If you want to know why Sen. Cory Booker manages to stay so positive about a campaign that is polling in the single digits, it’s because of Iowans like state Rep. Jennifer Konfrst.
“He called, early on in the campaign, you know, early fall last year and introduced himself and said ‘I’m going to be at this dinner, the fall dinner that we have here in Iowa and I’d love to meet you, I’d love to chat with you.’ He understood the importance of statewide races, or State House races,” said Konfrst of her first interaction with Booker.
Konfrst is one of several Democrats up for state office in Iowa who got help from Booker in the form of his cachet and cash. It’s a key to the Booker strategy to invest early in Iowa Democrats like Konfrst who will remember him.
“We’re building an incredible team on the ground. Our grassroots efforts are going strong. You see the response that we’re getting from people. The number of people that are signing commitment-to-caucus cards is extraordinarily high,” Booker said.
Democratic National Committee member Scott Brennan, uncommitted at the moment, says he has been impressed with Booker’s ground game, calling his Iowa team one of the best. He ought to know; he was the state party chair during the 2008 primary season when Barack Obama out-hustled the field.
“Then Sen. Obama just blew everyone away with so many new people energized and organized,” said Brennan.
Booker’s team would never make the comparison, but it’s a familiar playbook, the success of which can’t exactly be measured in poll numbers. But, make no mistake about it, Iowa is where Booker has planted his flag.
An event in Fairfield grew from a house party to a full town hall when the RSVP list grew too large for the house.
Two days later in Dubuque, Booker attracted over 200 people to the Smokestack, a local bar and restaurant that’s apparently a must for presidential candidates.
“There’s some people that have been on my shortlist, but I wanted to see him, and to see what he had to say, and I was very, very impressed," said Dubuque resident Janet Walker.
Booker spent four days in Iowa, crisscrossing the state in an RV and putting in the miles. At every stop, there were campaign staff selling their candidate and handing out commitment-to-caucus forms.
The next day in Nevada Booker spoke to students and retirees. Nevada caucuses just a few weeks after Iowa. The ground game is important, but you also have to become a part of the national conversation and get a little free, liberal media.
The last stop of his three-state tour was San Francisco, where seven Democrats running for president made their pitches at MoveOn.org’s Big Ideas Forum. Streamed online and covered by dozens of news outlets, it’s a good spot to give a good speech.
Booker’s big idea? “…is something called Baby Bonds, making sure that every child born in America gets an interest-bearing account with $1,000 in it. And then depending on the wealth of your family, you get up to $2,000 placed into that account every single year," Booker said.
Across town, an hour later, Booker was in the final speaking slot at the California State Democratic Party Convention with 17 presidential candidates, party activists and more national media.
“Beating Donald Trump is a must, but that is a floor, not a ceiling. We are bigger than that. We have greater ambitions than that," Booker said to a roaring crowd.
The last two-week stretch has been encouraging for the campaign. Booker is seeing larger crowds and the reception to his events has been positive. Still, he remains in the single digits in polls and the first opportunity he’ll have to break out is during the first national debates later this month.