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As 2020 looms, Booker hits the road in Iowa

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is campaigning for Democrats in the midterms, but in this early voting state he can't ignore questions about a presidential run.

Posted: Oct 14, 2018 9:31 PM
Updated: Oct 14, 2018 9:31 PM

J.D. Scholten was trying to drive.

But Sen. Cory Booker, sitting in the passenger seat of Scholten's campaign Winnebago, had other ideas. Armed with his iPhone, Booker turned it on Scholten as the Iowa landscape flashed by.

"You are running for what?" Booker asked from behind his phone. Scholten responded, as he tried to keep one eye on the road, that he's running for Congress in Iowa's 4th Congressional District against Republican Rep. Steve King. Booker stopped him there.

"We only got 30 seconds a shot," the New Jersey Democrat said, tapping at his phone and publishing the first video to his Instagram story. Booker posts updates obsessively to his account, which boasts more than 400,000 followers.

This week, they were along for the ride with Booker on the campaign trail in Iowa, during day three of his first swing through the state as a buzzed-about potential 2020 presidential candidate. Officially, the visit was focused on boosting Democrats like Scholten ahead of the midterm elections. But Booker was also introducing himself to the influential party donors and activists who could make or break a presidential campaign in the key caucus state.

Other Democrats have also been jockeying for position in the party's invisible primary, in Iowa and elsewhere. Former Vice President Joe Biden has plans this week to visit South Carolina, another key primary state. Sen. Bernie Sanders will swing through Iowa later this month to campaign for Scholten and others. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has sent a fundraising appeal to her supporters on behalf of Cindy Axne, the Democrat challenging Rep. David Young in Iowa. And the list goes on and on.

Booker, 49, is no stranger to the Hawkeye State. He has Iowa roots, as he noted often during his visit: his maternal grandmother was born in Des Moines, and he still has family in the area - including his 99-year-old great-aunt Alma Morris, who was in the audience last Saturday. Booker's mother and a smattering of cousins and other relatives also cheered him on. The following day, the clan planned to gather for a reunion in Des Moines, away from the media glare.

Weeks in the making, Booker's big Iowa debut happened to coincide with the contentious Senate vote to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. During the hearings, Booker had taken a star turn as one of the nominee's vocal opponents, garnering national attention for his "Spartacus moment" on the Judiciary Committee, including an appearance on "The Late Show" with Stephen Colbert.

Republicans also took notice, with Sen. John Cornyn chiding Booker during one hearing, "Running for president is no excuse for violating the rules of the Senate."

That didn't stop Booker from dashing straight from the Senate floor, where lawmakers narrowly voted to confirm Kavanaugh, onto a plane to Des Moines, a Mecca for so many presidential hopefuls. There, Booker headlined a major Iowa Democratic Party fundraising dinner, where he led a group therapy session of sorts for more than 1,000 donors and activists still reeling from Kavanaugh's confirmation.

"It was almost like the fellowship that I needed," Booker reflected a few days later in the RV. "The spirit, the energy of a whole bunch of folks that said, 'Regardless of what happened in Washington, we're not gonna curl up here, we're not gonna shut up here. We're not gonna give up here in Iowa.'"

On the road in Iowa

Booker was certainly not shutting up in Iowa. He seized the role of DJ during his brief road trip with Scholten, belting out each song at the top of his lungs. The playlist started with "Sioux City Sue," also the name of Scholten's RV; continued with "Born To Run," a nod to New Jersey; and then into "American Pie," inspired by the plane crash in Scholten's district that killed the famous musicians Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and J.P. Richardson, known professionally as The Big Bopper.

"Everybody, the chorus! Come on, I can't hear you!" Booker hollered, swiveling his iPhone to capture his chief of staff, Matt Klapper, singing along sheepishly.

"Baby, we were born to run! Born to run, J.D.! All right, going down the highway in Iowa!"

In between songs, Booker continued his Instagram interview with Scholten. "Can we talk a little bit about the plight of farmers in Iowa?"

Booker's role as a popular surrogate for Hillary Clinton brought him to Iowa in 2016, where he made a strong impression among state Democrats. He recalled sitting in a diner with Clinton, speaking with the waitress, and being reminded of his home state.

"This might be the Midwest, I grew up in the Northeast," Booker said, "but folk are folk."

Booker has since continued to cultivate his network in the Hawkeye State. He spoke to the Iowa delegation breakfast at the 2016 Democratic National Convention, and his remarks "had members on their feet and literally roaring their approval," the Des Moines Register reported at the time. This election cycle, Booker has been endorsing candidates and, in a few cases, sending staffers to work on their campaigns.

And he has been beefing up his credentials on a key Iowa issue, agriculture - having toured farms in Missouri, Kansas and Nebraska in conjunction with a bill he is sponsoring to put a moratorium on big farm mergers.

Asked by a reporter how he, a New Jersey lawmaker, could understand rural issues, Booker said: "We have a great farm community. We are the Garden State. I don't know if I need to bring you a New Jersey tomato to let you know how good our produce is."

The sum of Booker's rhetoric and actions would suggest he is actively preparing for a presidential bid in 2020. In a recent interview with New York Magazine, Booker acknowledged that he's thinking about it. "Of course the presidency will be something I consider," he said. "It would be irresponsible not to."

Back on the RV, he wouldn't discuss his timeline for a decision, saying he plans "to spend all of my energy, all of my effort focusing on these next 30 days," during which time he'll be continuing to campaign for Democrats across the country.

"I'm going to Ohio, I'm going to Florida, I'll be going to a whole bunch of other states, I'm going up and down Jersey again for (Sen.) Bob Menendez," Booker said. "And that's where 100% of my focus is. We can talk about 2019 and 2020 after this."

Trump zeroes in on Booker

President Donald Trump, for one, isn't waiting to talk about it, having zeroed in on Booker as one of the Democrats possibly standing between him and reelection to a second term.

"Take a look at Cory Booker," Trump said during an event at the White House last week. "He ran Newark, New Jersey, into the ground. He was a horrible mayor. And he made statements that when he was in high school or college, what he was doing - he actually made the statements. And now he's talking about Judge Kavanaugh."

Booker responded this week by attempting not to respond, saying he has "nothing personal against this President."

"If he wants to attack me personally, he can," Booker said. "If he wants to attack my record, the reality is that the people of the state of New Jersey who elected me statewide are very proud of the work that I did, the change that we made in Newark, the transformation going on in our city."

"This is not about the President, this is not about me," Booker went on. "I will never let him pull me so low as to hate him. I'm going to continue to be a voice in this country for love, for bringing the nation together, not driving the nation apart."

It's unclear whether such a message of "love" will resonate with Democrats in the time of Trump, with many activists urging the party to fight the President's fire with fire. The attorney Michael Avenatti has been among those advocating a more aggressive tack, saying at a recent Vanity Fair event that if Democrats "have to crawl in the gutter with this person, then that's what we have to do."

"You're not going to beat Donald Trump with a message of universal love," said Avenatti. "This guy will eat you alive."

But Booker disagrees.

"Look, I'm angry, I'm hurt. I'm upset about what's going on and how real people in America, working folks are being treated," Booker said. "But the way you counter that is not by embodying the tactics of those people that you don't want to see in office. So, the President might try to divide people, I think we as Democrats should try to unite people."

"And so I don't know if it's a winning political message or not," he added, "but I will always be talking about trying to unify this country, trying to bring us together."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 66646

Reported Deaths: 1874
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds5599118
DeSoto363230
Harrison249836
Madison241464
Rankin227633
Jackson226942
Jones188558
Forrest177856
Washington164641
Lee142839
Lauderdale140792
Neshoba128592
Lamar120214
Oktibbeha111838
Bolivar110834
Warren108932
Lowndes107437
Panola105412
Sunflower102425
Scott99820
Lafayette96416
Copiah95028
Pike92836
Leflore92562
Holmes89048
Grenada84321
Yazoo82912
Pontotoc8218
Lincoln80941
Simpson79530
Leake78625
Monroe77853
Wayne76421
Coahoma74312
Tate72028
Marshall6889
Marion65720
Union62716
Winston62016
Adams61725
Covington61213
George5595
Newton54211
Pearl River54038
Tallahatchie53010
Attala52125
Walthall49819
Chickasaw45920
Noxubee45311
Alcorn4195
Calhoun4179
Prentiss41710
Tishomingo4095
Claiborne40413
Smith40413
Clay39413
Hancock38814
Jasper3879
Tippah36013
Itawamba35810
Tunica3337
Clarke32625
Montgomery3213
Lawrence3197
Yalobusha31310
Humphreys29111
Quitman2621
Carroll26111
Greene24111
Kemper23214
Perry2327
Jefferson Davis2316
Amite2306
Webster22812
Wilkinson20513
Sharkey1975
Jefferson1957
Stone1944
Benton1431
Choctaw1334
Franklin1242
Issaquena261
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 94827

Reported Deaths: 1674
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson12969243
Mobile9836206
Montgomery6609148
Madison531433
Tuscaloosa419073
Unassigned356061
Baldwin350224
Shelby326035
Marshall313035
Lee266045
Morgan236918
Etowah210431
DeKalb179813
Calhoun176113
Elmore171538
Walker152064
Houston138612
Russell13582
St. Clair132817
Dallas131823
Limestone131813
Franklin127020
Cullman122012
Colbert117113
Lauderdale115717
Autauga108621
Escambia107516
Talladega100913
Jackson9684
Tallapoosa85479
Chambers84038
Dale82723
Blount7884
Chilton7886
Butler75836
Coffee7566
Covington73420
Pike7037
Clarke6629
Barbour5735
Lowndes57124
Marion57024
Marengo55315
Hale47326
Bullock46311
Winston45011
Perry4404
Bibb4265
Wilcox42610
Monroe4194
Randolph39610
Pickens3929
Conecuh38810
Washington38612
Sumter36018
Lawrence3481
Macon33414
Crenshaw3143
Choctaw28112
Cherokee2707
Henry2593
Geneva2570
Clay2525
Greene25011
Lamar2202
Fayette2045
Cleburne1261
Coosa1012
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