Kamala Harris’ exit from the race ‘a gut punch’ for Iowa supporters

The U.S. senator from California accumulated a following of key endorsers in her race to top the Iowa caucuses. Tuesday, she dropped her bid for president.


Megan Nagorzanski

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., addresses supporters at Backpocket Brewery on Thursday, September 19, 2019.

Sarah Watson, Politics Editor

Sue and Bob Dvorsky, Johnson County political workhorses, were two of Sen. Kamala Harris’ earliest endorsers. 

As news broke on television networks Tuesday afternoon that Harris would drop out of the presidential-nomination race, Harris’ Iowa campaign chair Deidre DeJear told Sue over the phone Harris would be ending her campaign.

Dvorsky was shellshocked and sad, she said in a phone interview, but would remain a supporter of Harris’ career. She also said Harris’ suspension was part of the weeding process leading up to the Iowa caucuses.

“The process is designed to get us to a nominee. And every time this happens, it is going to be a gut punch and emotional for the supporters, and the staff of the person who makes the hard call,” she said. “It’s gonna happen over and over again until June.”

Harris’ announcement followed two lower-polling candidates’ exits from the lineup earlier this week. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak pulled their bids for the nomination earlier this week. 

Almost as many Democratic candidates have dropped out of the race as remain in it — 13 Democrats have dropped their presidential bids since the summer and 15 remain in the race. After campaigns dissolve, supporters often search for a new camp to support and staffers must look for new jobs — often with other campaigns.

“At one point there were 27 candidates in this race. There’s going to be one nominee,” Dvorsky said. “Supporters of 26 people are going to go through this, Beto O’Rourke’s people went through it, Steve Bullock’s people went through it yesterday.”

Dvorsky said, however, that she would continue to support staff members of the Harris campaign she’d gotten to know over the course of the campaign and said the staff and supporters needed time to process the news.

“Our job was our job until 20 minutes ago,” Dvorsky said. “Now, our job is to come together around those most affected and that’s the field staff.”

She emphasized that support on Twitter Tuesday.

Another endorser, Johnson County Supervisor Janelle Rettig, pledged her support for Harris on Monday — just a day before Harris’ exit. 

Rettig was caught in a budget meeting Monday but got a call from her spouse — who also endorsed Harris — who broke the news to Rettig after seeing a news outlet’s post on Twitter.

Harris had been positioning herself to be the first woman of color to win the presidency. Rettig noted on Twitter with disappointment that the race would lose a non-white, female candidate.

Despite accruing sizable Iowa endorsements, Harris’ campaign never gained traction in the polls nationally. She also struggled in early-voting states even though others, such as South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have seen gains in Iowa.

Harris announced her campaign on Martin Luther King Jr. Day earlier this year. In late September, the Harris campaign decided to refocus their efforts on Iowa — the senator campaigned in the Hawkeye state almost every weekend of October and cut staff in New Hampshire. A month later, it didn’t appear to have a dramatic effect in moving Iowa polls.

In the Des Moines Register/Mediacom/CNN November Iowa Poll, 3 percent of Iowa caucusgoers supported Harris as their first choice for the nomination — a sixth-place tie with four other candidates. In the July Iowa Poll, Harris was polling in fifth place at 7 percent. Harris spent Thanksgiving in Des Moines with her family and made campaign-related stops in the area leading up to the holiday.

In a post to Medium, Harris said her “campaign for president simply doesn’t have the financial resources we need to continue.”

“I’m not a billionaire. I can’t fund my own campaign. And as the campaign has gone on, it’s become harder and harder to raise the money we need to compete,” she continued. “In good faith, I can’t tell you, my supporters and volunteers, that I have a path forward if I don’t believe I do.”

Dvorsky said the couple will still stand in a candidate’s corner Feb. 3, but they won’t make another public endorsement ahead of the caucuses.

“You know, it’s a relationship, and when any relationship breaks up you need some time,” she said.

The Dvorskys endorsed Harris in August, just ahead of the Iowa State Fair, walking the grounds with Harris amid a sea of media reporters and cameras. Sue Dvorsky is the former Iowa Democratic Party Chair, and Bob Dvorsky represented Coralville in the Iowa Senate for decades before choosing not to seek reelection in 2018. 

“I think it (dropping out of the race) is a brave thing to do. I think it’s a hard thing to do, but it actually reinforces some of the reasons why we endorsed her in the first place,” Dvorsky said, noting that Harris’ timing didn’t fall too close to Christmas for staffers now out of a job.

Julia Shanahan contributed to this report