Kamala Harris is shaking up the top ranks of her presidential campaign, the latest sign her once-promising bid is failing to meet expectations.
The staff moves amount to a significant reorganization for a campaign that’s dropped so far in polls that it risks becoming a postscript in the Democratic primary. Harris’ light early-state schedule, hiccups on the trail and lack of consistency in delivering her message have consumed much of the attention and blame for her mounting struggles.
Behind the scenes, aides said a lack of clarity among staff surrounding the roles of Campaign Manager Juan Rodriguez and Campaign Chair Maya Harris, the candidate’s sister, and inexperience across the organization are feeding a growing sense of indecision and aimlessness inside the campaign.
The California senator has decided to elevate her Senate Chief of Staff Rohini Kosoglu and senior adviser Laphonza Butler into new senior management positions in the campaign, including discussions about installing the pair as dual deputy campaign managers, sources with direct knowledge of the arrangement told POLITICO.
Butler and Kosoglu will effectively split responsibilities over the campaign’s departments in what was described as an effort to streamline a choked decision-making process. Rodriguez, a longtime Harris confidant who held the same job on her 2016 Senate campaign, will continue to oversee the budget while focusing on longer-term initiatives.
The campaign did not start holding regular senior staff meetings until September — nine months after launching — leading to a lack of coordination across departments. At one point, aides said, Harris hired executive coaches for senior campaign management to cope with the problems — a move viewed internally as a recognition of their collective inexperience.
Aides point to scheduling bottlenecks occurring among the campaign’s three top inside decision-makers: Rodriguez, Maya Harris and Harris, who has a reputation as a micromanager. Harris’ outside consultants, Ace Smith and Sean Clegg, partners with Rodriguez and Butler at the San Francisco-based consulting firm SCRB, and ad man Jim Margolis, don’t directly oversee campaign staff.
Kosoglu, who has worked closely with the campaign on coordinating the senator’s scheduling, and Butler, are expected to report to Rodriguez under the new plan. It’s unclear who will step in to serve as Harris’ Senate chief of staff.
“We continue to grow our organization as we enter the fourth quarter, and it has always been the plan to bring on additional management to oversee an expanded staff. As we double our organizers in Iowa and South Carolina and expand our digital team, we're in a strong position to execute our plan and win the nomination,” said Rodriguez in a statement.
Harris is also recalibrating her digital operation as she struggles to break out of the middle of the presidential pack. While she’ll still use Authentic Campaigns for digital ad buying, other functions — including content production, email, video, graphics and other work — are moving in-house. Harris’ campaign had already brought in Shelby Cole, the top digital aide on Beto O'Rourke’s Texas Senate run, from Authentic earlier this year.
Her heavy reliance on the high-dollar fundraising and recent difficulty in the digital fundraising space speak to broader structural dynamics in the campaign. Harris’ decision to run as a pragmatist rather than appealing more forcefully to the party’s progressive wing — combined with slumping debate and campaign trail performances since mid-summer — have affected her ability to gain traction with small-dollar donors.
Harris, who as a result spent much of the third quarter raising money at private events, is trying to refocus her campaign around Iowa, where aides say she needs a top-three finish to claw back into contention. She’s nearly doubling the size of her Iowa operation, from 65 to 120 staffers, opening new offices and planning weekly visits to the state.
The strategy corresponds with a more direct contrast with her top Democratic opponents. Harris has said in recent remarks that Americans aren’t keen to “inflame the ideological battles in our nation,” nor are they excited to “launch a nostalgia campaign to retread mindsets and goals from decades past.”
At the same time, Harris has been working to quiet persistent doubts about her own electability by pointing to earlier campaigns when she was underestimated only to storm back in the late stages of the contests.
“I heard it when I ran for district attorney and people said, ‘They’re not going to be ready for you. No one like you has done it before,’” she said at a recent stop in Iowa.
Harris bluntly offered that the reduced expectations about her in the past were “based on race, based on gender and based on what people expect and what they think about who can do what,” she added. “I didn’t listen. And the people didn’t listen, either. And we won.”