A national super PAC that backs progressive candidates of color is launching a seven-figure outside effort to elect Newark Mayor Cory Booker to the U.S. Senate seat occupied by the late Frank Lautenberg.
Pac Plus, a San Francisco-based group that focuses on mobilizing black and latino voters — and which is looking for new leaders for President Obama's coalition of young and minority voters — has in the past backed figures like California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Obama, on whose behalf it raised about $10 million in 2008. The group's founder said it will spend between $1 and $2 million in the run-up to the New Jersey special election election this October.
"Here we are talking about the post-Obama world, and where the Obama coalition is going to go," the group's founder, Steve Phillips, told BuzzFeed. "We think that Cory is one of the people who is best positioned to advance that movement."
Philips said his wife Susan Sandler — whose family members are among the largest liberal donors in the country — would seed the group with a $100,000 check. Pac Plus, where the Booker project will be housed, is a hybrid political action committee and so-called Super PAC, with one arm that can make unlimited expenditures and another that can contribute directly to federal campaigns.
Phillips said the project will be called "Help Cory Win."
"We want to be clear," he said of the group's name.
"I'm going to try to put together 10 other funders of $50,000 to get the first round of funding going," Phillips said. "We were always focused on building an infrastructure for the broad enthusiasm that exists for him across the country. So that had been the plan, and we had all been on that trajectory, until this week. We're in a 70-day sprint now."
"Help Cory Win," Phillips added, also aims to increase "turnout of young people and people of color" in advance of the special election primary, scheduled for Aug. 13, and the general election, on Oct. 16.
Phillips, a California-based activist and former San Francisco School Board president, said his group's goal is to promote candidates who can "advance the Obama coalition," he said, citing Harris, the California attorney general, as a prominent example.
But Phillips has been focused largely on Booker since last December, when the mayor said in a video announcement that would "consider" replacing Lautenberg before the senator had even decided to retire — a move that many inside New Jersey deemed disrespectful. Pac Plus, though, wasn't waiting for Lautenberg to bow out; the same night Booker released his video, Pac Plus sent an email to 75,000 supporters nationwide, rallying support from "progressives from coast to coast."
Phillips said he sees Booker as the "young leader who can capture the imagination of an ascendant coalition," he said, citing Booker's engagement with issues like urban poverty and economic inequality.
"He is the most unapologetic and eloquent spokesperson about poverty in this country right now," said Phillips. "I have not heard anybody talk about poverty in that way since Jesse Jackson's 1988 Democratic convention speech."
Booker, whose campaign is circulating a petition for signatures to get his name on the ballot for the special election, has not yet formally announced his candidacy.