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See Cory Run

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“This is before and this is after. Before and after,” Cory Booker is saying on Snapchat. He’s just met a young fan with an Afro and is drawing the contrast to his own shiny bald head. It’s a routine he will repeat again later in the day and as he crisscrosses the country before the midterms. The New Jersey senator can’t say no to a selfie. If you are standing around looking idle, he’ll probably ask you to take one and upload the photo to his social media accounts for his millions of followers.

Social media are Booker’s bread and butter. They are good advertising, and they are free. But Booker senses that he’s not so much giving something as getting it. Without fail, he asks the first name of everyone he meets and is almost certain to repeat it back at least once. Booker is fond of tweeting out Dale Carnegie quotes and makes good on one of the guru of self-improvement’s famous rules: “Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Booker says that his favorite books are by Kurt Vonnegut and James Baldwin, but it’s Carnegie that seems really to have stuck. He follows up most of these encounters with a “Booker bear hug.” “I’m a hugger,” he tells me, as if I hadn’t already seen ample evidence of this fact.

Booker is spending a chilly, late-October day shuttling around New Hampshire stumping for Granite State Democrats. He visits the University of New Hampshire in Durham and a community center in Portsmouth with Chris Pappas and has a town hall at Dartmouth with Annie Kuster. (Both candidates will win easily on November 6.) There are photo-ops aplenty. Instagram posts are generated, tagged, and uploaded. The trip is a social-media success. Booker’s presence is that much better known in New Hampshire.

In the run-up to Election Day, Booker visited 24 states on 39 trips. He went three times to Ohio for Sherrod Brown and three times to Florida for Bill Nelson. He flew to North Dakota to help Heidi Heitkamp and to Nevada to stump for Jacky Rosen (three times). Many of the states he hit are key to the 2020 presidential race, in which Booker says he is only “considering” throwing his hat. But he’s out in these states seeing where his message sticks and where it needs work. His crowds are usually young and diverse—throngs of energetic progressivism—and they swarm him for photos. He loves every minute of it, documenting his travels stop by stop on Instagram. If Booker doesn’t snap a selfie, was he really there?

The creative use of technology is at the core of Booker’s political strategy. After campaign events with Democratic activists in Iowa in October, his staff scanned social media for photos with the boss and printed them out. Booker then signed the images, adding personalized notes, and they were mailed out to the folks who posted the pictures. It’s something Donald Trump is known to do, to mark his approval of someone or something. But it’s hard to imagine any other Democratic presidential hopeful—Julián Castro, for instance, or Elizabeth Warren—having the self-confidence to do it.

And Booker is nothing if not confident. He’s almost vain in the certainty that he can win over an audience, and so certain that he often focuses on telling stories of his falling short. In Hanover, he describes an encounter with a homeless man in Newark. He and his driver, Kevin, are pulling out of a McDonald’s. Booker’s a vegan, but can’t resist the fries. “I’m thinking about putting a bill in to schedule McDonald’s French fries because they’re so addictive,” he says. They see a homeless man rooting through the garbage, and, as Booker tells it,

Booker’s freewheeling approach to campaigning is through stories, and it’s not so much about electoral politics or specific policies as it is about weaving the events of his life into a “moral moment in America.”


Another story Booker likes to tell is that of his parents, newly promoted executives at IBM in the late 1960s, trying to buy a house in New Jersey’s upscale Harrington Park. They were repeatedly turned away by real-estate agents who tried to make it impossible for black families to purchase property in predominantly white neighborhoods. Agents would tell families like the Bookers that the houses they were interested in had already sold. When white couples inquired, the same houses would be for sale. Undeterred, his parents worked with activists and the Fair Housing Council to fight this system of discrimination. They sent a white couple in their stead to the house they wanted to make sure it was still for sale. It was. The white couple then pressed ahead with purchase, but at closing time, Booker’s father showed up with a lawyer to buy the place. After an altercation that included being attacked by a Doberman Pinscher, the Bookers got their house in Harrington Park.

Booker’s mother, Carolyn, tells me that they took up this fight to make it “more difficult for someone to discriminate against other people.” It was, she says, “the right thing to do.” Booker, though, likes to riff on his late father’s joke that with the family (which included his older brother Cary) moving into Harrington Park they became “the four raisins in a tub of sweet vanilla ice cream.” The country’s racial history is an ever-present issue for Booker, one of only three African American senators, but he wants to see his complicated heritage as a source of communion rather........

© The Weekly Standard