During the second day of Sen. Cory Booker’s open-press, all-on-the-record bus trip across Iowa, the Senator was more settled into his travel and was getting some additional work done. He went up to the front of the bus several times to make phone calls and conduct other business—during his last event in Mason City, the candidate mentioned he was on the phone that day with Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, talking about impeachment strategies.
The drives were longer than Day 1’s, and with the excitement of the trip start slightly worn, Starting Line decided to include content on the events themselves. Throughout the day, Booker seemed focused and jovial, with his stump speech nailed down. This left room for the candidate to highlight his rural policies as he met with some of the most agriculture-heavy communities in the state.
Leg: From Sioux City to The Fruited Plain Cafe, Sioux Center
Time: 10 a.m.
Bus trip time: 45 mins.
Sioux Center crowd size: 80+
A banana, but he discussed how the campaign has “driven him to drink.” Booker—who famously has never tasted a sip of alcohol (except for communion wine) explained that in the early days of his Senate career, he had an addiction to diet Pepsi and diet Mountain Dew. He stopped cold turkey at one point, but there have been several moments on the campaign trail when he relapsed. His state director, Mike Frosolone, said there was one day that was particularly bad—he had too many diet Mountain Dews to count. Booker stuck to water on this trip, however.
The trip to The Fruited Plain Cafe was short, so the candidate didn’t have quite enough time to warm up enough for a dad joke on the way there. At the event he used the “Sermon on the McMount” riff—which garnered a fair amount of laughs.
Discussion with Press:
Booker’s first event of the day was at 10:45, so the trip to the cafe was very relaxed. The Senator said he was a morning person while jumping on the bus and announcing “Good Morning!” He then prepped for the event—he ate his banana, looked through his phone and made a few calls in the front of the bus.
We did ask who the first person he calls in the morning was, and he said it’s usually Rosario, though she is not a morning person like him. Booker said that when she was out in Iowa campaigning with him, he played her a Spotify Christmas playlist to wake up to. While she didn’t wake up to the first two songs, which were slower, she opened her eyes to the list’s third song—a Britney Spears hit.
Sen. Booker began his event deep in Rep. Steve King’s fourth district in Sioux County.
“I know in this part of Iowa you feel like a band of rebels trying to take back the empire,” he said.
The Senator addressed the nation’s divide and called upon his pitch for unity. He explained what made him different than the other candidates—his emphasis on love and unity, laced with his lived experience.
Booker wanted the crowd to focus less on policy differences between him and the other candidates because their plans were mostly similar—to instead look at his character when caucusing. Booker said that he is “running for spiritual reasons.”
In responding to an attendee, Booker addressed the need to rebalance jurisprudence in federal court. He carried this point several times on the trip, including in talks with media the day before.
“I do think we should be pushing hard and fast on federal judges, but I do not think we should be doing what the Republicans are doing, which is Donald Trump publicly gave over his judicial selection process to right-wing groups like the Heritage Foundation,” Booker told the press. “They’re pushing judges. I know my Republican colleagues, many of them find it offensive in their lack of experience or lack of qualifications.”
Leg: From The Fruited Plain Cafe to Deja Brew coffee in Spencer, IA
Bus trip time: 70 mins
Spencer crowd size: 55
Food: One banana, a package of mini pistachios, one apple, and some baby carrots, in that order.
At Deja Brew in Spencer, Booker said that while drafting his legislation on rural policy, he had before visited Iowa to meet with the experts: farmers. Some of those farmers were Republican, so to win them over, he told them, “Your cows are utterly amazing, sir.” The candidate said he was really “milking his jokes.”
He also pulled out a Christmas joke, with three days until the holiday:
“Why does Santa Claus have three gardens?” Booker asked. “Because he likes to ho, ho, ho.”
Discussion with Press:
While waiting for the candidate to finish taking selfies with enthused event attendees, campaign manager Addisu Demissie said the team often bothers Booker about the length of his stump speeches—famed for their intensity and bravado. His longest time on the stump was 54 minutes in Seattle last week. Demissie said the speeches are normally longer if he’s not in an early state. Twelve minutes was the shortest stump speech ever.
When the candidate hopped on the bus, the TV was turned to NBC with a preview of that night’s Saturday Night Live episode, hosted by Eddie Murphy. Booker began to laugh and said he’d better get to catch the episode—even attempting to act out Murphy’s “Mr. Robinson” skit.
“It depends on how long you talk tonight in Mason City,” Demissie warned.
We then played some car games, including the older/younger game, where the Senator read off names of celebrities or elected officials and the bus had to guess if they were older or younger than the candidate.
Sarah Silverman is younger than Booker, by a year. Chelsea Handler is younger, by 6 years. John C. Reilly is older, Brad Pitt is older, Jimmy Kimmel is older, and Tom Cruise is older.
The event in Spencer was a panel of rural community members.
“To need to shift power away from these large multi-national corporations and back to the contract farmers themselves. Because contract farmers are really abused,” Booker said. “They’re pitted against each other through tournament systems … contract farmers are put in situations where they’re liable for things that are being dictated to them by large multinational corporations.”
Booker then highlighted the nation’s gradual disinvestment in rural counties.
“There’s a lot of hurt and a lot of pain here, yet people here still get up every day and while they might not see investments in rural America, they’re still hoping with the hope and promise of America,” he said.
Questions from the audience reflected the town’s strong need for hospitals, mental health services and adequate incentives to farm in environmentally friendly ways—topics that touch all rural communities.
“We’re paying oil companies right now, I’m not going to even talk about the renewable fuel standards, and the offensiveness of what’s wrong with that,” Booker said. “We are literally paying oil companies right now to drill more, drill more. It’s about time we pay farmers to do the practices that we know can save us from the climate crisis.”
From Deja Brew coffee to Historic Park Inn Ballroom in Mason City, IA
Bus trip time: 130 mins.
Mason City crowd size: 160
Three house salads, with tomato, Italian dressing on the side. He originally asked for no dressing, but after finding out there was a vegan option, opted to get containers of it.
While Instagram live-ing for the second day in a row, Booker was timed for 30 seconds as he said his favorite Christmas-themed dad jokes. He got up to five:
-Santa Claus, coming down the chimney, there’s a fire in the fireplace. What do you call him? Crisp Kringle.
-Santa Claus is stuck in a chimney, he’s suffering from ‘claus-trophobia.’
-What do you call a cat on the beach during Christmas? Sandy Claws.
-What do you call a dog on the beach during Christmas? Sandy Paws.
-You go further out into the ocean, and you bump into sharks’ version of Santa Claus, it is Santa Jaws.
Discussion with Press:
During our longest ride of the day, we began our ride by playing American History trivia with Booker—including questions like which state went blue during President Regan’s election cycle, how many terms did FDR serve and which former president was the first to take a trip outside of the U.S.
(The answers are Minnesota, four, and Teddy Roosevelt.)
Then the Senator made some birthday calls to some of his staff members and finally decided to again go on Instagram live. During the livestream, Booker again made the bus sing Christmas carols.
It’s important to note that when the bus decided on singing ‘Frosty the Snowman,’ the candidate said he didn’t know the words. But when the tune began, he very much engaged in singing and even gave everyone a big twirl. Booker’s staff said music is a big part of their life on the road—the candidate often makes them sing and appear in Instagram live videos.
The first trip of Booker’s presidential candidacy started in Mason City last February, a few blocks away from the Historic Park Inn Ballroom. So he drove home the main points of love and unity, which are central to his campaign, while addressing the issues of rural America, healthcare and climate change.
One of the event’s last questions was about impending impeachment in the Senate. Members of Booker’s team said that on this trip, the Senator saw more impeachment questions than any other throughout the state.
Booker mentioned that he was on the phone that day with Sen. Schumer, talking about strategies.
“Obviously we’re going to do everything we can to try and get a fair trial, God Bless Nancy Pelosi,” Booker said. “I have no high hopes that this is going to be a fair trial, but we’re going to hear from witnesses… Having people like Mulvaney, his chief-of-staff who was in the room when it happened, and it’s really reasonable to have key evidentiary witnesses, and I don’t think we’re going to get that.”
On the bus beforehand, members of the press asked Booker what he was anticipating when it came to impeachment and running a campaign. He said that being in Iowa, campaigning on the ground was the most effective strategy for him, but he prioritizes his job as a Senator.
“I know I have to be doing my duty. I swore an oath as a United States Senator to do my job, and I’m going to be there in doing it, regardless of the political outcome. But clearly, the most powerful thing in our campaign right now is direct contact with voters. And we’re seeing it on this trip, We’re looking at rooms now where 20, 30 percent of rooms with undecided voters coming to me in town halls are signing commit to caucus cards,” Booker said. “Being in-state, nothing replaces this.”
At one point, a fire alarm went off for several minutes (it was a false alarm), but the Senator kept speaking his way through it.
From Historic Park Inn Ballroom in Mason City, IA to Booker’s field office in Urbandale, IA
Bus trip time: 120 mins.
Rice and beans with some tortilla chips.
Dad Jokes: N/A
Discussion with Press:
The candidate was just able to make the episode of SNL, where the cold open happened to be this week’s Democratic debates.
Watching a debate skit on SNL with a presidential candidate who has before been featured on the show himself is interesting— Booker especially liked when Maya Rudolph came onstage as former candidate Kamala Harris. He had mentioned before on the trip that he and Kamala still talk and text, though he wouldn’t comment on how she was feeling since she left the race. While she was in the race, the link between the only African Americans in the running had been chronicled— but Booker said there were moments on the trail and on the national debate stage where the two wouldn’t even have to speak, they would just burst out laughing like old friends.
by Isabella Murray