DOVER, N.H. — US Senator Cory Booker radiated enthusiasm and frequently cracked jokes Sunday, as he campaigned in the state that hosts the nation’s first presidential primary.
But the New Jersey Democrat and former Newark mayor also became choked up at moments, as he recalled women and men who inspired him and called for a “revival of civic grace” in the nation’s politics, and for the 2020 vote to be a “referendum on the soul of a nation.”
“The way we win this election is by calling to the higher angels of this nation,” he told a crowd of about 200 at a town hall in Dover at the McConnell Center on Sunday afternoon. “Patriotism is love of country. And you cannot love your country unless you love your fellow country-men and -women.”
Booker’s rhetoric at times seemed like a radical rewrite of President Trump’s words, as the senator pointed to present crises and suggested solutions would come from the nation’s history — not by returning to a past greatness, as Trump prescribes, but by embracing the values enshrined in its founding documents.
The senator referred several times to what he called a “declaration of interdependence” within the closing words of the Declaration of Independence, to illustrate his point that Americans need to stand together in unity.
“They literally say at the bottom of that document that if we’re going to make it as a nation, we must mutually pledge — pledge to each other — ‘our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor,’ ” he said. “Turn on TV tonight and ask yourself, with the 24-hour cable news stations, where is the ‘sacred honor’ in the way we talk about each other, the way we demean each other?”
Booker’s description of this historical moment sometimes sounded dire, but his vision for the future was one of optimism — a quality he may need as he seeks to win over voters and donors in the increasingly crowded Democratic field.
On Sunday, his campaign announced that it had raised more than $5 million in February and March, a sum that lags behind the fundraising of other Democratic candidates like senators Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
However, Booker put a positive spin on his fundraising while speaking to reporters at the Matthew Thornton Elementary School in Londonderry on Sunday, after another town hall discussion with about 300 voters.
“I feel incredible,” Booker said. “We set goals for ourselves, and we surpassed our own goals. We’re seeing incredible energy and enthusiasm everywhere we go in this campaign, from online donors to even events like this that exceed our expectations.”
Voters in Londonderry gave Booker high marks, though none who spoke to a reporter said they had committed to supporting him — they are still checking out the various candidates crisscrossing the state in preparation for next year’s primary.
“He hasn’t won me over yet, because we’ve got a long time to go, but he’s definitely someone to watch,” said Eric Frauwirth, 46, of Manchester, who asked Booker during the town hall how he would look out for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community as the Trump administration rescinds protections secured under former President Barack Obama.
Booker drew parallels Sunday between the struggle for LGBTQ equality and the barriers his parents had faced as African-Americans under Jim Crow. He touted his longstanding support of the LGBTQ community, which includes cosponsoring the Equality Act, which would grant federal protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” Booker said of LGBTQ rights, in one of several references he made to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Booker touted his support of progressive policies such as universal health care, the Green New Deal, and increased federal education funding, as well as his proposal for “baby bonds” — savings accounts the federal government would set up for newborns and then contribute to annually, based on the family’s income, to help save for college, start a business, or buy a home. He sought to cast himself as both an inspirational figure working toward a spiritual renewal of the nation and as a pragmatist who learned as a mayor how to get the job done and how to work with political opponents, as he has done in the senate in support of criminal justice reform, he said.
After the Dover event, Cari Hunkins, 50, of Stratham said she is still checking out the candidates but was impressed with Booker.
Hunkins recently saw Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts speak, she said, and found her to be dynamic. But Warren’s message seemed more negative, she said, while Booker’s tone was appealingly upbeat.
“At the moment, I’m Team Cory,” Hunkins said. “I don’t know if anyone can beat that.”