COLUMBIA, S.C. — Down, but not out, Sen. Kamala D. Harris is counting on some “black girl magic” here in South Carolina to help resurrect her flagging presidential bid.
Ms. Harris has raised the stakes by going all-in in Iowa, but she hasn’t forgotten South Carolina, where she has spent the last few days promising to be a warrior for black women who have been showered with praise for the role they play in electing Democrats — only to see their everyday concerns get neglected.
“Don’t just thank me, show me your thanks,” Ms. Harris said at a recent campaign stop at Benedict College, a historically black liberal arts school. “Don’t just thank me for helping you, show me that you see me, and by that of course I don’t mean me. I mean us.”
“The reality is when we talk about black girl magic … we know it is something special,” said Ms. Harris, whose father is Jamaican and mother is Indian. “It is something you can see, sometimes it is just something you feel, sometimes it is just something you sense. But here is the thing, the truth of it is that magic is borne out of hard work. It didn’t just magically appear!”
Ms. Harris’ focus on expanding her base of support among black voters comes two months after her campaign raised the stakes by announcing she was going all-in and vowed to pull the plug if she didn’t place at least third in the Iowa caucuses.
Then this month she closed offices in New Hampshire, laid off some staff and move others into Iowa.
The dedication to Iowa has yet to pay off in the polls.
The latest Real Clear Politics average of polls shows the California senator registering at 3% in Iowa, good enough for sixth place and putting her 20% points behind the leader there: South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Peter Butigieg, who Ms. Harris has warned could have trouble rebuilding the Obama coalition.
Her prospects are looking a little better in South Carolina, where she is running fifth at 6% in the polls.
The most recent survey from Quinnipiac University, though, showed she was trailing the front-runner, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden by about 30 percentage points, and was registering low on the charts among female and black voters.
“To date, her campaign is not catching fire with any one particular group,” said Mary C. Snow, polling analyst for the Quinnipiac University Poll. “She is polling in single digits across the board among groups that include gender, race and political ideology.
“If there is a silver lining for any Democratic presidential candidate trying to gain traction in South Carolina, it’s that numbers suggest the potential for movement,” she said, not that roughly two in 10 voters remain undecided and more than half said they could change their minds.
That served as the backdrop for her three-day swing through South Carolina, which included an appearance with Charlamagne tha God, co-host of the nationally syndicated radio show The Breakfast Club, stops at local churches and a black woman’s forum with actress Sheryl Lee Ralph and Rep. Brenda Lawrence of Michigan.
“Those of you who are sitting here, or are watching us on the internet, there is nothing wrong with voting for a w-o-m-a-n,” said Ms. Lee, who emceed the forum. “A woman birthed you. That should give you reason enough reason to vote, and we do not care this weekend if you are white, black, red, yellow, any mixed colors, but we want you to vote like a black woman!”
Ms. Harris, meanwhile, defended her record as San Francisco’s district attorney and California attorney general, which has come under fire from far-left activists and stoked uncertainty among black voters who believe the criminal justice system is stacked against them.
“When we want to change and reform systems, we should also be on the inside where the decisions are being made as a way to make change,” she said. “I decided to go up the rough side of the mountain.”
South Carolina state Rep. Patricia “Pat” Henegan, an early supporter and fellow sister in the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, said Ms. Harris’s record as a prosecutor has been mischaracterized and said she believes Ms. Harris faces more criticism because she is a woman.
“They felt she was trying to make a name, but it wasn’t that,” she said. “I tell them all the time that is not the case. She felt she needed to go by the law. She was doing what she was supposed to do… Now she looks back and says I can fix this. I can fix the criminal justice system.”
The Harris message resonated with Casey Giraudy, a professor at the University of South Carolina, who said she trusts that Ms. Harris understands her experience as a woman and said she is unswayed by polls.
“If she doesn’t write us off, how can we write her off?” the 55-year-old said. “They said the same thing about Barack Obama, nobody knew who he was. It didn’t matter.”