In a no-frills RV, Sen. Cory Booker rolled into Chariton in Lucas County to start a four-day holiday weekend trek across Iowa, where he is concentrating much of his presidential campaign’s efforts.
It’s a small gathering, maybe 50 people, in the home of Jim and Marty Medford. It’s warm, and before too long, Booker’s got his jacket off and has dived into his stump speech. But it’s during the Q&A that Booker gets deep into the weeds in this rural community, where farming is a way of life for most residents.
“Farmers are getting squeezed that way, but you know they’re getting squeezed out on top, too,” Booker said. “Because if you were a rancher before and you were selling your meat, you used to have four or five companies that were competing for you. Now you’ve got one that’s dictating your price, so now you’re getting squeezed from the top and the bottom. The farmer’s share of the consumer dollar, what my people in the city eat, has now shrunk about 50 percent depending on the product or commodity. That’s outrageous.”
When in Iowa, you’ve got to talk farms. There are almost 90,000 farms in the state, but pressure from Big Ag and consolidation, not to mention the trade war with China, are squeezing farmers and Booker talks about it at every stop.
“Just the fact that he has an idea of what rural Iowa is like, or rural America, impressed me because a lot of them don’t ever even think of rural America,” said Chariton resident Geri Prothero.
Booker tends to linger, much to the consternation of his staff, who need to move him to events that can be hours away. His next event in Fairfield has been moved from Stan and Debbie Plum’s home to the basement of a community center. Booker enters to an enthusiastic reception and rips into a stump speech heavy on themes of unity and a return to civic grace.
“We are for each other, and we are for America. We are for each other. It’s not, as a party, we cannot define ourselves by just beating Republicans. That’s not the call of this moment. We’re called to unite Americans in the cause of our country,” said Booker.
Afterward, drenched in sweat and still emitting a manic positivity, Booker lingers again. The crowds expect and demand it.
“It's really wonderful because we kind of vet them in the beginning for the whole nation, and that’s a great responsibility in a way,” said Fairfield resident Fred Grazon. “He definitely electrified the crowd, but then again, so does Elizabeth Warren, so does Bernie. We’ve seen them all come through here. [...] I like Cory Booker, but I like Elizabeth Warren, so we'll see. I like Tim Ryan.”
Booker doesn’t really talk about poll numbers, and the needle hasn’t really moved much for him.
“The numbers that I look at are very different than the numbers that you look at,” said Booker of his campaign’s internal outreach metrics. “The numbers that I look at say that we’re doing incredibly well. [...] I love the process we’re in. It is a long game and we are the tortoise, not the hare, in this race.”
The senator concludes the visit to Iowa with a traditional Memorial Day barbecue at his headquarters in Urbandale, completing what the campaign feels was a successful tour. But that depends on what your definition of successful is.
He goes to Las Vegas Tuesday for another three events, then it’s on to San Francisco at the weekend for the MoveOn.org Big Ideas Summit and a party convention.