Eyeing White House, Cory Booker introduces himself to Iowa

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., questions witnesses before the Senate Judiciary Committee during the final stage of the confirmation hearing for President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Sept. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

With the Iowa caucuses still well over a year away, the New Jersey senator is working overtime to make an impression in Iowa.

Posted: Sep 24, 2018 6:25 AM
Updated: Sep 24, 2018 7:41 AM

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Cory Booker is not being subtle.

The Iowa caucuses are well over a year away, but the New Jersey senator is working overtime to make an impression in Iowa and in other states that will be crucial to winning the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

Booker has secured the keynote speaker role at the marquee fall Democratic Party fundraising banquet in Des Moines on Oct. 6. He'll also headline a Democratic fundraiser later in October in South Carolina, which holds the first primary in the South and is a key test of support among black voters.

Adding to the intrigue surrounding Booker is his budding relationship with Des Moines lawyer Jerry Crawford, a party powerbroker helping the senator make connections in Iowa. After Crawford attended a dinner with Booker in the Washington area last spring, he arranged meetings in Newark for him with influential Iowa Democrats, including state House Minority Leader Mark Smith.

The moves are a notable break from the approach of other well-known Democrats considering 2020 campaigns. While many potentially top-tier prospects have fostered relationships in Iowa, Booker is the only one — for now — to be in the state ahead of the November midterm elections. The strategy is risky but gives Booker the opportunity to introduce himself to Iowa voters before other high-wattage candidates show up later this year or in early 2019. That, according to some Iowa political operators, could prove helpful.

"I'm aware of Sen. Booker," said Nathan Thompson, a Democratic chairman in Winneshiek County. "He definitely seems like he has presidential ambitions. But I'm not real familiar with him, beyond being the former mayor of Newark."

A spokesman for Booker, Jeff Giertz, insists the senator has not decided to run for president and is focused purely on the midterms.

Booker has campaigned for Democrats in 20 states "with one purpose in mind: to support great Democratic candidates who will be a check and balance to President Trump," Giertz said.

Still, Booker is working to build his profile with a recent appearance on "The Tonight Show" and a sprawling profile in New York magazine last week in which he said it would be "irresponsible" for him not to consider a presidential bid.

But nothing has put Booker on the political map quite like his actions during Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. He made public some documents the panel had kept secret, risking potential expulsion from the Senate.

"This is about the closest I'll probably ever have in my life to an 'I am Spartacus moment,'" he said.

If Kavanaugh returns to the Judiciary Committee this week to address a woman's allegation that he sexually assaulted her in the 1980s when they were teenagers, one of two sexual-misconduct allegations Kavanaugh is denying as they roil his court nomination, Booker will almost certainly have another starring role. While such performances cause some observers in Washington to view Booker as overly theatrical, he's so far used it to create a buzz in Iowa, said former state Democratic Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky.

"It's a good event for Booker to make his move," Dvorsky said.

Dvorsky recalled the winning impression Booker left when he spoke to Iowa's delegation to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, before the 2012 election.

"He had them eating out of his hand," she recalled.

But commanding a ballroom of influential state party leaders is different from grasping the concerns at a cafe table in rural Iowa, where Barack Obama connected during his winning 2008 Iowa caucus campaign. That leaves some Democratic strategists uncertain about Booker's prospects.

"Soaring oratory that can inspire is a very different skill set from the natural ability to connect with voters of all political stripes," said Jim Messina, Obama's 2012 campaign manager.

As a young, black senator with a background in urban politics and known for his oratory, Booker inevitably draws comparisons to Obama, whose win in the 2008 Iowa caucuses propelled him to the Democratic nomination that year. But Iowa political strategists say it's premature to expect a repeat of Obama's explosive rise, ignited by his speech to the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston as a little-known Illinois senator.

"It would be hard to top the moment Barack Obama seized at the 2004 convention," said John Norris, a veteran Democratic Iowa caucus operative who advised Obama's 2008 campaign.

Sandy Cronbaugh of rural eastern Iowa, who supported Obama in 2008, recalled him "listening to what we were saying about problems with rural health care."

"I haven't read up on Cory Booker yet," Cronbaugh said. "I would need to know more about him."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Confirmed Cases: 24190

Reported Deaths: 1036
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Ramsey2863122
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Nobles15125
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Washington61731
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Kandiyohi4901
Rice4522
Clay42426
Scott4082
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Wright3051
Mower3031
Sherburne2372
Carver2062
Benton1753
Steele1590
Blue Earth1380
Martin1295
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Freeborn1150
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Renville50
Big Stone40
Grant40
Red Lake40
Redwood40
Clearwater30
Hubbard30
Traverse30
Lac qui Parle30
Roseau30
Houston20
Lake10
Kittson10
Stevens10

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

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Confirmed Cases: 19217

Reported Deaths: 531
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk4160125
Woodbury274034
Black Hawk173944
Linn94976
Dallas89220
Marshall89216
Buena Vista7350
Johnson6149
Wapello5589
Muscatine55641
Crawford5142
Tama40227
Scott35810
Dubuque34518
Louisa34311
Jasper26116
Pottawattamie2578
Sioux2190
Washington1888
Wright1670
Plymouth1292
Warren1260
Allamakee1204
Story1091
Mahaska9310
Poweshiek908
Henry711
Bremer696
Des Moines621
Clinton611
Boone610
Taylor540
Clarke530
Guthrie503
Cedar461
Benton411
Webster391
Monroe385
Shelby370
Jones360
Hamilton350
Clayton343
Iowa330
Buchanan330
Osceola330
Marion320
Cerro Gordo281
Cherokee280
Madison282
Fayette270
Lee250
Winneshiek240
Monona240
Jefferson230
Harrison220
Davis210
Lyon210
Dickinson200
Grundy200
Mills190
Floyd191
Sac180
Humboldt170
Lucas170
Hardin160
Hancock160
Delaware150
Keokuk150
Clay150
Appanoose153
Butler151
Emmet140
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Howard120
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