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Kamala Harris is f***ing committing to Iowa

She plans to spend much of October there in a move to reverse her summer slump.

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks during a “For the People” rally on August 12, 2019, in Davenport, Iowa.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

Sen. Kamala Harris has a plan to recover from her summer polling slump: She’s going all-in on Iowa.

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, who’s currently polling in fourth, is looking to October to give her campaign a boost in the crucial early state. Much of her campaign strategy has prioritized slightly later — and more diverse — states, like South Carolina, Nevada, and California. The increased focus on Iowa possibly signals a realization on the California senator’s part: Her “SEC primary meets the West Coast offense” strategy will only work if she survives until those states start weighing in.

Historically, a strong performance in Iowa or New Hampshire has been central to a candidate’s chances of ultimately becoming the Democratic nominee. Harris’s campaign says she aims to place in the top three in Iowa, which will hold the first caucus of the nation on February 3. Currently, a RealClearPolitics polling average has Harris in fourth in the state.

“We’ve got to put Iowa first,” Harris’s communications director Lily Adams said on a press call. “Expect to see Kamala in the state every week.”

As part of its push in the state, the Harris campaign is set to open 10 new offices and to nearly double the number of paid staffers it has on the ground, bringing on 60 more people. Harris’s campaign estimates that the candidate will spend roughly half the month of October in Iowa.

Despite a strong performance at the first Democratic debate in June, Harris has since struggled to differentiate herself in a crowded pack of candidates as she’s fielded criticism about her record as a prosecutor. This recent investment marks the campaign’s latest move to introduce her to more voters and recover from a rocky summer.

The new strategy is something Harris, it seems, laid out best herself. “I’m f***ing moving to Iowa,” she said, in a quip to Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) overheard by a reporter earlier this week.

The Iowa push is intended to set Harris up for the rest of the primary season

South Carolina has long been a major focal point for the Harris campaign, and a strong performance in Iowa is intended to build the momentum for a victory there. The massive focus the campaign is putting on the Hawkeye state also outlines how important it’s become to bolstering a solid showing in South Carolina, where Harris is vying for the backing of a more diverse electorate.

“We see South Carolina as a huge opportunity, and that’s the first state where you’re going to see the first state with large African American population in the primary,” a Harris campaign aide told Vox earlier this summer. “That’s what’s going to be an interesting marker of that contest.”

Recent polling, which shows Harris continuing to trail former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Palmetto state, indicates that Harris will need to keep on growing her name recognition and outreach if she’s hoping for a top placement. National polling, at the moment, is showing Harris in fourth place behind frontrunners Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Her next visit to South Carolina will take place this weekend, when she’ll speak at the Charleston NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner.

One key thing that could help sway the African American voters in South Carolina that Harris’s campaign is trying to court: success in Iowa. Barack Obama’s victory there in 2008, for example, is largely credited as a turning point in his campaign that assuaged questions about electability.

By dialing up her visits and presence in the state, Harris is hoping to bounce back from sluggish polling, giving her a chance to build off momentum for later contests. “Iowa has a history of breaking late,” Harris campaign manager Juan Rodriguez said on Thursday.