California Senator Kamala Harris made her big Iowa debut this week, barnstorming Central and Eastern Iowa over two days to boost Democratic candidates up and down the ticket. Among those candidates getting some help were Cindy Axne, Amber Gustafson and Heather Matson, but one Iowa Democrat got a lot of extra attention: Deidre DeJear.
Democrats’ Secretary of State nominee was the first Iowa candidate that Harris endorsed back in August. DeJear has started to gain national attention for her historic bid (she would be Iowa’s first black statewide elected official if successful), but Harris and DeJear actually first met much earlier this year.
About two months before DeJear scored a narrow upset victory in the Democratic primary, she traveled to California for a Links Incorporated event where Harris was being inducted into the organization’s membership. Links Incorporated is a volunteer service organization made up of African American women. DeJear is a leader of the Iowa chapter.
The two spoke with each other at the event, sparking off a friendship that has lasted throughout the year.
“It was really about her asking me how I was doing. Gave me advice on how to take care of myself [during the campaign],” DeJear told Starting Line. “She was giving me that encouragement. I have this thing about iron sharpening iron, women loving on women and helping make each other better. She’s one of those women. She’s a part of that iron.”
Harris kept her eye on DeJear’s race, tweeting out a message of congratulations on the night of her primary victory, one of the first times Harris publicly waded into an Iowa race. Harris later endorsed DeJear in August, held a fundraiser for her in Washington, D.C. in September and has sent out several fundraising emails on DeJear’s behalf.
“I was impressed by her knowledge of the issues,” Harris recalled when talking with reporters after a Monday morning even with Iowa’s Asian And Latino Coalition. “She’s a good government person. I like that about her. She wants efficiency and effectiveness, and honesty and transparency in government.”
Harris and DeJear appeared at two events together in the Des Moines area on Monday, as well as two early vote rallies on college campuses in Cedar Falls and Iowa City on Tuesday. At their Des Moines evening event, the two came on stage to a cheering crowd of over 500 people.
“Our democracy is real. It is not fake. It is for the people and by the people. And our democracy depends on their voice,” DeJear said of the people who don’t always vote in the midterms. “It depends on their voice. Make them believe that. Make them believers in something that means so much to us resolving the issues that exist in our communities.”
“You have a rockstar here,” Harris told the crowd. “[DeJear]’s got a vision, not only for Iowa, she’s got a vision for the country.”
A large contingent of national reporters descended upon Iowa to follow Harris around, her first visit here raising ever more speculation about her potential 2020 presidential run. But the senator turned the focus right back around to Iowa’s 2018 races whenever asked about it.
For someone like DeJear and the party’s many important down-ballot races, the visit was a nice boost to both enthusiasm and visibility.
“Secretary of State isn’t one of those races that historically people pay a lot of attention to,” DeJear noted. “When folks like Senator Harris has discussions about how important this race is, it raises it to the top of conversation. We don’t have straight-party voting anymore. We need to ensure people are working their way down the ballot and they’re bubbling in every race.”
“So much of what happens in our country in terms of policy happens at the state level,” Harris added. “We want to have the right people in these offices who have their eye on that job and want to roll up their sleeves and get involved in that detail.”
DeJear still has a competitive race ahead against incumbent Republican Secretary of State Paul Pate, whose time in office has gotten his name decently well-known in the state. But DeJear, a first-time candidate, put out a stellar fundraising report last week, having raised $365,192 through mid-July, one of the best totals for any of the statewide candidates. She has $326,834 cash-on-hand remaining for the final stretch; Pate has $110,335. And she’ll likely have even more additional help as the campaign closes. Cory Booker campaigned with her two weeks ago, and Jason Kander’s Let America Vote has focused in on her race significantly with their field operation.
by Pat Rynard