Skip to Content
Politics

Kamala Harris’ exit sparks frantic scramble among former rivals to win over her supporters

The tweet announcing Kamala Harris’ departure from the 2020 race had barely been posted when some of the California senator’s one-time opponents in the crowded, competitive race for president began moving in.

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker quickly began calling elected officials in Iowa who had previously backed Harris. Aides to South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren began reaching out to Harris staffers in Iowa and elsewhere to see if they were interested in joining their campaigns. And representatives for Buttigieg, Booker, former Vice President Joe Biden and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar began contacting Harris’ precinct chairs in Iowa to see whether the plugged-in caucus operatives had considered their candidates.

The outreach was swift on the national level, too. Multiple members of Congress who had backed the senator told CNN they began getting calls hours after Harris got out, with most candidates explicitly asking for their support and some calling multiple times.

“It simply indicates to me that people want to make sure that they get their message to people who have already demonstrated a desire to be involved in the process,” said Democratic Rep. Al Green of Texas, a one-time Harris surrogate who had heard personally from two presidential candidates, including one who called twice.

Harris’ rival Democrats, while lamenting her sudden exit, are now fully in a frantic scramble to court the high-profile Democratic endorsers, talented staff and well-heeled donors who had once backed the California senator.

Harris herself has no immediate plans to support one of her Democratic rivals, people close to her told CNN, even though she would be seen as one of the party’s top outstanding endorsements. While Harris is not ruling out an endorsement before the voting begins in Iowa, she is more likely to make a decision by Super Tuesday, when she will be voting in California.

The swiftness of this outreach to her supporters is a sign that the senator, despite failing to succeed in the race of president, had put together a sizable and well-respected campaign.

But it also shows how desperate candidates are less than two months from Iowa, with each campaign knowing that even the smallest boost from an additional topflight organizer or the backing of a well-known Democrat could signal strength in the 2020 race.

Harris’ support among Democratic elected officials is particularly powerful given the level of support the senator enjoyed with the Congressional Black Caucus and black leaders across the country. Every presidential campaign still in the race is looking to up their support with black elected officials, given the influence black voters have in the Democratic primary.

And the outreach was speedy.

Numerous elected officials in Iowa told CNN that they heard from at least four presidential campaigns in the hours after the senator’s departure. Harris’ staff across the country began hearing from friends on other campaigns shortly after the candidate posted her announcement video. And some Democrats who had backed Harris — like Mike Gipson, the California Assembly Democratic Caucus Chair — preemptively reached out to opposing campaigns to throw their support behind a new candidate.

“I was supporting Sen. Harris and I haven’t made it official, but I spoke to Biden’s campaign yesterday and told them I wholeheartedly support Biden,” Gipson told CNN. “He is the best chance we have of regaining the White House.”

The swiftest outreach came in Iowa, where the critical caucuses will take place less than two months from now on February 3.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign touted the backing of Mitch Henry, the co-founder and board member of Iowa’s Asian and Latino Coalition, the morning after Harris’ departure. Henry had been a member of Harris’ Latinx steering committee.

Multiple Harris staffers in Iowa told CNN that they were contacted by opposing campaigns — including aides to Warren, Biden and Sanders — within hours of Harris ending her bid.

And aides for Biden, Buttigieg, Booker and Klobuchar tell CNN that they are reaching out not only party leaders who had endorsed Harris, but also to one of the most valued assets in the caucus campaign: precinct chairs, volunteer supporters who play a key role for candidates on caucus night by organizing other supporters at each caucus site.

The outreach was so swift that Sue Dvorsky, a former chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Iowa and one of the Harris campaign’s most high-profile supporters in the state, tweeted her condemnation of the other campaigns.

“I don’t know who needs to hear this but stay the **** away from the Harris field,” Dvorsky wrote. “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.”

Dvorsky later told CNN that neither she nor her husband, Bob, a former legislator who endorsed Harris, intended to endorse another candidate in Iowa.

Booker, a candidate struggling with money and on the precipice of not qualifying for the December debate, was the most aggressive in working the phones following Harris’ departure.

Iowa State Rep. Phyllis Thede, a Democrat who represents Davenport and Bettendorf and is one of just five black lawmakers in the Iowa Legislature, threw her support behind Harris last July. On Tuesday, hours after Harris dropped out, she got a personal call from the New Jersey senator.

“He said, ‘Phyllis, I’m so sorry about what happened with Kamala,'” Thede recalled. “He was very sincere and very wonderful.”

“There’s a camaraderie among people of color, and when we have a person of color who isn’t able to make it, it just feels bad. We really wanted her to succeed,” added Thede, who also said she also heard from Biden and Buttigieg aides.

Booker ended the call by asking for Thede’s support. She declined, telling him that she does not plan to endorse another candidate before the caucuses.

But Booker was not done there. The New Jersey senator also personally called State Rep. Ross Wilburn, where he delivered a similar message of remorse that Harris has not been able to stay in the race.

Wilburn declined to go into the specifics about everything he discussed with Booker, but said the harder sell on an endorsement came in an email from Booker’s campaign, not in their phone conversation

Wilburn was popular following Harris’ departure. Volunteers or aides with four other campaigns also contacted Wilburn on Tuesday and Wednesday: Biden, Former Rep. John Delaney, Klobuchar and Warren, he said.

While Booker made the most aggressive outreach efforts on Wednesday, the future of his own candidacy is also in doubt.

“Sen. Harris was more viable than Booker, so it would be very difficult to support him unless he shows that he is viable,” one leading Harris supporter in Iowa told CNN, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid offending the New Jersey Democrat.

The outreach also played out on the national level, where Harris enjoyed the support of at least 17 members of Congress.

“I have heard from a lot of the candidates (teams),” Rep. Ruben Gallego said on Wednesday, less than 24-hours after Harris bowed out.

Sanders left Gallego a message. Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro personally reached out. Representatives for Biden and former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg also contacted the Arizona Democrat.

“I have never faulted any campaign for working hard and it is not an insult to me,” Gallego said of the quick outreach. “A lot of us understand the nature of this business.”

Gallego was not alone.

Rep. Julia Brownley of California said on Wednesday that she had already spoken to “many of the campaigns” but hadn’t made a decision on another endorsement.

A spokesperson for Rep. Salud Carbajal of California said the congressman had been contacted by the Biden, Buttigieg, Castro and Booker campaigns and will “continue to keep an eye on the presidential race as it moves forward.”

And Rep. Danny Davis said he heard quickly from Buttigieg’s team, who asked if the Illinois Democrat would take a look at his African American outreach and consider supporting the South Bend, Indiana, mayor.

Davis said he knows Biden, Warren and Sanders well, but added that he is open to supporting “newcomers to the process” like Buttigieg.

“Everybody right now,” Davis said, “is ruled in.”

Campaign 2020

CNN