Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey made a return visit to New Hampshire this weekend, one of a half-dozen 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls heavily courting voters in the all-important first-in-the-nation primary state.
On Saturday, Booker visited Manchester, Nashua, and Exeter, N.H., attracting large crowds with a message grounded in values of community, faith, and a rejection of the politics of divisiveness.
“It’s not about partisanship,” the former mayor of Newark said at the Manchester campaign headquarters of Mayor Joyce Craig on Saturday morning, as he helped rally supporters before they canvassed the city in support of Craig’s reelection campaign.
“As a former city leader generations ago, Fiorello La Guardia used to say, there’s no Democrat or Republican way to fix potholes,” Booker continued. “Being a mayor, it is about getting things done every single day. Hitting singles and doubles, and occasionally — as she’s done — hitting home runs for your community.”
Tim Callis, 64, a voter from Manchester, had come to the event to learn more about Booker and his policies. The senator’s remarks at Craig’s headquarters left him still curious to learn more, Callis said, but Booker largely made a positive impression.
“I check people’s body language, eyes, and I just got a good feeling about him, that he’s truthful,” Callis said. “You can’t hide.”
Booker had been drawing big crowds in New Hampshire even before he announced his candidacy in February. But so far his campaign hasn’t caught fire in national polls or fund-raising tallies.
While Booker spoke to a crowd of more than 200 Saturday afternoon at Nashua Community College, his campaign announced that his polling numbers now qualify him to participate in the next big Democratic debate, set for September — after Booker received 3 percent in a recent Fox News poll of South Carolina Democratic primary voters — but that he still needs help meeting the Democratic National Committee’s requirement of 130,000 unique donors.
Voters in Nashua said they appreciated the optimism of Booker’s message, which also touched on the nation’s complicated history of racial and social injustices, recalling divisive figures of earlier generations, such as Senator Joseph McCarthy, author of the Communist scare of the 1950s.
Booker said the nation’s Founding Fathers “knew we were going to be a diverse country united by values,” and that the president needs to be someone with empathy for all Americans.
“I don’t think you can lead the people if you don’t love the people — all the people. . . . You cannot love your country if you don’t love your countrymen and women,” he said.
Booker, elected to the Senate in 2013, spoke generally of civic engagement and community interdependence with a quasi-religious fervor before tackling more specific policy proposals in a question-and-answer period with voters.
He then spoke of his plans to use the federal tax code to create economic opportunities that would help level the playing field, creating tax breaks for renters paying large portions of their paychecks for housing and for people providing at-home care for relatives.
Booker said he would change laws to enable the refinancing of student loans and make them dischargeable through bankruptcy, increase funding for federal Pell Grants, and expand loan forgiveness programs for public servants, such as teachers.
He would treat health care as a human right; make prescription drugs more affordable; guarantee universal prenatal care, preschool, and paid family leave; and offer a public option for health insurance, Booker said.
Chris Maloney, 33, of Ayer, Mass., said he thought Booker was “a very sincere, passionate person,” after the senator took a difficult question during the forum from Ayer’s 8-year-old daughter, Scout. She said her family homeschools her and 4-year-old brother, Huck, in part because of concern for their safety.
“My question is, ‘What do you plan to do about school shootings?’ ” she said.
Booker compared the nation’s issue with gun violence to past crises of public safety and told the child he had “the boldest plan to end the epidemic of shootings in our country” of any of the Democratic candidates.
Maloney said he appreciated that Booker was “making a point to talk about how he doesn’t have all the answers, and that we can’t just sit back and rely on him to fix everything, but it’s more of a call for a movement, for everybody to get involved.”
Scout said she would have liked for Booker to go into more detail on his plan, but she was relieved that “he definitely said that he would stop it.”
“Some of my friends go to regular school, and I worry about them a lot,” she said.
Amy Maloney said she appreciated the answer Booker gave her daughter.
“You could tell he was passionate,” the 32-year-old said, adding that she was reassured by Booker’s voting record on gun laws.
Both parents said they liked Booker’s message and that he’s in their top tier of candidates — but agreed he’s not their first pick.
“Bernie [Sanders] and [Elizabeth] Warren are still my top two,” Amy Maloney said. “But there are so many that I would be happy with. It’s kind of like picking the best among the best.”