“Somebody here’s thinking, Ohhhh, Cory Booker’s going to talk about looove,” Booker told the crowd in North Liberty. “Is this about who has the best 15-point plan? No. I think I do. But no. This election is about which leaders—plural—can inspire us again to see each other’s hope and promise.” Though this gushy, gauzy stuff might seem to be out of step with the crush-the-opposition partisanship of the moment, the people who were signing cards commiting to caucus for him—”Look at that stack!” he said when he saw the size of the pile—seemed to have eaten it up, saying they were just looking for someone to be kind.
County chairs and local politicians kept coming out for him, even into last week. “He has the strongest message,” Tim Horrigan, a New Hampshire state representative who endorsed Booker on Thursday morning, told me late last week. “He’s totally the antithesis of Trump and also somebody who could heal the damage that Trump has done.” Bryce Smith, the chair of the Dallas County, Texas, Democrats, who endorsed Booker at the end of December, told me that he personally had been won over by how Booker seems to “ooze his love for everyone,” and that he believed a “silent momentum” of elected officials and activists could help Booker win on caucus night.
Booker tried to make the case that his candidacy would bring what Democratic primary voters have been looking for all along: unity. Enthusiasm. Energy. Youthfulness. The high black turnout that might actually be the deciding factor in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
But to Booker’s frustration, a party that likes to see itself as representing America’s multicultural future is being dominated by candidates who are mostly old, white, rich, and male—making it impossible for the candidate best positioned to beat Donald Trump to break through. “Yes, we could lose this election,” Booker told me last week. “We need to elect the right person that can excite record turnouts, really have a wave election. I’m very concerned about it. Yes, I’m absolutely concerned about it.”
What comes next for Booker and his team? Booker built an extensive operation in Iowa. Those organizers are now up for grabs. Meanwhile, Booker himself immediately moves to the top of potential-running-mate lists; he’s possibly the only man who would make the shortlist if one of the male candidates becomes the presidential nominee—and he’d be a natural running mate for either Elizabeth Warren or Amy Klobuchar.
Booker’s supporters are also up for grabs. Many I’ve spoken with seem inclined to gravitate toward Warren, though some like Buttigieg as well. In a race that’s heading into the final three weeks in a four-way tie, his supporters could make the difference here in Iowa, and be an important element in determining the nominee.
“Don’t make this Iowa-caucus decision out of fear,” he said at his last events. “Make it out of faith.”
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