(The Root) — Though President Obama’s inauguration for a second term took place just over a week ago, speculation is already rampant regarding who the next black president might be. At the top of many lists is Newark, N.J., mayor and soon-to-be Senate candidate Cory Booker.
Booker is telegenic, Ivy League-educated and a Rhodes scholar; has bipartisan support; and has a list of heroic feats that rivals a real-life superhero’s. (He recently enjoyed headlines for saving a dog from freezing to death.) In many ways Booker has the perfect biography to become president, except for one small detail: Booker is a bachelor.
America has elected only two presidents who were unmarried at the time: James Buchanan, the nation’s 15th president; and Grover Cleveland, the nation’s 22nd (and 24th — he served two nonconsecutive terms). Cleveland, however, married while in office. (Chester Arthur entered office single, but only because his wife died before his inauguration.)
Buchanan never did marry, and his legacy includes persistent speculation about his sexual orientation. A number of experts who weighed in explained that added scrutiny of one’s personal life is one of the primary obstacles that a bachelor — or bachelorette — politician aiming for the White House would face.
In an interview with The Root, John Geer, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University, explained: “If someone is 45 years old and never been married, there will be questions of why. Some will ask if the person’s gay — unfairly, but some will ask.”
Those questions could affect their electability to the nation’s highest office. A 2011 Gallup poll found that while 94 percent of voters would vote for a black presidential candidate and 93 percent for a woman, only 67 percent said they were willing to vote for a gay candidate. As Geer said, “It’s a matter of how the other dominoes line up. If you’re single because of divorce [that’s one thing]. But if you’re single and never been married, it’s different.”
To Geer’s point, Booker has faced gay slurs by a political opponent attempting to paint him as unrelatable. When asked recently about Booker’s sexuality, a spokesperson declined to comment, although the mayor does “talk openly about dating women,” as Buzzfeed has noted. Could Booker and his team avoid answering reporters’ questions about his personal life if he opted for a White House run?
Based on what experts say, that is unlikely.
While not commenting on Booker directly, Adnaan Muslim, a political consultant whose firm Mission Control has advised candidates such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), explained that he doesn’t believe a single person could be elected president. The reason? “Because voters feel entitled to know about your personal life.”
Being single, he explained, opens up a candidate to too many rumors — and not just gay ones. “The minute you’ve got a single public official, you have all of the tabloids and entertainment news covering [his or her personal life].”