Booker Joins Race, Preaching Optimism in Contrast With Trump
(Bloomberg) -- Senator Cory Booker announced that he’s running for the Democratic presidential nomination to challenge President Donald Trump in 2020, saying the nation needs to be able to see its leaders and “feel pride, not shame.”
Booker, 49, a senator since 2013 and the former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, joins a growing Democratic primary field including fellow Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California, and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
“I believe that we can build a country where no one is forgotten, no one is left behind; where parents can put food on the table; where there are good-paying jobs with good benefits in every neighborhood,” Booker said in a video released early Friday. He called for a country “where our criminal justice system keeps us safe, instead of shuffling more children into cages and coffins; where we see the faces of our leaders on television and feel pride, not shame.”
Booker’s running to become the nation’s second black president and would face at least one other African-American opponent, Harris, in a party where black voters have been decisive in picking the Democratic nominee in the last two open contests -- Hillary Clinton in 2016, and Barack Obama in 2008.
New Jersey’s first black senator draws comparisons with Obama, who arrived in the Senate from Illinois in 2005 to immediate buzz about Oval Office ambitions. Yet at a time of increasing energy in the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, Booker will be challenged by other candidates who are more strongly embraced on the left, including Warren and, potentially, Bernie Sanders of Vermont if he decides to run.
Speaking to reporters on Friday outside his three-story brick house in Newark’s downtown central ward, Booker offered an upbeat message that suggested a contrast with the attacks on Trump by some other Democratic hopefuls as well as top leaders in the highly energized progressive wing of the party.
“We’ve got to stop the trash talking, the Twitter trolling and tearing folks down,” Booker said. “This is the time for all of us to think about our own role in putting the indivisible back in this nation.”
He also took pains to separate himself from leading contender Harris, who at a CNN town hall event on Monday advocated the elimination of the “inhumane” private health insurance industry as part of a move toward “Medicare for all.” Booker said he won’t seek an end to the industry.
“Even countries that have vast access to publicly offered health care still have private health care, so no,” he said.
He also said he doesn’t want to end the Senate filibuster, the delaying tactic that can kill legislation and take 60 votes to end, which hands the minority party big sway. Warren and Gillibrand have said recently they’d consider that. It’s an option that would critics say would damage the Senate but might aid a Democratic president seeking tough-to-pass environmental or health care changes.
Booker has been working to gain favor within his party, and raised more than $7 million for federal, state and local candidates and parties before the 2018 elections, according to data compiled by his office. He campaigned for fellow Democrats in 24 states, including early presidential caucus and primary states Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Booker’s strengths include a charismatic persona, a record of taking on Trump, the potential to appeal to minority and young voters, and a reputation for strong fundraising. In the 2013 special election when he first won his Senate seat, and a subsequent 2014 bid for a full term, Booker overwhelmed his Republican Senate opponents with a large campaign war chest. In the 2014 race he raised $17.7 million while Republican competitor Jeff Bell brought in only $570,000.
Booker plans to finance his candidacy largely through small-dollar individual contributions, and won’t accept funds from corporate political action committees or registered federal lobbyists, according to his campaign staff. They said he’ll also oppose any decision by super-PACs to spend on the 2020 presidential race, although he can’t control the independent decisions of these entities that can raise unlimited amounts to help or hurt candidates.
Booker has pursued a largely progressive agenda in the Senate. He backs creating “Medicare for all” government-run health insurance, legalizing marijuana, and requiring publicly traded companies that use profits for stock buybacks to pay a similar amount to employees as a “worker dividend.” He sought to address a racial wealth gap by giving all children government-funded savings accounts, with lower-income kids getting higher payments.
Booker in December 2017 circulated an online petition calling on Trump to resign over claims of sexual harassment by several women. “We must hold members of both parties to the same standard, and that standard should apply all the way to the top,” Booker said in his petition.
He helped lead an unsuccessful fight to defeat the nomination of then-Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions as Trump’s attorney general. Booker said Sessions had a long history of hostility toward minorities, and testified against Sessions at his confirmation hearing.
In January 2018, Booker and Harris became the first two black members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. That placed both at the center of the contentious confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, where Booker and Harris joined other Democrats in an unsuccessful effort to defeat him.
Booker also has worked to create bipartisan relationships. He held a three-hour dinner in 2013 with Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas to discuss constitutional law. He worked with Republicans on legislation overhauling U.S. sentencing standards, and on a thus far unsuccessful bill to protect Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russian election interference.
Booker was born in 1969 to parents who were IBM executives. He attended Stanford University, where he played on the football team and was elected senior class president. After attending Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, Booker received a law degree from Yale University.
He won election to the Newark City Council in 1998 and became mayor in 2006 on a promise to revitalize one of the nation’s most troubled cities. He balanced the budget, bolstered investment in mass transit, and persuaded Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to donate $100 million to improve Newark’s schools. Yet his efforts to revamp the schools had mixed results.
Book’s reputation took on a star quality after he rescued a neighbor from a burning house in 2012 and shoveled an elderly woman’s sidewalk when a city plow didn’t show up. Positive coverage of Newark’s improvements elevated his profile, as did his friendships with Obama and celebrities including actor Ben Affleck and talk show host Oprah Winfrey.
Trump, in recent days, has begun assessing the Democrats lining up to run against him, including Booker.
In an interview with the New York Times, he said Harris had “a little better opening act than the others’’ and that Warren’s credibility was damaged by her release of DNA testing indicating she had some distant Native American ancestors. In an excerpt of a separate interview with CBS, scheduled to be broadcast on Sunday, the president was dismissive of Booker: “I know him. I don’t think he has a chance.”
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