The Next Cory Booker

A year ago politicians vied to be the “next Barack Obama” but today they might bristle with irritation at the title.

With sonic boom-inducing speed he has gone from being an international icon of hope to the protagonist in a cautionary tale about the burden of unreasonable expectations.

However, this has not stopped Marco Rubio, the 39-year-old son of Cuban immigrants who is now Florida’s Senator-elect, from being dubbed the “Republican Obama”.

Of course there is a still a fighting chance that the real Obama will follow the example of Bill Clinton and recover sufficient ground to win a second term and leave office on a relative high.

But in a culture where pundits are on a constant search for the “heir to Blair” and a new Reagan, any minority American politician who crackles with possibility and the potential for continent-crossing appeal will trigger memories of the Obama of 2008.

One such Democrat who has a CV which reads like that of a West Wing character dreamt up by screenwriter Aaron Sorkin is Newark mayor Cory Booker. He was recently hit by a tidal wave of publicity when Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg pledged $100m to transform Newark’s schools.

He is already one of the most famous African-American politicians in the country, but what is most exciting and intriguing about the 41-year-old’s electoral adventure is that by running one of America’s toughest cities he is gaining the crucial experience of steering a supertanker of state that Obama has so manifestly lacked.

There are many streetfighters in governors’ mansions across America who would like a bid at the White House, but Mr Booker also has the luminous intelligence of the president and a similar ability to connect with different groups.

After graduating from Stanford he followed in the footsteps of Clinton by winning a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford. But instead of also whiling away his time there in a bookish but bohemian haze, this American Football-playing Baptist made UK headlines when he was chosen as the president of the Jewish L’Chaim Society.

Mr Booker is not from the ghetto. His parents were among the first African-American executives IBM.

But after gaining law qualifications at Yale he set out on one of his most intense periods of study by moving into Brick Towers, a set of now-demolished apartments famed for drugs and decay.

Back in 2006 he cautioned against describing him as the “great black hope”, saying: “When something goes wrong, people will be motivated to write the story that I’m not.”

But the time may come in the not radically distant future when the Democrat kingmakers see him as the great American hope. And a little after that, journalists might be talking about the "next Cory Booker".

A Saturday column