Cory Booker, the New Jersey senator whose bid for the Democratic presidential nomination failed to get traction, has dropped out of the race before a single primary vote was cast, pledging to campaign vigorously for whomever the party ultimately chooses to oppose President Donald Trump.
With polls consistently showing him mired at the bottom of a winnowed field and lagging in fundraising, Booker announced his decision Monday, both online and in an email to supporters.
“Friend, it’s with a full heart that I share this news — I’ve made the decision to suspend my campaign for president,” Booker wrote. “It was a difficult decision to make, but I got in this race to win, and I’ve always said I wouldn’t continue if there was no longer a path to victory.”
Booker, 50 — who drew up in a mostly white Bergen County suburb and went on to serve two terms as mayor of Newark — had failed to garner sufficient support in polls to secure a spot in the next presidential debate, Tuesday night in Iowa, three weeks before the Democratic caucuses in the Hawkeye State. It was the second straight time Booker had fallen short of qualifying to be on the debate stage.
“Not being on the debate stage is critical to Cory Booker’s decision,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Poll, which released a new survey of likely Iowa Democratic caucus attendees showing Booker at 4%, behind Joe Biden (24%), Bernie Sanders (18%), Pete Buttigieg (17%), Elizabeth Warren (15%) and Amu Klobuchar (8%).
A matter of timing
Murray blamed what he called “the mismatch of the times” for ending Booker’s presidential campaign.
“The Democrats feel that ‘We need to beat Donald Trump first’ if the party is even going to have the ability to attempt unity,” the pollster said. “I think that was the question that in the end Cory Booker didn’t answer adequately enough to rise in the polls.”
Since launching his campaign in February, Booker has run on a progressive platform, casting climate change and criminal justice reform as issues of social justice, especially for communities of color. Among his proposals was a sweeping affordable housing initiative that would have created a credit to cap rental costs at 30% of income for working and middle-class families.
His departure from the race leaves only one black Democratic candidate in what had been an extremely diverse field — former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick, who’s poll numbers are even worse.
Booker’s failure to gain wider appeal among voters — despite widely touted ground organizations in Iowa and New Hampshire — surprised some observers.
“The fact that he couldn’t break 5% with the kind of support he had and the kind of organization he had is the big head scratcher of 2020,” Murray said.
“It always seemed when you went to one of Senator Cory Booker’s events, people came out really energized,” Murray added. “But he was like the cheerleader rather than the quarterback.”
Praise and trash talk
Booker was praised Monday by fellow Democrats for running a campaign that stressed unity.
“Cory, you campaigned with joy and heart, and instead of just talking about bringing people together, you did it every day. You made our politics better just by running. Grateful to you and looking forward to your continued leadership,” Biden said on Twitter.
But his announcement also elicited an end-zone taunt from the Oval Office.
“Really Big Breaking News (Kidding): Booker, who was in zero polling territory, just dropped out of the Democrat Presidential Primary Race. Now I can rest easy tonight. I was sooo concerned that I would someday have to go head to head with him!” Trump posted on his Twitter feed.
In pledging to back the eventual nominee, Booker touched again on a familiar refrain of his campaign: Defeating Trump is essential, but the Democratic Party must aspire to more.
“I will be doing everything in my power to elect the eventual Democratic nominee for president, whomever that may be, and to elect great Democrats to the Senate and up and down the ballot,” he wrote. “2020 is the most important election of our lifetimes — we have to beat Donald Trump … but beating Trump is the floor, not the ceiling.“
Booker’s campaign also had trouble keeping pace with his competition among contributors. He made a bold appeal in September for money that paid off, but not sufficiently to keep pace, especially in a campaign that now features two self-funded billionaires with deep pockets for advertising — Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer.
“Donors are smart. Donors are not going to give to campaigns that they know are not going to be around for a while,” said Micah Rasmussen, director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University.
He agreed that bad timing had helped doom Booker’s campaign.
“Any campaign that gets down to the wire, not just his, there are fewer make or break opportunities remaining,” Rasmussen said. “And, so, one of them is tomorrow’s debate — he wasn’t going to be part of tomorrow’s debate. The timing of impeachment in the Senate is also going to pull him off the campaign trail and would prevent him from running a strong finish in Iowa which is something he was really depending on.”
Booker is up for reelection to his seat in the Senate in November. And Murray suggested his organizing ability is a strength that could make him an attractive running mate for the Democratic nominee.
Booker is dating actress Rosario Dawson and she was among those who took to social media Monday to comment on his decision.
“Cory, you continue to inspire me everyday. On this journey you and your remarkable team have represented the best in us and I know you will continue to. Thank you. I see you. I love you,” she said in a tweet.