Top advisers to 2020 presidential Democrat candidate Kamala Harris have made their case to major donors behind closed doors in two meetings here, telling them that they were working on defining the California Senator with a more refined core message.
In the first meeting with a broader group on Friday, Harris’ sister and campaign chairwoman, Maya Harris, along with media consultant Jim Margolis, were questioned by some donors on the senator’s stagnant poll numbers in the Democratic presidential primary, Efe news reported.
The aides spoke about Harris’ key endorsements in early states, appeal to young voters and their view of the vulnerability of former Vice President Joe Biden’s poll numbers, people familiar with the meetings said.
The advisers in the second meeting also on Friday, with a smaller group of top donors, focused more on the need for voters to know Harris better, and on the campaign’s strategy to accomplish that through clearer messaging of her values and policy positions, the people said.
The meetings in Manhattan drew dozens and included donors from the finance, media and legal industries, among others.
The advisers also discussed the dynamic of the coming third Democratic debate, with all of the top contenders on stage on September 12 in Houston, as a welcome change from the last debate, when the lower-tier candidates focused attacks on the higher-polling candidates on stage — Harris and Biden — putting them on the defensive.
Ahead of the meetings on Friday, at least half a dozen top donors to Harris’ campaign told The Wall Street Journal that they were looking for her to pick up momentum heading into the fall, when more voters traditionally tune in to the primary.
But some also said they feared the Democratic primary is increasingly becoming a three-way race between Biden, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
The Harris campaign is ramping up its organization in Iowa and South Carolina in particular, and aides believe a strong performance in those states would give her the needed momentum going into Super Tuesday, where her delegate-rich home state of California is up for grabs.
By Labor Day, Harris had made nine trips to South Carolina and eight trips to Nevada — the most of any of the top-tier candidates to those states. After not investing as much time in Iowa as other candidates, Harris made 17 stops on a five-day bus tour across the state in mid-August, her seventh trip there.
Unlike other candidates such as Warren and Sanders, who are relying mostly on online, small-dollar donations, Harris hasn’t been as successful with her online fundraising and has had to work to maintain her support among wealthy donors to keep up with the top contenders’ quarterly hauls.
She has a mix of low- and high-dollar fundraisers scheduled through September including in Los Angeles, Greenwich, Connecticut, and Nashville, Tennessee, according to invitations reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.