It was a fairly typical day at the Booker headquarters in Urbandale, just outside Des Moines — campaign organizers making final arrangements for upcoming town halls, house parties and round tables that will populate the senator’s schedule this weekend. Booker is in the top third of a field of 23 candidates, which sounds pretty good until you realize that polls show him at about 4 percent. Still, observers say this effort is the key to Booker’s potential success.
“I would say he has one of the best teams on the ground and here that’s very important,” said Scott Brennan, a member of the Democratic National Committee. “And he has been very supportive of candidates for office in the state of Iowa, which was very helpful in the special election we had not long ago and those are the sort of things that activists remember.”
“He called, early on in the campaign, you know. Early fall last year,” said Iowa Rep. Jennifer Konfrst.
Konfrst is a first-term Iowa state representative — the equivalent of an Assemblyperson in New Jersey. She was one of the first elected officials in the state to endorse Booker. You might think a rookie state lawmaker would want to kick a few more tires before she makes a choice, but Konfrst says she was taken by Booker’s outreach.
“He understood early on that it’s not just about coming in here, saying ‘look at me,’ and then leaving. It was really important for him to be a presence in the state before; I mean, he wasn’t running at the time. Certainly, I figured a senator from New Jersey giving me a call in the fall, maybe there was something there besides just caring about the Iowa Legislature,” she said. “This is not going against someone else; this is really going for him. So, for me, it was like once I knew him, I knew him and I wanted to go. It wasn’t, ‘Gosh, I’d better wait for somebody better.’ I think he’s the best, so I might as well do it. Then if I can help out earlier in the state, then I want to.”
Since his last visit, Booker has unveiled policy initiatives on guns — a plan which got some national attention — and reproductive rights, including calling on men to take a more active role in defending women’s reproductive rights. Those two issues will be a part of the Booker pitch in this latest trip to Iowa, as he tries to hone his message to voters in the critical first primary contest.
“Surrogates can only do so much, so it really is important that the candidates themselves [are] here, and that they’re talking to folks, and that they’re understanding the issues, and frankly, really just engaging with regular Iowans who take the process seriously and I think are very well-informed and ask very hard questions of candidates,” Brennan said. “Ask Barack Obama; I think he would tell you the Iowa process made him a much better candidate than he would have been otherwise.”
Booker’s schedule begins in earnest Friday and continues throughout the holiday weekend. He’s gotten generally high marks for being in Iowa early and often but sitting at 4 percent in the polls suggests that he still has a long way to go.