“Everybody goes back to thinking about what it means to have [Trump] and all those nasty things he’s said — talking about people with handicaps . . . the Mexicans, the blacks,” said Bernice Scott, referring to insults from President Trump. “We don’t want that. We’re a better country than that.”
But the group isn’t completely adrift. “We said if somehow this one doesn’t work out we’ll go with that one,” said Scott, who said they’ve been closely monitoring two other candidates. “We go deep into planning.”
Harris’s abrupt departure from the 2020 Democratic contest unleashed a massive scramble among the remaining candidates for her vast field of organizers, local leaders, staff and donors. And it prompted soul searching among her backers and her fans about who they might back next.
The California senator left the race after support and fundraising slumped — but after nearly 11 months she had amassed a well-regarded bounty of supporters, particularly among black Democrats.
The competition for her backers, especially African American women, is particularly fierce given the delicate racial dynamics of the remaining Democratic field, which polls show is now led by four white candidates. All are trying to either cement or make inroads among African American voters.
At least initially, the campaigns of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former vice president Joe Biden appeared likely to benefit. Biden already has strong support among black voters, and Warren has been seeking to expand her reach, particularly among African American women.
The competition to pick up Harris’s campaign apparatus was so intense that Sue Dvorsky, the former chair of the Iowa Democratic Party and a Harris backer, blasted other campaigns for targeting the soon-to-be-unemployed Harris staffers.
“I don’t know who needs to hear this but stay the [expletive] away from the Harris field,” wrote Dvorsky on Twitter. “Of course you want them to work for you. They’re freaking amazing. And sad. And grieving. Sit all the way down. They know where you live. They’ll get back to. Or not.”
A spokesman for Harris didn’t reply to questions about whether she would endorse another candidate in the race.
By 9 a.m. Wednesday, less than a day after Harris’s surprise departure became public, Sen. Bernie Sanders’s campaign announced he had won the endorsement of Mitch Henry, a key Iowa figure who had been a member of Harris’s Iowa Latinx steering committee.
In the hours after Harris left the race, everyone from her finance team, to a local South Carolina gun control activist to members of Congress who had sided with her were hearing pitches.
Four campaigns — and one presidential candidate — reached out to Iowa state Rep. Ross Wilburn of Ames within 24 hours of Harris leaving the race.
“It was just offers of support, one or two with more of a pointed ‘here’s what my candidate brings to the table,’ ” Wilburn said, adding that he received a call from Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and campaign officials representing former vice president Joe Biden, former Maryland congressman John Delaney, and Sens. Warren and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
Other Harris supporters also were girding for a full-court press from candidates, with Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, warning the white candidates not to “pander.”
“What have you done in the past that will give me an indication of what you will do in the future for people of color?” Fudge asked, explaining what she wants to hear. “A lot of people have great plans. But if you put a plan together without the input of the very people you say you want to help, that is just as pandering to me as anything else.”
“We like Warren. We like Sanders. We like Biden. We like our neighbor in South Bend,” said another caucus member, Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), referring to Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of the Indiana city. “We’re just deciding which one we like the most at the moment.”
During her campaign, Harris didn’t fit neatly into a particular ideological lane, meaning that there was no single obvious beneficiary of her departure.
In South Carolina, some observers assume much of Harris’s support could go to Biden, who already is well known among African Americans there.
But Warren also is positioned to benefit, said Aimee Allison, the founder of She the People, a group trying to elevate women of color in American politics.
“She’s been focusing on intersectional policies that directly address race and gender,” Allison said. “Warren and, to a lesser extent, Bernie Sanders are beneficiaries of the latest dynamic.”
Many of Harris’s donors were already looking elsewhere. Roughly half of more than 100 well-connected fundraisers who raised at least $25,000 for Harris’s campaign also gave the maximum donation to some of her Democratic rivals, according to an analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics.
Susie Tompkins Buell, a major Democratic donor, jumped on board with Harris shortly after her campaign launched in Oakland in January. But later, Buell also supported Buttigieg.
When asked about Harris’s campaign shortly before she dropped out of the race, Buell said in a text message: “Sad that Kamala didn’t do better but she wasn’t ready.”
Buell added on Wednesday that she is now fully backing Buttigieg: “I am seeing his effective, creative campaign as a symbol of his leadership qualities. The energy and focus in the campaign is very positive and impressive.”
The ultimate fight will be for the individual voters who backed Harris, including people like Vanessa Phelan, a 39-year-old stay-at-home mother of two from Des Moines.
Not long after Harris dropped out, texts started to come in from organizers of other campaigns. “It was, like, ‘Not today Satan,’ ” she said.
Phelan said she will eventually settle on another candidate but isn’t sure when. The hardest part of Harris’s decision to quit, she said, was explaining it to her 4-year-old daughter Zoe.
“Kamala ran out of money,” Phelan told her.
The little girl looked at her mother with wide eyes, trying to understand. “I’ll give Kamala my piggy bank,” her mother recalled Zoe saying. “I want her to be president.”
Michael Scherer and Michelle Ye Hee Lee contributed to this report.