Cory Booker’s Unique Strength: 80-Plus Relatives in Iowa

Ms. Sharpe recalled Mr. Booker’s visit more than 20 years ago to his Aunt Shirley’s house in West Des Moines, when he first told his grandparents and Iowa cousins about his plan to run for Newark City Council.

“They were just stunned,” Ms. Sharpe said. “And I remember I ran back to the bedroom, got my purse, and I grabbed $50. And I came back and I said, ‘I want to be the first one to donate to your campaign.’ And just as soon as I said that, the grandparents and everybody just came alive. And they were like, ‘Oh yes, we’ll donate too!’”

It soon became a family-wide effort. At a family reunion in 2000, after he had been elected to the City Council, Mr. Booker had to fill in as a speaker at the church after the mayor of Des Moines canceled at the last minute. Many of his extended family members, unaware that the former football star had political chops, were converted.

“We took up a collection,” Ms. Young said with a chuckle. “I don’t know how much we collected, but we passed the bucket.”

Though they all live in the Des Moines area, the cousins make an effort to follow Mr. Booker around the state. Marva Frazier-Baggett, who lives in Des Moines, said she was known as the “traveling cousin.” She regularly Googles “where is my cousin Cory Booker” and travels to see him if she can.

In June, she attended the Iowa Democratic Party’s Hall of Fame dinner. “Kamala came up to me in Cedar Rapids, face to face, and smiled and said, ‘How are you?’” Ms. Frazier-Baggett said, referring to another candidate, Senator Kamala Harris of California. “I said, ‘I’m Cory’s cousin!’ And then she just left.”