On the campaign trail, Sen. Cory Booker is frank with Iowans: “Commit to caucus for us.”
With just under two months until the first-in-the-nation caucuses, low-polling candidates like Booker are desperate for a breakthrough.
During his four-day, 13-stop “Lead with Love” tour across the state, the New Jersey senator has implored Iowans to donate to his campaign and respond to pollsters when they call.
Booker is not one of the six candidates who already have qualified for the Dec. 19 debate in Los Angeles. The currently all-white stage has been a point of contention for Democrats this month, especially in light of Sen. Kamala Harris’ early exit from the race.
“I don’t think the DNC should be telling us who our choices are, I think Iowa should,” said Booker, Saturday morning at the Center for Worker Justice in Iowa City.
From Iowa City, Booker participated in the Teamsters Presidential Forum on Worker Issues, a single candidate forum at St. Ambrose University in Davenport and hosted a meet-and-greet in Tipton.
More than 100 people packed into the room in Iowa City to hear from Booker, who has pitched himself as an Obama-like politician who can rally a diverse coalition of voters to bring the country together.
To win a general election against President Donald Trump, the Democrat must be able to compete not only in Iowa, but win diverse early states like South Carolina and Nevada, Booker said.
“This is why, whoever you choose as your nominee, make sure they are the one that can best resurrect the Obama coalition,” Booker said.
To pass legislation favored by a Democratic president, Senate seats will need to be flipped.
“The only pathway to get to 50 votes is to have whoever’s at the top of our ticket has got to be able to energize record African American turnout. The last time we had record African American turnout was 2012,” he said. “I know that we’re going to energize that coalition.”
For Mike Weinard of Iowa City, Booker’s potential to succeed outside of Iowa was appealing.
“We know what the poll numbers say [in Iowa], but we feel like once he gets around the country more and things build, and maybe some of the others drop out, he’s going to catch on more,” said Weinard, at the Oasis Coffee Shop in Tipton.
Mike and Chris Weinard are committed Booker supporters who followed the candidate throughout his events Saturday.
In Tipton, the largest town in conservative Cedar County, Booker drew 60-plus people on a weekend night. He spent about an hour-and-a-half there, delivering his stump speech, answering questions and talking pictures with supporters.
“His way of meeting people, talking to people, dealing with people — there’s just something about it,” Mike said. “All of us ‘hardcores’ would say it’s tough to explain, it’s just there, you feel it. And I did from the day a year ago in October when I met him in North Liberty.”
Booker’s up-front approach to politics has been a hallmark of his time in public service, from his years as mayor of Newark to a U.S. senator. In Iowa, he often comes into the crowd to hug members of the audience and stays after his events to talk more with them.
In Iowa City, he called out to girlfriend Rosario Dawson for his wallet, pledging to donate $500 to the Center for Worker Justice if those in the audience donated, too.
The political participation Booker expects from his supporters comes with a “warning label,” he said.
“This is the warning: you elect me as your president, I will ask more from you than any president has asked from you in your lifetime,” Booker said in Tipton. “I’m telling you, what I mean by that is my grandmother, my Iowa grandmother, ‘Nothing gets done unless you get about getting it done.’
“Every major change in American history has mobilized from grassroots activism demanding the change.”
Kathy Pounds is an undecided voter from nearby Hopkinton, in Delaware County. In Tipton, Pounds said Booker and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar were in her “top two.”
What “got the ball rolling” on Booker, Pounds said, was reading his books (he’s written two).
“I like that he walks his talk,” Pounds said, dressed in a black “Cory Booker 2020” t-shirt. “He doesn’t separate himself from the people. He lives with the people that he serves and wants to bring everybody on board to help solve the problem together.”
The coffee shop meet-and-greet, Booker’s final event after a long day on the trail, kicked off in a manner quintessential for Iowa.
Larry Hodgden, chair of the Cedar County Democrats, introduced Booker by saying he was a former Harris supporter.
“I hope you can convince me that you’re my man,” Hodgen said.
Booker didn’t miss a beat.
“Thank you, Larry,” he said, “and challenge accepted.”
By Elizabeth Meyer