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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.

Cases: 312608

Reported Deaths: 7221
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto21429257
Hinds20256414
Harrison17776308
Rankin13539278
Jackson13395246
Madison10051217
Lee9956173
Jones8364163
Forrest7633152
Lauderdale7215240
Lowndes6359144
Lamar620286
Lafayette6162118
Washington5320133
Bolivar4796132
Oktibbeha460398
Panola4545104
Pearl River4495145
Marshall4387103
Warren4368120
Pontotoc419372
Monroe4089133
Union408776
Neshoba4028176
Lincoln3939110
Hancock376686
Leflore3484125
Sunflower335290
Tate331684
Pike3290105
Scott314873
Alcorn310768
Yazoo310269
Itawamba299377
Copiah295865
Coahoma293979
Simpson293788
Tippah287268
Prentiss278560
Marion268680
Leake264973
Wayne262241
Grenada259985
Adams259882
Covington256281
Newton246961
George246748
Winston226981
Tishomingo225067
Jasper220748
Attala214273
Chickasaw207057
Holmes188672
Clay184654
Stone181433
Clarke178179
Tallahatchie177840
Calhoun169532
Yalobusha162936
Smith162034
Walthall133745
Greene130233
Lawrence128223
Noxubee126834
Montgomery126742
Perry126038
Amite123442
Carroll121628
Webster114532
Jefferson Davis106932
Tunica104626
Claiborne102130
Benton99025
Humphreys96133
Kemper95628
Franklin83323
Quitman79616
Choctaw75818
Wilkinson66830
Jefferson65428
Sharkey50217
Issaquena1686
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 528784

Reported Deaths: 10913
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson762251516
Mobile40864804
Madison34569501
Tuscaloosa25646451
Montgomery24264585
Shelby23355246
Baldwin20993306
Lee15800168
Calhoun14457312
Morgan14250279
Etowah13796352
Marshall12166222
Houston10506280
Elmore10017205
Limestone9935150
Cullman9617193
St. Clair9584237
Lauderdale9397238
DeKalb8813185
Talladega8183175
Walker7205279
Autauga6910107
Jackson6793110
Blount6621135
Colbert6282134
Coffee5491115
Dale4810111
Russell437938
Chilton4244111
Franklin423882
Covington4105117
Tallapoosa4004150
Escambia392675
Chambers3545123
Dallas3536150
Clarke350360
Marion3092100
Pike309177
Lawrence299698
Winston273572
Bibb259763
Marengo248564
Geneva247075
Pickens233559
Barbour230256
Hale221776
Butler215469
Fayette211962
Henry188544
Cherokee183845
Randolph179241
Monroe176240
Washington166839
Macon158649
Clay153356
Crenshaw151657
Cleburne148341
Lamar141234
Lowndes138453
Wilcox126528
Bullock122941
Conecuh110028
Perry107526
Coosa106828
Sumter104132
Greene92234
Choctaw60324
Out of AL00
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Tupelo
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Hi: 74° Lo: 59°
Feels Like: 73°
Columbus
Mostly Cloudy
74° wxIcon
Hi: 74° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 74°
Oxford
Clear
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Hi: 71° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 70°
Starkville
Partly Cloudy
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Hi: 73° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 70°
A frontal system will finally leave our area and high pressure will move into our area gradually overnight and on our Wednesday. This will mean much drier air will replace the moist and unstable air that we have had for the last several days.
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