Sen. Kamala Harris' debate performance on Thursday failed to impress many of her party's big-money donors who were on the fence about her candidacy.
Going into the Democratic primary debate in Houston, Harris' closest supporters privately acknowledged that if the senator from California did not come out swinging against her opponents and clearly define her policies, wealthy donors could shy away from her campaign.
Many of them were hoping for a repeat of the aggressive tactics she used in the first debate, when she took on former Vice President Joe Biden for his willingness to work with segregationists as a senator in the 1970s.
Now these sources say that those uncommitted contributors are still not convinced they can dedicate their expansive networks to her cause alone.
Harris has relied on contributors willing to give up to $2,800 — the maximum amount allowable by law — in order to finance her presidential run.
Since the start of her campaign in January, Harris has raised over $14 million from large individual contributors, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. That total equals 56% of her $24 million haul. She finished raising almost $12 million in the second quarter.
At least 45% of Harris' contributions have hailed from the Golden State.
While a spokesperson for the campaign did not respond to a request for comment, Harris sent a mass email Friday morning, saying her moments on the debate stage "won over a lot of new supporters in this fight" and that the organization is "focusing our resources on capturing last night's momentum."
One source close to a political fundraising powerhouse in California, Harris' home state and a region where she's dominated in the fundraising game, said Friday that they had been having trouble persuading their donors to back her candidacy before the debate. The negative opinion didn't change after the debate.
"I don't think anything has changed, and it's been grim," this person said. Donors believe that on the debate stage Harris is still "unclear about her message and strategy," this person said. They liked the "Trump focus," this person said, "but there was too much odd laughter and canned lines."
This person added that most of their donors want to help former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., or South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Harris opened the third debate speaking directly to President Donald Trump and suggested he would have been indicted if the Department of Justice guidelines were different.
"The only reason you were not indicted is because there was a memo in the Department of Justice that says a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime," she said.
Still, a New York banking executive who privately called on her to prove she's the best alternative to Biden said on Friday that she didn't stand out against the nine other contenders and played it too safe.
"You need to get into these debates and score some points or there is not going to be any money for her," this person explained. "She didn't score any points."
Another bundler in Los Angeles, who has contributed to her campaign but has yet to open his network to the California lawmaker, said he feels as if Harris doesn't have any direction as a candidate. "She's now tacked back and self-corrected," this contributor said. "Now it looks like she's been schooled and directionless."
Harris is preparing to take part in a fundraising tour that starts in Houston and will finish on the West Coast. Her loyal financial supporters don't seem to be going anywhere in the aftermath of the debate, even though some of their colleagues are currently not willing to jump on her bandwagon.
"Harris is crushing it," said a wealthy New York donor who is helping her campaign and helped raise millions for former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.