The challenge for any of the dozen and a half Democrats currently running for the presidential nomination — well there are many, but — bridging the divide: philosophical, cultural, economic and racial is close to the top. For Sen. Cory Booker, one of two black candidates in the race, attracting black voters, fair or unfair, is seen as critical. But Iowa — black population 3.3% — is the first proving ground for any candidacy.
It can be tempting for a black candidate to tailor his message to a mostly-white audience. But Booker, who spent two grueling days in Iowa this week, does the exact opposite. His stump speech, a personal tour of his life as a black kid whose life was changed by white and black unity and love, was delivered to white audiences using the same language as he used with black audiences.
In the Iowa events, white audiences received Booker warmly. In Des Moines, where the audience was probably more than 50% black, the tone was at times raucous. One might even say blacker. But the message, universal.
“What he wants to do is reunify America, and I think in order for us to go forward we have to,” said Des Moines resident Laural Clinton. “We don’t have to like each other, but we have to love each other enough to get through this.”
“The only thing that I think that would save the current administration to have a reelection chance is if we all stay divided on which pathway we take to go forward. And if we stay divided like that, we won’t come together with a common voice. And if we can’t come together with a common voice, we can’t ouster what we currently have,” said Tony Currin, an Iowa City resident.
In Atlanta, the epicenter of the nation’s black cultural elite, Booker was likewise well-received, even if students from historically black colleges and universities were not quite prepared to go all in for the New Jersey senator just yet.
“My impression was I think he is a great person. I think that as a senator he’s done really great work, but as a presidential candidate I feel as if I need to see more policy rather than politician. I want to see something a little more tangible, that I feel as if as we progress I’m going to see,” said Clark Atlanta University student Kyla Taylor.
“I feel like he plays on his blackness to get votes from other black people who don’t know his history in Newark and communities like Newark across America,” said Ade, a student at Morehouse College. “I just feel like he just plays on his blackness too much, honestly, to get guilt votes from white people and to get votes from black people just because he’s black, honestly.”
“I don’t believe anything is post racial, but I think he speaks to the common core of what those values represent. So if we’re talking about voting rights, which represents a lot of black and brown people more than anybody else, there’s still a common core there of equality that I think he spoke to and I think that transcends race,” said Atlanta resident Raquel Watson.
For Booker, gregarious and loquacious, master of the selfie, there is still obviously work to do to bind this fragmented electorate: black, white and otherwise.