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Harris bets big on Iowa, says she'll be a top-three candidate there

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Kamala Harris' campaign is setting up an early goal post, vowing to achieve a top-three finish in the Iowa caucuses, campaign officials told reporters Tuesday. The California senator is planning to visit the Hawkeye State every week in October. 

"We want to make sure that we have a strong top-three finish," said Harris' Campaign Manager Juan Rodriguez. "I think that will kind of continue to give us a slingshot to go into that early primary state calendar and then make sure that we're also competitive heading into Super Tuesday."  

The campaign will also be adding 60 organizers in the state, which approximately doubles the size of its operation. Harris plans to spend half of October there. 

Harris was in Iowa Thursday and opened her remarks at her first event by announcing to the crowd in Coralville "I'm moving here!" But after the event, she admitted it's a "difficult decision to make" to spend so much time in Iowa when there's "so much ground to cover."

"It can be frustrating, frankly to have to make these decision that feel like a trade off," Harris told reporters. "But I plan on spending as much time here as I can."

The pledge comes after Harris' poll numbers have fallen over the past couple of months, and the campaign has struggled to keep up momentum after a splashy first debate performance. The CBS News Battleground tracker poll released earlier this month found Harris in fifth place in Iowa, dropping 10 points since July. The survey found Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren making up the top tier there. 

The poll also found Harris losing support to top rivals: 29% who backed Harris in July switched to Warren in September. And Biden picked up 15% of Harris supporters. 

"After first debate numbers spiked in a way that I don't think was sustainable, I think it was a sugar high," said campaign communications director Lily Adams. The campaign said it had no regrets about the approach to the first debate, where Harris criticized Biden over his opposition to federal busing. 

The debate performance gave Harris a significant boost, but it was only temporary. While her poll numbers have dropped, Biden's support has remained durable. In the third debate, Harris refocused her message on President Trump instead of going after her Democratic rivals. 

The campaign pledge to double down on Iowa marks a shift away from a heavy fundraising schedule and towards a focus on retail politics as the campaign says voters are really starting to tune in. Asked about the campaign's fundraising for the past quarter, the campaign downplayed expectations and declined to preview the numbers, but argued that the campaign was positioned to invest in Iowa and other early states. 

"I don't think it's a secret to anybody that the third quarter's always the toughest quarter to raise," Adams said. "You would not be hearing us talking about making investments in Iowa, doubling our staff there, increasing our offices there, if we didn't feel like we had raised the necessary resources to do that."

The public bet on Iowa at this point in the cycle could be a risky one for the campaign. 

While Iowa has a history of narrowing the Democratic field, finishing outside of the top two has often not been kind to candidates. Since 1972, only three candidates have finished third or worse in Iowa and gone on to capture the nomination. The last candidate to do so was President Bill Clinton in 1992, when longtime Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin was also running for president and won the caucuses in a landslide. 

Harris' campaign has previously signaled they would be focusing on Iowa. In June, her Iowa Campaign Chair Deidre DeJear told the Des Moines Register, "it's game on." Since then, Harris has made four trips to Iowa, spent 11 days in the state and held 27 events. The bulk of that time was spent on a five day bus tour across Iowa during the Iowa State Fair. 

"That was a period when we were also growing the organization significantly," Adams said, pointing to hiring a large number of staff in Iowa at that time and later doing a six-figure television and digital advertising blitz in the state. "This is taking it to the next level." 

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