rep. Salud Carbajal, the fourth member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to get behind her campaign. “I have worked with her often to provide for our state, and America saw yet again on the debate stage that Kamala is the best candidate to take on Donald Trump,” he said in a statement.
Deval Patrick. He’s returning to New Hampshire on Tuesday for two candidate traditions: the Politics and Eggs breakfast, and Politics and Pints.
Julián Castro. Weeks after criticizing Iowa’s role in the nominating process, he was endorsed by the Democratic chair and vice chair of Lee County, in the southeast corner of the state.
John Delaney. He welcomed new candidates to the race with a video from part of his workout routine.
Cory Booker. His campaign reported $800,000 in new donations between Wednesday night’s debate and Friday night. He has now hit the donation threshold, but not the poll threshold, for December’s debate.
Pete Buttigieg. Next Sunday, he’ll go to civil rights leader Rev. William Barber’s church in North Carolina.
... 25 days until the sixth Democratic debate
... 71 days until the Iowa caucuses
... 79 days until the New Hampshire primary
... 90 days until the Nevada caucuses