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Washington Monthly | Cory Booker Could Pull Off a Surprise Win in Iowa

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In writing about the early campaign strategies of the top tier 2020 Democratic candidates, I noted what Edward-Isaac Dovere wrote about Cory Booker.

The other 2020 Democrats will have their media moments, Booker and his campaign people believe, and the voters will cycle through them. And as that happens, he’ll keep reaching out to voters in small venues, such as these in Ames and Davenport, and building out an organization to hold on to them. Others will flare up and falter, according to the Booker campaign’s plan, and the New Jersey senator will be there to pick up the pieces.

Pat Rynard, former Democratic campaign staffer and founder of Iowa Starting Line, noted that the only two public endorsements from the Iowa caucus have gone to Booker. Representative Amy Nielsen was the first. On Monday, she was joined by Representative Jennifer Konfrst, one of four women who flipped Republican suburban districts in 2018.

Endorsements from state legislators in Iowa don’t make the national news. But they demonstrate the strategy Dovere was documenting. Rynard goes on to write about how Booker was particularly engaged behind the scenes in assisting down-ballot Democratic campaigns during the 2018 midterms and often talks about the need for Democrats to win back state legislatures around the country.

If the name Pat Rynard rings a bell, it is because I commented on a piece he wrote recently titled, “What Many Democrats Still Don’t Get About Rural Campaigning.” In other words, the strategist who knows the most about how to win over white (mostly rural) voters in Iowa is recognizing the effectiveness of Booker’s campaign strategy.

Beyond endorsements, Booker has the advantage of family in Iowa. His grandmother was born and raised in Des Moines.

None of that means that Booker will win the Iowa Democratic caucus, but if he did, it wouldn’t be the first time an African American candidate surprised the country by doing so.

Seth Masket is asking a very small group of activists in early states about their preferences in the primary. So his data should come with a whole host of caveats because it might or might not be an indication of what happens when the votes are tallied over eight months from now. But he included a question that no one else is asking: Which candidates do you not want to see become the nominee?

What we see is that both Sanders and Biden may have reached a ceiling of support among those who are most engaged at this point, or those for whom name recognition would not be a factor.

Sanders, however, is deeply unpopular among supporters of just about all the other top-tier candidates — about half to three-quarters of activists who supported one of the eight candidates who were ranked the highest in the first table would not want to see Sanders win the nomination. Biden, too, is unpopular among supporters of Booker, Warren and Sanders, again garnering around 50 percent opposition.

What could be happening, as we see with the candidates down at the bottom of that chart, like Harris, Booker, Castro, and Warren, is that Democrats would be happy to support any one of them. That is affirmed by the fact that Harris, Booker, and Warren lead the field (in that order) among the activists polled by Masket when respondents are allowed to name all of the candidates they would consider supporting.

With a field of candidates this large, the level of support currently enjoyed by Sanders and Biden might be enough to make them the top contenders throughout the primary. But if, as in years past, we see a lot of early exits from the race, that might open the door for one or more of these three to become competitive. I wouldn’t count any of them out at this point. That includes Booker—especially if he pulls out a win in Iowa.





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