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Back from fundraising brink, Cory Booker sees a path to caucus surprise

New Jersey Democrat predicts he'll get a ticket out of Iowa

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a Democratic presidential hopeful, gives an interview last Monday on his campaign recreational vehicle on the way to speak at a climate forum in Cedar Rapids. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, a Democratic presidential hopeful, gives an interview last Monday on his campaign recreational vehicle on the way to speak at a climate forum in Cedar Rapids. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker readily admits his back was against the wall as the latest campaign fundraising deadline approached.

But after supporters met — and exceeded — his ultimatum that he had to raise $1.7 million in 10 days or drop out of the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, Booker believes he’s on course to be a winner in Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses.

That may seem overly optimistic for a candidate whose polling numbers have been in the low single digits. Booker is in a four-way tie in Iowa with Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, New York businessman Andrew Yang and California businessman Tom Steyer at 2.3 percent support.

So Booker continued to answer reporters’ questions about his fundraising during a four-day swing this past week through Iowa. But he quickly fast-forwarded to February.

Calling his campaign’s ground game “inarguably one of the best” in Iowa, Booker confidently predicted he will win one of the proverbial “three tickets out of Iowa” in the Feb. 3 caucuses.

That’s because the Iowa campaign is “really a great race that has a lot of elements of a meritocracy,” he said while traveling from one campaign stop to the next in his recreational vehicle.

“If your ideas are good, if your heart and spirit matches the yearnings of a country, if you put in the time and effort, Iowa is a place that rewards that,” Booker said as he sipped a Mountain Dew. “So we may not be the highest funded campaign or have the name recognition coming out of the blocks like some of the people polling at the very top. But Iowa has shown before they don’t care about money. They don’t care about people that might have better name recognition. They want to get to know you. And the more I can get my heart, spirit and ideas out in front of Iowans, the more likely we are to win this time.”

Besides, he said, polls in the caucus campaign often are wrong — pointing to John Kerry and Barack Obama, who surged in the polls in 2004 and 2008, respectively, to win the caucuses.

“I trust America, and I trust Iowa, and the polls have never predicted who they elect in the caucuses,” he said.

Booker talked about poverty and, after touring an urban farm in Cedar Rapids, about climate change. The latter issue won’t be solved by “the policy ideas of about 1,200 candidates running for president ... or who has a better 15-point plan,” he said.

Instead, he called on Americans to unite in “a sense of common sense and common purpose like we’ve done in generations past.”

“We’re going to meet this climate challenge,” he continued. “I want to meet the challenges other people said couldn’t be met.”

Booker proudly claims to be the first of the 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls to offer a plan for reducing childhood poverty. He would provide a $300-a-month cash allowance to families for each child younger than 5 and expand the food stamp and free and reduced-price school lunch programs.

Attacking childhood poverty is part of Booker’s philosophy that “when we invest in each other, that’s when America is at its best.”

Just as he said he sets a high bar for himself when talking about the Iowa caucuses, Booker said he would expect the same from Americans if he were elected.

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“If I am your president — I’m going to warn you right now — I’m going to ask more of you than any president has asked of you in your lifetime,” Booker said.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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