Aiming for debate, Booker appeals directly to Harris voters

Political

Democratic presidential contender Cory Booker speaks at a round table discussion on issues impacting black men on Monday, Dec. 2, 2019, at his campaign headquarters in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker, facing the prospect of not qualifying for this month’s debate, made a direct appeal on Thursday to supporters of former rival Kamala Harris. He tried to make the case that he is now the lone contender able to appeal to the diverse group of voters who twice put Barack Obama in the White House.

“This election is about something deeper than any candidate,” he told about 100 supporters in Des Moines, Iowa’s capital. “It’s about how we can inspire the diverse coalitions we need to inspire.”

His comments came two days after Harris, a California senator, suspended her campaign after determining she lacked the financial resources to keep going. Harris and Booker, a New Jersey senator, are black.

For now, only white candidates have met the polling and donor thresholds to participate in the Dec. 19 debate.

“Now more than ever we need leaders that are connected to the struggle of people,” Booker said as he bemoaned the dwindling diversity of the Democratic field.

Booker has a robust organization in Iowa, where voters will kick off the Democratic contest in less than two months. But he has struggled to rise above the low single digits in national polling or surveys in Iowa.

The 50-year-old Booker, who is known for his upbeat style, asked his audience in Des Moines and those following live to answer the phone when pollsters call. The alternative, he said, would be a Democratic debate, and perhaps soon a lineup of candidates, bereft of any racial or ethnic diversity.

“I’m asking you to answer your phones when a pollster calls so we can get on that debate stage,” Booker pleaded. “I’m asking you to volunteer and make calls for me. I’m asking you to donate to me if you can, and I’m asking you to caucus for me” on Feb. 3.

Asked about the potential of an all-white lineup at the upcoming debate, former Vice President Joe Biden turned the question to a wider critique of the debates themselves.

“I don’t know that they’re much representative of anything right now,” he said, “You’re seeing that fewer and fewer people are watching them, not because (there) aren’t quality candidates, but because of everything from the criteria to the timing.” He said Democrats have “great diversity in the party” and “great diversity in terms of the candidates who are still in the race, and I’ve never been a big fan of the whole process.”

Booker has faced dire circumstances before. In September, he warned that he would need to drop out if he didn’t raise $1.7 million by the end of that month. Booker also made a fundraising plea on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.

Booker’s team said that Wednesday, the day after Harris’ quit the race, was the biggest online fundraising day for his campaign. Donors came from every state and nearly half of donors were first-time contributors, roughly 11,000.

Democrats’ success in the 2018 elections was due in part to a resurgence of African American women, and Booker bemoaned the possibility that the party would have fewer top-tier minority candidates, or none at all.

“It’s a problem,” Booker said, to lose a presidential candidate such as Harris, who is “an immensely qualified, widely supported, truly accomplished black woman running to lead the party.”

Booker stopped short of saying that racism contributed to Harris’ inability to continue on or to the possibility that he might not qualify for the next debate. He did say that racism in general permeates all aspects of American life, including politics.

“Can’t we have that broader conversation and say, `Why is it that highly qualified African American women don’t have the opportunity to run for president, but billionaire white men can easily make a decision to jump in and have no headwind?”’ Booker told The Associated Press after his speech.

Booker, who overlapped as the mayor of Newark, New Jersey, when Michael Bloomberg led New York, said he was pleased that Bloomberg apologized for the stop-and-frisk policy observed by the city’s police department during his tenure. The policy was widely criticized as racial profiling.

But Booker declined to say whether voters would forgive Bloomberg, saying the policy “rankled the region” and “people will have to decide for themselves what to make of” the apology.

Booker said that while Bloomberg’s philanthropic efforts to curb gun violence should be lauded, they don’t lessen the fallout from the police shootings of unarmed black men in New York when he was mayor.

“The shooting of unarmed black men is a crisis in this country still and it was a crisis then,” Booker told the AP. “And I do not believe that there was enough being done on that issue by him and most, by many big city police departments.”

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