7:08pm February 1, 2013

Cory Booker Represents More Than The Turning of the Tide


There were many uplifting moments last week for progressive whites, young people, women, and people of color. The week was filled with energetic political events, parades, and plenty of moments that did more than entertain, they inspired.

Looking forward, the progressive network now has a unique opportunity to expand, deepen and strengthen its proven game-changing system which turns out record levels of voters of color (VOC). As demonstrated in 2012, these VOC have the power to elect candidates — including African Americans — to the mayor’s office, state capitals, U.S. Congress and the White House. On the horizon is the important 2014 mid-term elections where candidates of color are poised to become U.S. Senators if this voter power is tapped.

Newark Mayor Cory Booker represents a perfect example of what can happen in 2014.  His state of New Jersey — once known as the “pathway of the revolution” is still a symbol of patriotism. Booker’s own heroic actions to rescue a freezing dog was an electrifying example of this spirit. It demonstrated how new media, politics, and old fashion values can create a new brand of social patriotism.

New Jersey has experienced significant demographic changes which has impacted its political environment. The state has the seventh largest Latino population in the United States. Nearly 25% of NJ’s registered voters are VOC with the majority of them Democrats.  Among voters who are not registered, about 33% are people of color. That means close to 32% of New Jersey’s low propensity voters are VOC.

How does the fact that voters of color constitute a significant vote share affect New Jersey politics?  One example is Mayor Booker doing well against other possible candidates for the 2014 U.S. Senate race. A new poll by PowerPAC.org shows New Jersey Democrats overwhelming supporting Mr. Booker over Rep. Frank Pallone, Rep. Rob Andrews, and State Senate President Steven Sweeney. New Jersey voters want to elect Cory Booker to the U.S. Senate by a margin of two to one. The poll also confirmed that Booker would easily defeat incumbent Senator Frank Lautenberg.

What’s driving his numbers? The poll shows Booker’s advantages holding across geography, populations, and issues. Also, his social media savvy helps to keep his brand strong and get his message out. As mentioned above, after seeing a tweet about a freezing dog, Booker took immediate action to rescue man’s best friend.  That kind of social patriotism resonates strongly with voters.

By contrast, Pallone, Sweeney and Andrews, are not very well-known among the state’s registered Democrats, despite Pallone and Andrews having represented NJ in Congress for over two decades each, and Sweeney leading the state’s legislature.

Understanding the nature of VOC civic engagement is essential in today’s new political landscape. In the past, authenticity may have been a second tier concern but it has become the loadstone of demographic politics.  Appealing to pockets of VOC was once relegated to the campaign’s “base vote” operation.  Now it has become the soul of tactical electoral strategy. Campaigns are beginning to understand that the most effective way to expand the electorate and mobilize communities of color are with conduits that intimately understand those communities.

There are a few ways to ensure that VOC achieve their 31% vote share from the past election. The common denominator is the candidate. Every political leader must engage communities of color with authenticity and social patriotism.  For some, embracing the new realities of politics will require them to change. Overtime they will find it easier to step outside of their comfort zones and themselves. Then their actions will make a difference for others as well as themselves because it is the responsible thing to do. That’s popping the clutch.

Poll results can be found here. (“PowerPAC Poll on NJ Senate Race (PowerPoint File) PowerPAC”). Kirk Clay is Senior Advisor at PowerPac

About the Author

Kirk Clay
Kirk Clay
Kirk Clay has returned to PowerPAC as a Senior Advisor, Political Analyst & Strategist. In 2013, he led an independent expenditure to elect U.S. Senator Cory Booker. Before that, he worked for PowerPAC as the national field director during the 2008 primary season where he led a $10 million effort that mobilized more than 500,000 voters in ten states. Between 2008 and 2011, Mr. Clay was the National Civic Engagement Director for the NAACP where he was responsible for developing and implementing political research, advocacy and training agenda. Under his leadership, the NAACP executed three 4.0 style voter mobilization campaigns and a national census effort to increase civic participation rates in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Kirk served as Vice Chair of the Census Information Center Steering Committee. Members of the Census Information Centers are recognized as official sources of demographic, economic, and social statistics produced by the U.S. Census Bureau. Kirk Clay’s experience includes serving as the Director of Outreach at Common Cause where he cultivated relationships with contributors and developed a diverse national coalition of strategic partners. Earlier, Mr. Clay was Deputy Director of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation where he managed day-to day operations as well as participated in efforts to mobilize members, activists, community leaders, faith leaders, and state legislators in grassroots issue campaigns. In 2004, he served as the National Field Director of the Unity’04 Voter Empowerment Campaign. Mr. Clay was a Deputy Director for People For the American Way’s field department where he managed the Partners for Public Education program and organized successful pro-public education coalitions and rallies in Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Charlotte, Cleveland, Detroit, Denver, Ft. Lauderdale, Houston, Jackson, Jacksonville, Memphis, Miami, Milwaukee, New Orleans, New York, Newark, Philadelphia, Richmond, and St. Louis. He also mobilized the Los Angeles community to oppose Proposition 38 and helped to mobilize activists in Detroit against proposal 209. While at PFAW, Mr. Clay developed the African American Ministers Leadership Council to build national support for public education with ministers from around the country. Kirk has been featured in many newspapers and magazines. He has written many articles including “Redistricting Strategies for Civil Rights Organizations” for the State of Black America publication. He has also been a guest on numerous television and news programs across the nation. Kirk began his career as a trainer and lead administrator for the Democratic National Committee Campaign Training Academy where he helped to train over 500 campaign staff and activist. He is a former White House intern and has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Cincinnati in Ohio. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife and three children. His hobbies include traveling, cooking, and Jazz. He is a popular political blogger - kirkclay.com - and is active on twitter @kirkclay



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