Lagging in the early polls and in fundraising, Cory Booker returned home to re-energize his presidential campaign Saturday, kicking off a new phase designed to sharpen his message and distinguish himself from the pack of 17 other Democrats vying for the White House.
The New Jersey senator rolled out his “Justice for All” tour, a two-week national stint designed to stake out policy positions and frame his campaign around the theme of justice — economic justice, environmental justice and criminal justice, among other forms.
“Too many people believe the forces that are tearing us apart are stronger than the bonds that hold us together. I don’t believe that,” Booker said, kicking off the tour in New Jersey’s most populous city. “I believe we will achieve things that other people say are impossible. I believe we will make justice real for all.”
Booker hit all of the broad points of his issue agenda Saturday, expanding beyond promoting love and unity — the earlier messaging that failed to offer much detail on what he would get accomplished if elected. None of the ideas were new, rather they were packaged together comprehensively for the first time.
He pledged to build a clean energy economy by holding polluters to task, giving everyone the ability to earn a fair wage, promising affordable child care, and creating a national paid family and medical leave program.
Saturday’s gathering at a park nestled in Newark’s downtown district was made to feel more like a block party than a campaign event. With the sun beating down, supporters visited food trucks, face-painting stations and animal balloon-makers.
But it was also packed with representatives from all sectors of New Jersey’s Democratic political class, from powerful county chairs to U.S. Senator Bob Menendez to Gov. Phil Murphy. An estimated 4,000-plus supporters showed up, and they brought considerable energy with them. At the end of the speech, they swarmed Booker to get a few seconds of face time.
Booker chose Newark as the launch for a reason: it’s the city where he got his start in politics, first as a city councilman and then as mayor.
Newark, he said, is a city that has always been “impatient for justice.”
“Well, here in Newark, we refused to wait,” Booker said. “We didn’t just talk about the injustice of people not being able to buy fresh fruits and vegetables — we opened grocery stores in food deserts. We got people to invest here. We opened new businesses here, created thousands of new jobs here together.”
Saturday’s festivities stood in stark contrast to his first Newark campaign appearance, held shortly after declaring his candidacy. Back then, Booker stood outside his home in the frigid February weather, fielding questions from reporters.
This time, Booker sought to use his hometown as the backdrop for a reset of sorts. While he has established an extensive early presidential state infrastructure, he’s posted modest first quarter fundraising numbers and is struggling to break out of the pack in the early polls.