Cory Booker has a problem in 2020: Kamala Harris

Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSenators push foreign media to disclose if they are registered as foreign agents Joe Biden must release the results of his cognitive tests — voters need to know GOP senators debate replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as a federal holiday MORE established a national profile back in 2006 when he became mayor of Newark, New Jersey at the age of 36. He has served in the United States Senate since 2013 but he still lives in Newark. If he gets to the White House, he will be coming home since he was born in Washington.

Booker has impressive academic credentials. He studied at Stanford University, Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship and Yale Law School. The junior senator from New Jersey has a liberal voting record. He supports the Green New Deal, ending private prisons and reducing prescription drug prices.


So far, he hasn’t made much of an impression in the presidential race. Polls indicate he is back in the pack, behind Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Unhappy voters could deliver political shocks beyond Trump Democratic senator will introduce bill mandating social distancing on flights after flying on packed plane Neil Young opposes use of his music at Trump Mount Rushmore event: 'I stand in solidarity with the Lakota Sioux' MORE (I-Vt), former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump second-term plans remain a mystery to GOP Susan Rice: Trump picks Putin over troops 'even when it comes to the blood of American service members' Does Donald Trump even want a second term? MORE, Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisSusan Rice sees stock rise in Biden VP race Jaime Harrison seeks to convince Democrats he can take down Lindsey Graham Senators push foreign media to disclose if they are registered as foreign agents MORE (D-Calif.), former Congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegDemocratic lawmakers call for expanding, enshrining LGBTQ rights Democrats debate Biden effort to expand map against Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Dems, GOP dig in on police reform ahead of House vote MORE, the mayor of Sound Bend, Indiana and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSusan Rice sees stock rise in Biden VP race The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden chips away at Trump's fundraising advantage Warnock raises almost M in Georgia Senate race in second quarter MORE (D-Mass.).

Identity politics

Identity politics by itself not should not and does not guarantee victory in a presidential race. But it helps you build a base and carve out a niche in a campaign with more than a dozen candidates.

President Obama blazed a trail for the nation and the Democratic Party with two successful presidential campaigns. The two African American candidates in this Democratic fight, Harris and Booker, are poised to follow his path to the White House.

But there’s a big difference between Obama’s approach to race and the way that Booker and Harris approach their heritage. Obama was proud of his heritage, but he rarely discussed race, He did not want to be identified as the “African American” candidate for president.

Booker and Harris are both proud of their racial heritage. Obama did not talk a lot about race but he did open the door for their candidacies.  Booker and Harris are more open about their racial backgrounds.

Harris kicked off her presidential campaign on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and on that occasion paid homage to the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who was the first African American woman to seek the Democratic nod for president.

Booker’s announcement video is focused on the theme of racial justice. Booker talks frequently about race. He even called for the creation of a commission to study the issue of financial reparations for the damage caused by slavery.  

But he hasn't emerged from the pack in the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination. His star has been eclipsed by the Harris’ candidacy. Polls indicate that she is in the second tier of candidates, after Biden and Sanders. Booker barely registers in the same surveys.

Harris versus Booker

Why has Harris got a better start than Booker? The answer is in the demography of the Democratic primary electorate and the importance of women in the party. The strength of black women was clearly illustrated in the results of the recent mayoral race in Chicago where the two finalists were both black women.

The CNN research indicates the Democratic primary electorate has changed significantly since 2008. Black and female voters made up a larger share of the Democratic primary electorate in 2016 than they did in 2008. Unfortunately for Booker that gives the advantage to Harris.

Ron Brownstein, CNN senior political analyst notes that in Democratic presidential primary, "We're going to see an intensifying trend toward an electorate that is more diverse, better educated, and possibly this time, even 60 percent or more of the voters will be women.” The share of primary voters who are black increased from 19 percent in 2008 to 24 percent in 2016.

There will likely will be a showdown between Harris and Booker in South Carolina which has an early presidential primary. A majority of the primary voters there are African American. A poor showing there will probably eliminate one of the two candidates.

Follow the money

Booker’s reputation as a "corporate Democrat" has limited his potential among progressive Democrats. Many Democratic primary voters abhor the role of corporate money in politics.

He has sworn off corporate contributions or his presidential race. But big corporate contributions from the pharmaceutical and financial industries to his Senate campaigns will be a problem for him. Sanders and Warren will both profit from swearing off corporate contributions in their campaigns. Warren upped the ante on the battle against money in politics by even refusing to attend meetings with wealthy donors.  

Booker hasn’t raised a lot of money for his campaign. He raised only $5.1 million in the first quarter of the year. He trails six other candidates in the hunt for money. Harris raised more than twice as much.


Despite his financial problems, it would be a mistake to count Booker out. He has a flair for the dramatic which will serve him well in his campaign for president.

While he was mayor, he was the star of a HBO documentary on the troubled city of Newark. He is dating actress Rosario Dawson, which has generated visibility for him in celebrity magazines and blogs. He made a big impression with his famous “I am Spartacus” moment during the Senate confirmation hearing for the president’s Supreme Court nominee Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughKavanaugh rejects Illinois GOP request to block rule banning large gatherings McGrath fends off Booker to win Kentucky Senate primary Trump's mark on federal courts could last decades MORE.

It’s hard to keep a candidate like that down. He has more charisma than some of the other Democratic candidates and that has never been a problem in American politics.

Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Dateline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.

This is the11th piece in a series of profiles by Bannon on 2020 Democratic hopefuls. Read his analysis on Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio)Mayor Pete ButtigiegSen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourkeformer Govs. Jay Inslee and John Hickenlooper, former Vice President Joe BidenSen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), former HUD Secretary Julian CastroSen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)