Cory Booker, who is way, way down in the polls, hopes love will keep his campaign together.
The senator from New Jersey said he thinks a message of goodwill can carry him to victory in the crowded Democratic presidential field.
“I see you. I love you,” he told more than 300 supporters at Brother Jimmy’s BBQ in the Kips Bay section of Manhattan earlier this month. “I thought about them in my entire career,” he said of the six words in his oft-repeated mantra. “That this is where our strength lies as a nation: I see you. I love you. This is where our power comes from. When we come together and stand together and work together.”
Booker is polling at 3% in Iowa, according to the latest Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll. The state’s caucuses on Feb. 3 will be the first contest for the Democrats seeking the 2020 nomination. Every Democrat nominated to lead the ticket since 2000 has come out ahead in Iowa. Only one won office: Barack Obama in 2008.
Booker said Democrats who win the White House aren’t always ahead this early in the process. “There’s never been a time in our lifetime where a Democrat was leading in the polls right now that ever went on to win the White House,” said Booker. “We literally are the party that elects people that are not poll winners right now. Jimmy Carter was polling at 1% right now.”
Not everyone in the crowd on Nov. 13 shared Booker’s optimism. Rose Smith, a retired teacher from Hazlet, New Jersey, who has been following his rise since he was elected mayor of Newark in 2006, is worried he may have to abandon the race.
“If he doesn’t start rising in the polls, he’s going to probably have to drop out,” said Smith. “And that’s sad to me and upsetting because I think he would be a great president.”
Booker’s vision of unity is reminiscent of Obama’s successful 2008 “Yes, we can” campaign message. If Booker somehow succeeds, he will go up against Donald Trump, who used divisive, anti-immigrant rhetoric to win the White House in 2016.
The prospect of seeing a strong challenger to Trump brought Manhattan resident Laith Frangoul, 56, to Brother Jimmy’s. Frangoul once had preferred to see Joe Biden as the nominee. Then the former vice president’s rhetorical stumbles made him skeptical he could survive a debate with Trump. “He’s run for president three times and failed three times. It doesn’t get better over time,” said Frangoul, who works in sales. “I am concerned that Trump will pounce upon those gaffes, those vulnerabilities and will leverage them and take advantage of them.”
Booker’s goal of bringing a fractured country together resonated with the crowd. “Nothing can stop love and power,” said Deseray Medina, 18, a St. John’s University student. “Because that’s what’s always going to come on top.”