Cory Booker: ‘I am Running for President of the United States’

U.S. Senator Cory Booker addresses a crowd of about 2,00 supporters during his 2020 presidential campaign kickoff in Newark, NJ.

To kick off his 2020 presidential campaign, U.S. Senator Cory Booker this afternoon went back to Newark, the gritty and imperfect summer soldier set-piece where the suburban kid turned two-fisted ward heeler cut his political teeth as mayor.

“I am running for president of the United States of America,” Booker said to cheers in Military Park, homage to the shivering forces of the American Revolution who camped here in the lead-up to an icy, muddy and typhoid fever-nagging trudge to Trenton.

The rhetoric today was decidedly more post-Oprah than perked-up Tom Paine, who scribbled the Crisis papers near this site, a symbolic afterthought in this social media selfie circus called contemporary America, where the sitting Trenton establishment looks more like Hessian epicureanism than heads-up, muskets-over-the-river spartanism.

The Newark years for Booker meant entrenched political rivalry, including constant head butting from the city’s current mayor, Ras Baraka, son of a legendary local revolution-minded beatnik who dismissed Booker as a corporate camel nose under the tent flap of his beloved Newark.

Booker didn’t focus on the negative in his speech.

In fact, the gang was all together again for the first time, to paraphrase Brubeck, Baraka among them, ready with impassioned pro-Booker soundbites.

“We didn’t just talk about injustice,” said Booker, hearkening to his five years as mayor of Newark, New Jersey’s biggest city. “We took on the slumlords and doubled the rate of affordable housing right here.”

It was one of the harder lines in a speech mostly defined by flower power, a concept starkly at odds with the corroded career politician framework buttressing the crowd in support of Booker’s remarks.

So far in his 2020 presidential bid, the sweetness and light-minded Booker has struggled early to find traction.

This past Thursday, a Monmouth University poll of likely Democratic caucusgoers in Iowa, finds former Vice President Joe Biden with 27% support, U.S. senator Bernie Sanders at 16%, South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg at 9%, Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren at 7%, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke at 6%, Sen. Amy Klobuchar at 4%, Booker at 3%, and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro at 2%.

First quarter fundraising shows Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) with the most ($18.2 million), followed by Harris with $12 million; O’Rourke with $9.4 million. Buttigieg reportedly raised $7 million — a large haul for a newcomer to national politics, according to The Washington Post. Warren of Massachusetts ($6 million), and Klobuchar of Minnesota ($5.2 million) both outpaced Booker’s $5 million.

In his speech – a heavy lift medium for a twitter age – New Jersey’s junior senator repeatedly set himself apart as a Newark-centric public person, trying to turn a perceived weakness into a strength in a pivot from conventional wisdom that the shambles of New Jersey lack credibility as a presidential launch pad.

“I am the only senator who comes home to an inner city community,” the 49-year old Booker declared. “The people on my block, the people gathered here and folks all across the country can’t wait. They can’t afford a politics of division that sacrifices progress for purity. They can’t afford to allow this election to become just an exercise in political posturing or a box checking competition that is completely divorced from the realities of so many people who are struggling and hurting.”

The crowd was into it, even as one insider griped to InsiderNJ that he has been hearing a variation of the same speech going back to Booker’s days as a Central Ward city councilman. Others on the outskirts of party establishment corpulence chafed about vanilla fudge rhetoric, which Booker slapped at it, in his own way. “I know and you know that we don’t have the privilege to wait for what fits into someone else’s narrow view of what it means to be a progressive,” the presidential candidate said.

The kickoff came amid strife within the senator’s own party, as establishment Democrats continue to pick apart their own party’s governor, Phil Murphy, who was on hand at the event in support of Booker.

There’s hope for that establishment to offload Murphy to a Booker Administration, or so ran an undercurrent with onlookers, even as others said Booker – mired in the lower middle of the prez pack – might, on the strength of offering a campaign message least offensive to the most – have a crack at vice president.

Tearing itself to pieces under him, a power-glutted Democratic Party held aloft the torch of hope for U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1) to supplant Booker as junior senator. Then there was the delicate replacement procedure for Murphy, in the event either or another winning Democrat plucked the New Jersey Governor for treasury, ambassador to the Court of St. James, or secretary of state.

A few names continued to circulate.

First there was Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-3).

Just give him what he wants, ran the logic around his candidacy.

Then there was U.S. Rep. Mikie Sherill (D-11) as a northern checkmate to Sweeney.

In the middle of that collision there was the Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver option.

The South and Essex could repackage the LG as the next iteration of establishment leadership following some sort of reconciliation post-speaker disaffection.

Then there was the Senator Troy Singleton (D-7) option, a South Jersey play if Sweeney and Oliver fell apart up north.

The intrigue was fluid but far more palpable than Paine, as fear of President Donald J. Trump’s galvanized nativist base abounded, along with a mild percolating sense that the party elsewhere was just as divided as here (if not as politically valuable as some swing state in the heartland), while Booker spoke the inoffensive language of love that to date is the lifeblood of his campaign.

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