NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, January 13th, 2020

Cory Booker abandons his presidential bid

U.S. Sen­a­tor Cory Book­er of New Jer­sey announced on Mon­day that he would be end­ing his cam­paign for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion, less than a month before the first votes are cast. Booker’s cam­paign had been fac­ing a daunt­ing set of hur­dles, includ­ing his fail­ure to qual­i­fy for the Decem­ber and Jan­u­ary debates, seri­ous finan­cial strains to his orga­ni­za­tion, and the prospect of impeach­ment forc­ing him to stay in Wash­ing­ton D.C. in the run-up to the ear­ly pri­maries.

Cory Booker never got a breakout moment to make an impression on voters

Cory Book­er nev­er got a break­out moment to make an impres­sion on vot­ers (Pho­to: Gage Skid­more, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

Booker’s depar­ture leaves only one African-Amer­i­­can – for­mer Gov­er­nor of Mass­a­chu­setts Deval Patrick, who entered the race in mid-Novem­ber – in a pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry field that was once the most diverse in his­to­ry. The only Lati­no can­di­date, for­mer H.U.D. Sec­re­tary Julián Cas­tro, dropped out a the start of the year.

Booker’s with­draw­al is a blow to his sup­port­ers, but one that has been a long time com­ing. As ear­ly as last Sep­tem­ber, Book­er warned that his cam­paign would not be able to con­tin­ue with­out a sig­nif­i­cant increase in dona­tions.

While Booker’s with­draw­al from the race at this moment is not par­tic­u­lar­ly shock­ing, his under­whelm­ing per­for­mance through­out his cam­paign (launched almost a year ago) has left both his fans and polit­i­cal ana­lysts scratch­ing their heads.

Book­er had all the mak­ings of a great can­di­date.

He is a rel­a­tive­ly young black man and a tal­ent­ed ora­tor, attract­ing com­par­isons between him­self and Barack Oba­ma for much of his polit­i­cal career. As may­or of Newark, he had a rep­u­ta­tion for not only being hands-on, but for almost super-hero­ic feats includ­ing once rush­ing into a burn­ing build­ing to save a neigh­bor.

As a Sen­a­tor, he began shak­ing off his con­nec­tions to Wall Street and the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal indus­try and embrac­ing pro­gres­sive poli­cies like the Green New Deal, and pio­neered a plat­form of inno­v­a­tive racial jus­tice poli­cies.

Book­er seemed to have the poten­tial to reunite the “Oba­ma Coali­tion” of young vot­ers, women, and peo­ple of col­or which crushed the Repub­li­cans in both 2008 and 2012. How­ev­er, it nev­er came to pass, and Book­er nev­er rose above a cou­ple of per­cent­age points in the polls for the entire­ty of his cam­paign.

This hap­pened for a vari­ety of rea­sons. First­ly, the diver­si­ty of the field in the ear­ly days of 2019 may have actu­al­ly under­mined Book­er: he was a for­mer may­or and Rhodes schol­ar, but so was Pete Buttigieg; he was a per­son of col­or, but so were sev­er­al oth­ers; he had a tal­ent for soar­ing rhetoric, but he had to com­pete with Kamala Har­ris’ aggres­sive pros­e­cu­to­r­i­al ora­tion, Bernie Sanders’ blunt and impas­sioned polit­i­cal exhor­ta­tions, and Joe Biden’s folksy spiel.

Book­er also suf­fered from an inabil­i­ty to cre­ate a “moment” for him­self in the cam­paign. Oth­er cam­paigns worked to take advan­tage of times dur­ing the pri­ma­ry where the full force of the media’s atten­tion turned to them – most notably, Har­ris rock­et­ed to sec­ond place in the polls after she chal­lenged Joe Biden on his past sup­port of poli­cies that per­pet­u­ate sys­temic racism in the first debate.

Book­er nev­er had such a moment, though not for lack of try­ing.

The lack of a break­through meant that there was nev­er a time where Book­er was con­sid­ered part of the top tier of 2020 can­di­dates. This con­tributed to his campaign’s finan­cial woes, forc­ing them to rely on a rel­a­tive­ly small num­ber of ded­i­cat­ed donors – in the last quar­ter of 2019, Booker’s cam­paign received $6.6 mil­lion, where­as Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg both raised over $20 mil­lion, and Bernie Sanders’ cam­paign raised a whop­ping $34 mil­lion.

Booker’s lack of fund­ing effec­tive­ly crip­pled his cam­paign; the mea­ger amount he was able to spend on adver­tis­ing essen­tial­ly ensured that his mes­sage would nev­er reach the broad­er pub­lic. In con­trast, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Stey­er have poured mil­lions from their per­son­al for­tunes into adver­tis­ing, ele­vat­ing these frankly far less-deserv­ing can­di­dates beyond Booker’s lev­el of sup­port.

The best exam­ple of this is in Iowa, where Book­er had pinned all his hopes of a break­out moment. The Book­er cam­paign spent around $300,000 on adver­tis­ing in Iowa over the past fort­night. By con­trast Michael Bloomberg (who has panned the impor­tance of the ear­ly states in the pri­ma­ry process) recent­ly spent $10 mil­lion for a Super Bowl ad that will air the night before the Iowa cau­cuses.

Senator Cory Booker at a campaign event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa

Sen­a­tor Cory Book­er at a cam­paign event in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Pho­to: Lorie Shaull, repro­duced under Cre­ative Com­mons license)

Anoth­er nail in the cof­fin of Booker’s cam­paign was, sur­pris­ing­ly, Don­ald Trump’s impeach­ment. While Book­er was like­ly glad when the Pres­i­dent was impeached, it soon became appar­ent that the Sen­ate tri­al would pose a major prob­lem for the six sen­a­tors run­ning for the pres­i­den­cy, Book­er includ­ed.

If the tri­al begins this week, sen­a­tors will be oblig­ed to remain in the Dis­trict of Colum­bia to act as jurors, keep­ing them away from the cam­paign trail in the final weeks run­ning up to the Iowa Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus­es.

Book­er was tripped up by the same intra­party dynam­ic that also worked against the can­di­da­cies of Beto O’Rourke, Julián Cas­tro and Kamala Har­ris.

None of those can­di­dates could quite strad­dle the divide that has pit­ted the pro­gres­sive and neolib­er­al wings of the par­ty against each oth­er.

War­ren and Sanders have sewn up the sup­port of the pro­gres­sive wing and Buttigieg and Biden have sewn up the neolib­er­al wing, with the bil­lion­aires Tom Stey­er and Michael Bloomberg lurk­ing at the mar­gins along with entre­pre­neur Andrew Yang, whose uncon­ven­tion­al cam­paign is pow­ered by a small but intense base of sup­port­ers who affec­tion­ate­ly call them­selves “the Yang Gang”.

Despite his at times elec­tri­fy­ing charis­ma, Book­er doomed him­self with con­stant attempts to rec­on­cile the spar­ring fac­tions, instead of deci­sive­ly tak­ing a side.

The 2020 pri­ma­ry has become an ide­o­log­i­cal bat­tle with nei­ther wing of the par­ty in the mood to yield, at least not yet. Both wings of the par­ty believe that what one of their can­di­dates have to offer the Amer­i­can peo­ple would max­i­mize the par­ty’s chances of defeat­ing Don­ald Trump in the com­ing Novem­ber elec­tion.

Cory Book­er thought his mes­sage of uni­ty could bring the old Oba­ma coali­tion back togeth­er. But in a bleak­er, more ide­o­log­i­cal­ly bru­tal polit­i­cal land­scape, this approach did not yield results. Book­er is up for reelec­tion to his seat in the Sen­ate this year, and his prospects seem good in New Jer­sey – the Gar­den State has not elect­ed a Repub­li­can to the Sen­ate for forty years.

His with­draw­al from the race is unlike­ly to alter nation­al polling much, but it could have an impact in Iowa. Booker’s Iowa cam­paign team have been on the ground for months and have become an expe­ri­enced and capa­ble polit­i­cal force and oth­er cam­paigns would be well advised to hire them quick­ly. Book­er’s com­mit­ted major donors will now also be up for grabs at a cru­cial junc­ture in the con­test.

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