Can Cory Booker Win the White House?

By David Levinsky

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, already pretty much a household name throughout New Jersey, is officially off and running for the White House in 2020, joining an already crowded field of Democrats vying for the party’s nod to challenge President Donald Trump.

Can he emerge victorious?

New Jersey hasn’t sent one of its own to the White House since Woodrow Wilson, but New Jersey officials and political watchers said they believe the former Newark mayor — who once garnered attention for shoveling snow for city residents and for helping a woman escape a burning home — has a decent shot at winning the Democratic nomination and even the White House.

“The short answer is yes he can win,” said Ben Dworkin, director of Rowan University’s Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship, on Friday after Booker announced his candidacy.

The Democratic field already includes three other senators — Kamala D. Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York — as well as several other candidates and potential candidates, among them Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden. (Isn’t it four when you count Bernie?)

But Booker is considered a strong contender, with an appealing personal story, proven charisma and media savvy, and a strong-but-not-extreme progressive pedigree and history.

“He’s immediately in the top-tier at this admittingly early stage … I think he has the path. He’s got the lane,” Dworkin said.

Booker announced his campaign Friday morning with a video that touched on both his past growing up as one of the first African American families to settle in a North Jersey suburb, as well as his call for American unity.

“I believe we can build a country where no one is forgotten, no one is left behind,” Booker said in the video. “It is not a matter of can we, it’s a matter of do we have the collective will, the American will? I believe we do,” he said.

Booker previously served as mayor of Newark before winning election to replace the late Democrat Frank Lautenberg as New Jersey’s second U.S. senator during a special election in 2013.

During his time in the Senate, he’s garnered attention for supporting marijuana legalization, criminal justice reform and legislation to permit the import of prescription drugs from Canada.

The latter issue could be a key one for the New Jersey senator, who is likely to face criticism from some Democrats due to his past financial ties to Wall Street banks and pharmaceutical companies.

Booker pledged to stop accepting contributions from pharmaceutical interests in 2017, and last year he joined a growing list of Democrats who pledged to refuse money from all corporate PACs, including Rep. Andy Kim, D-3rd of Bordentown Township.

During a news conference in Newark on Friday, Booker defended his record in the city and the Senate, arguing that he has made a point of standing up for the victims of “bad actors.”

“When it comes to defending people, I will be ferocious,” he said.

Dworkin said Booker’s strengths should allow him to separate from the field and he has spent the last several months laying out the groundwork for a national campaign, making trips and delivering speeches in key early-voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.

“He has to be able to connect. I think he’ll be solid on the financial front, and we’ve all seen the personality and magnetism that has made him a start at a very young age in New Jersey. We’ll have to see, but he’s taking the show on the road.”

And while Booker first made a name for himself from his time as Newark’s mayor, he has made frequent trips to Burlington County over the years, particularly to Willingboro, the county’s biggest Democratic stronghold.

“Every time I come here, you treat me like one of your own. You treat me like family,” Booker said during a 2013 campaign rally in the town.

Lavonne Bebler-Johnson, a former Willingboro official and Democratic chair, said she expects much of Burlington County’s fast-growing Democratic party would rally around Booker’s campaign, although she also said she considers the field of candidates extremely strong.

“We have such a terrific field to choose from. Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and now Cory Booker; I can’t think of three better candidates,” Bebler-Johnson said Friday.

She said Booker has established popularity in Willingboro and other county towns. “We know Cory and we love Cory. We’ve had him here in Willingboro a bunch of times,” she said.

But she also said Harris will have her own supporters here, particularly among her fellow members of the Alpha Kappa Alpha, the country’s oldest black sorority.

“The AKA draw will be strong for Harris. It’s one of the strongest sororities in the county,” she said. “But I’m personally proud (Booker) is running. It feels special to have someone you personally know run for such an important office. It’s exciting to see.”

Gov. Phil Murphy also tweeted an early endorsement of his fellow New Jerseyan.

“Cory Booker ran toward the toughest problems and has fought to build a more just and fair nation for everyone, from his days on the Newark City Council, as mayor, and as a U.S. senator. He’ll make an amazing President,” Murphy tweeted.

State Sen. Troy Singleton, D-7th of Delran, also praised Booker and promised to support his bid for the White House.

“I have worked with Senator Booker to improve the lives of New Jersey residents since I entered public office and I am excited to see him take this step forward in seeking the presidency,” Singleton said Friday. “I am committed to doing whatever I can to help him be successful in this endeavor.”

Former Gov. Chris Christie, who campaigned for president in 2016 before dropping out after a disappointing finish in the New Hampshire Primary, told the Washington Post that Booker could pose a “serious problem” for Trump, so long as he doesn’t “go way wacky left.”

“He’s someone who was pro-voucher, pro-charter school, he was somebody who was tough on crime in the city of Newark. If he stays in that lane and is the articulate, inspirational guy that he is, then I think he’s got a legitimate chance to be a serious potential problem for the president in the general election,” Christie said during an interview broadcast on the Post’s website.

Christie drew criticism for frequently leaving New Jersey during his presidential campaign, but Booker said he expects to remain “an active force in the Senate” while campaigning. He will also have the option to run simultaneously for president and for re-election to his Senate seat thanks to a new law Murphy signed this fall.

Booker said he appreciated having that option but that he’s confident voters will elect him as the nation’s 46th president.

“I intend to be the next president of the United States,” he said.

This article provided by NewsEdge.