Immediately on taking the microphone at the Washington State Democratic Party Convention tonight, Newark Mayor Cory Booker addressed the recent Bain Capital scandal, calling this his "probation speech." "I have size 14 feet," he said, and joked that the Democratic party asked him "not to put them in my mouth tonight."
If you've ever been to one of these party events, you know what to expect: Booker praised the three major candidates who are going to be nominated at the convention tomorrow—Inslee, Cantwell, and Obama. He offered up autobiographical information for those who don't know him, and he hit the major party points, in an effort to get people excited for the election in the fall. This is pretty standard stuff. But, Jesus Christ. The man is a political natural. He took the friendliest of friendly rooms, moved them to tears, brought them to their feet, and unfroze a Seattle crowd and turned it into a Baptist revival.
Booker addressed the recent shootings, saying that Mayor McGinn asked him how he dealt with violent crime when he became mayor of Newark (before he was elected, Newark was named by Time magazine as "The Most Dangerous City in the Nation"). Booker said his first strategy was to go to the scene of every murder, no matter what time of day. He told a story about the shooting death of a boy from the projects where he lived. At the wake, he saw teachers and friends and neighbors. "All these people came out for his death," Booker said. "Where were they for his life?" Much of his speech was made up of anecdotes about ordinary people cleaning up their neighborhoods—beautifying parks where drug dealers hung out, being present in streets where crimes happened.
Booker listed President Obama's accomplishments (DADT, health care reform, the Lilly Ledbetter Act, job creation) in a fiery call-and-response that had the crowd on their feet. People were shouting for President Obama, but they were clamoring for him, too. "Hope is Barack Obama," Booker said, and "Change is..." he paused and in the silence someone in the audience shouted "Cory Booker!" "Change is us," Booker said. "l'll tell you why I’m a Democrat," he said. "Because this is the party that understands that we the people aren’t done yet. We can’t be conservative because there’s nothing to conserve yet. There’s work to do in America."
It's been a long time since I've seen a Washington crowd so enthusiastic. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick did a great job in April, but even he didn't have Booker's natural poise. Even President Obama's last appearance in Seattle didn't make the audience as heady and drunk on its own power. I'd have to go back to candidate Obama's Key Arena appearance in the fall of 2008 to think of the last time a political room felt that inspired. I've been saying this for a while now, but now that I've seen him speak in person, I'd be willing to bet a large amount of money on this: One day, Cory Booker's name will be on a ballot for national office, and I will vote for him, and that will be a very good day.
(This post has been updated because I got a murder statistic totally wrong last night. That statistic has been removed)