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Cory Booker visits New Hampshire for first time as presidential candidate

US Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey laughed while chatting with a supporter Saturday in Portsmouth, N.H.
US Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey laughed while chatting with a supporter Saturday in Portsmouth, N.H.(Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff)

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. — US Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey introduced himself Saturday to New Hampshire, using his inaugural visit with prospective Democratic voters in the country’s first presidential primary state to share his vision of politics emphasizing empathy and a “sense of common purpose.”

Appearing on a stage at 3S Artspace, a nonprofit performance venue in Portsmouth, Booker, 49, addressed a standing-room-only crowd for about 20 minutes and then took questions from the audience.

Americans share many “common pains,” Booker said, but have lost “a sense of common purpose.”

“I’m running not just because of the quality of my ideas but because of that spirit of this nation that I think is under threat right now — under threat by demagoguery, under threat by those who want to tear us apart or pit us against each other,” said Booker, a former mayor in Newark who was elected to the US Senate in 2013.

He joined the race for the Democratic presidential nomination earlier this month, and set foot in New Hampshire for the first time as a primary candidate Friday night.

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Booker was scheduled to attend a house party in North Conway Saturday evening, and has campaign stops planned in Rochester, Manchester, and Nashua on Sunday and Monday.

He has company on the campaign trail as his US Senate colleagues Kristen Gillibrand of New York, Kamala Harris of California, and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota also visit New Hampshire during the Presidents’ Day holiday weekend. Also campaigning here is US Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and Peter Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind.

While in Portsmouth, Booker, who is black, acquainted voters with his life story, telling the gathering about discrimination his parents encountered while purchasing a home in New Jersey in 1969, the year Booker was born.

His parents, Carolyn and Cary, believed they were being steered away from white neighborhoods so they sought the assistance of the Fair Housing Council, which organized a sting operation, Booker said.

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His parents found a house, but were told it wasn’t for sale, Booker said. A white couple working with them then viewed the property and were told it was on the market.

The white couple successfully bid for the home, but on the day of the closing, instead of the white couple, Booker’s parents and a volunteer lawyer showed up to close the deal, Booker said. The real estate agent became enraged, punching the lawyer and siccing a dog on Booker’s father, he said.

But his parents prevailed and got the house, Booker said.

He praised the volunteer lawyer, Arthur Lessman, a white man, for helping his parents get the house. Lessman had been inspired to work on fair housing issues after civil rights marchers were attacked as they tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., on March 7, 1965, Booker said.

“What got us these things, these privileges, these opportunities were the common sacrifice, the common struggle, the idea that we’re all in this together, that we need each other,” he said. “Patriotism is love of country but you cannot love your country unless you love your fellow countrymen and women.”

During a question and answer period, Booker was pressed on a range of topics, including the cost of higher education, immigration, finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease, “Medicare for all,” and his opposition to the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

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After the event, he spent about an hour greeting voters, taking selfies with the crowd, and signing autographs.

Michael Richards, a Portsmouth resident who works for a software company, said he didn’t know much about Booker prior to the event.

“I was actually quite impressed with his message and the way he answered questions,” he said. “Above everything his message of inclusion and unity for the country, I think that’s really essential right now. The current administration is very divisive and it’s really tearing down the country.”


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.