Kamala Harris fights perception that she is overlooking Iowa

CEDAR RAPIDS, IOWA - JUNE 09:  Democratic presidential candidate and California senator Kamala Harris speaks at the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame Dinner on June 9, 2019 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Nearly all of the 23 Democratic candidates running for president were campaigning in Iowa this weekend. President Donald Trump has two events scheduled in the state on Tuesday.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

(CNN)Sen. Kamala Harris has a perception problem: Some Iowa Democratic activists, caucusgoers and party chairs believe the California Democrat is overlooking the first-in-the-nation caucus.

Harris' campaign maintains this isn't the case, and that the senator is going to work to win the state over the next eight months. Campaign operatives, including chair Deidre DeJear, highlight Harris' three planned trips to Iowa over the next five weeks and that her current staff of 35 in the state will grow to 65 in the coming weeks.
But conversations with over a dozen party activists and caucusgoers still determining who to support show what the senator is facing a conundrum: Democrats here are impressed with Harris' record in the Senate and many caucusgoers have her on their short list of candidates they would consider supporting -- but they are holding back embracing her campaign fully because of a sense that she is valuing other states over Iowa.
    Central to Harris' issue is that much of the coverage around her candidacy's early state strategy has highlighted her focus on South Carolina, the fact that Nevada is a neighboring state to Harris' native California and the news that Harris' delegate-rich home state has moved up the primary calendar to March 3, 2020.
    For Iowans, there is pride in having candidates come through as early and as often as possible so the state's Democrats can vet and size up the presidential hopefuls. Harris' weekend visit in Iowa is only her fourth since announcing her campaign in January, compared to her seven trips to South Carolina and four trips to Nevada in the same time -- and this strikes some Iowans as a sign that she is paying less attention to the state.
    "I don't think she is focusing on Iowa," said Wendy Marsh, a Des Moines-area lawyer who is considering supporting Harris. "I think she is going for California and the bigger states."
    Marsh added: "I think she is being realistic, and I guess I don't fault her for that, but I feel like she needs to give us a little face time, as well. ... Super Tuesday is going to have the most delegates, so it seems like she is putting all her marbles there."
    "We will find out what we need to know online," said Jolene Teske, a teacher from Des Moines. "If I really believed in them, yes, I'd support someone without seeing them. But when you have somebody coming and talking to you from the porch, it brings value," Teske said. "We are Iowans."
    Harris herself has pushed back on questions about her commitment to the state.
    "Watch me," she told reporters bluntly at the Iowa Democratic Party's Hall of Fame celebration Sunday. "I am fully committed to competing in Iowa and working hard to earn the support of the people of this great state. ... I've benefited from the conversations and listening to Iowans as much as I talk, and so I'll continue to do that. Because I fully intend to win, and I believe that the people of Iowa are going to be a very important part of that."
    But Matt McCoy, a former state senator and Polk County supervisor who is leaning toward supporting South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg but is open to other candidates, said it's apparent to most in Iowa that Harris is focused on South Carolina.
    "She clearly has a South Carolina strategy and that's where she's spending her time, the West Coast and South Carolina," McCoy said. "And anytime somebody has tried to win the presidency by not going through Iowa, they failed."
    "That, to me, is a flawed strategy," he added. "And I think that's why we see everybody else here duking it out. People need to be here to launch themselves properly."
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