A month after announcing his presidential campaign in an early-morning tweet, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) came back to Newark today to do it the old-fashioned way, with a sign-waving rally and full-throated speech.
The event in a sunny downtown Military Park was ostensibly to kick off a cross-country “Justice for All” tour that will start Monday in Iowa and move to Georgia and Nevada.
But the event — after the opening weeks of his official campaign — gave Booker a chance to tap into the comfort and familiarity of his hometown, as well as the traditional trappings of a campaign rally, complete with the klieg lights of the national media.
Like his rivals who opened their campaigns with similar rallies, Booker brought out his biggest New Jersey supporters and struck familiar themes of social, environmental, and economic justice.
“Too many people believe the forces that are tearing us apart are stronger than the bonds that hold us together,” he said to a crowd estimated to be more than 1,000. “I don’t believe that. I believe we will bring our country together. I believe we will achieve things that other people say are impossible. I believe we will make justice real for all.”
“And that is why I am running for president of the United States of America.”
It was vintage Booker, with the soaring and passionate oratory that separates him from most if not all of the rest of the pack chasing the Democratic nomination.
“America, we can’t wait,” the senator said, closing his speech with the mantra of the day.
“America, we will not wait,” he said. “Together, we will run at the tough challenges. Together, we will do the things that other people tell us are impossible. Together, we will fulfill our pledge to be a nation of liberty and justice for all. Together, we will win. And together, America, we will rise.”
There was hardly a progressive cause he didn’t bring up, from immigration to abortion rights to lead in the water. His home city of Newark, where he was a councilman and then mayor, was a frequent touchstone, as he talked about the gains made under his watch and since.
And indeed, he was well-received by the many Newarkers on hand, including Mayor Ras Baraka and state Sen. Teresa Ruiz, who in their speeches sparked a crowd that up to then had been muted. Booker’s mother, Carolyn, introduced the candidate.
Other speakers included Gov. Phil Murphy and his wife, Tammy Murphy, and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).
How much these events matter is arguable in the scheme of what will be almost a year-long race to the first primaries. But they are nonetheless important in psyching up the organization and its core supporters in these critical early stages, when the first money is being raised and poll numbers counted.
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Poll, said Booker at this early stage is “basically doing OK,” raising a respectable amount of money and in contention with voters against newcomers who are getting the predictable bumps.
“Right now, he’s at the bottom of the top tier, which is fine,” said Murray, who attended the rally. “At least he’s still in the top tier.”