New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker urged Democrats disappointed by Brett Kavanaugh‘s confirmation to turn their despair into action as he made his national debut in Iowa as a Democratic presidential prospect.
Racing from Saturday afternoon’s Senate confirmation vote in Washington, Booker breezed into the Iowa Democratic Party’s top fall fundraiser to try to make a positive impression on roughly 1,000 party activists. He is visiting the early presidential testing ground this weekend as he weighs a campaign for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
“I see the pain and the hurt, but I want to remind everyone here in this room tonight, full of fellowship, this room full of faith, that this is a time in our country when we need to stay faithful,” Booker told the audience at a convention center in downtown Des Moines. All but one Democratic senator voted against Kavanaugh, who was confirmed 50-48.
Booker’s appearance was not just a seminal moment for the 49-year-old former mayor of Newark. He is also the party’s biggest name to make a foray into the first-in-the-nation caucus state, where so far lesser-known, would-be candidates have been working to get a head start.
The tall former Stanford University football player strode into the ballroom and straight to a table of several family members. His late grandmother Adeline Jordan grew up in Des Moines, where Booker still has family.
Pivoting from anecdotes about his upbringing in New Jersey, Booker turned toward Democrats’ disappointment not just with the Supreme Court confirmation, but with a long list of Trump administration policies.
“I see a lot of folks caught up in a state of sedentary agitation,” he warned. “This is not a time to curl up. This is not a time to shut up. It is not a time to give up.”
Booker’s delivery toggled between soft and reflective to bellowing, like an evangelical minister. Several times he brought the audience to their feet.
After the speech, Booker downplayed the potential boost to Democrats the disappointment over the Kavanaugh confirmation could provide in November’s midterm elections, when Democrats are in position to retake the House.
But that dismissal defied the message in his speech.
Booker urged Democrats, who also are poised in Iowa to make gains in statehouse and congressional races next month, to keep their frustration focused on activism.
“I ask you how long until we turn the tide of division and despair,” Booker shouted over the applause. “I want you to know, not long. Because it’s not long until November.”
Having raised his national profile in recent weeks by seeking a prominent role during the Kavanaugh hearings and appearing on The Tonight Show, Booker also has quietly been making important contacts in Iowa.
Helped by Des Moines Democratic powerbroker Jerry Crawford, a top adviser to Hillary Clinton in 2008 and 2016, Booker met last summer with Iowa lawmakers in Newark.
In Iowa on Sunday and Monday, he is attending public political events with local party groups and candidates for statewide office.
Among them is Deidre DeJear, who would be Iowa’s first African-American nominee for statewide office. DeJear, who is running for Iowa secretary of state, has met with Booker in Washington and Atlanta in recent months at party conferences and meetings for black Democrats.
“I’m attracted to leaders who care,” DeJear said. “He’s one of those senators. His presence helps elevate this race.”
Other big-name Democrats weighing the 2020 race have steered clear of Iowa so far, such as former Vice President Joe Biden, who has said he expects to decide whether to run by January.
In a sign of her potential interest in a presidential bid, California Sen. Kamala Harris sent a staffer from her office to work on the campaign of Iowa Democrat Abby Finkenauer, who is running in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District. It’s common for presidential prospects to put aides to work on midterm campaigns in Iowa to acquire experience in the state’s party workings.