Sen. Cory Booker announces presidential campaign, Rutgers professors weigh in
On Feb. 1, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) announced his campaign for the 2020 presidential election.
A Rhodes Scholar, Booker first rose to national recognition in 2002 when he lost the Newark, New Jersey mayoral race. He went on to win his 2006 campaign and served as the mayor of Newark until a special election gave him a seat in the Senate.
Ross Baker, a distinguished professor in the Department of Political Science, said Booker fits the bill for a liberal Democratic candidate in terms of supporting the Green New Deal, Medicare for all and a $15 minimum wage. But the issues that matter most to him are education and prison reform, which the typical voter may not know.
“I don't know that Booker is associated with a single position or a set of positions that a candidate should have during the presidential primaries. He is less identified with positions than with feelings,” said Saladin Ambar, an associate professor in the Department of Political Science.
Booker is an eloquent orator, who is well-liked within the Democratic Party circle, Ambar said. But in a pool of diverse candidates, his charisma is not enough to win the party's nomination. In order to keep up with the other candidates, he would also have to demonstrate a greater level of specificity on his policies.
“There’s more than one Michael Jordan in the ring now, so voters are going to be looking at other qualities and policy positions,” Ambar said.
Booker has previously faced criticism regarding his ties with the financial services industry, along with the fact that his “Wall Street rhetoric” is less hostile than that of other candidates. Baker said this comes with the territory of being a New Jersey senator, since financial services and the pharmaceutical industry employ many voters in the state.
Voters from Newark also did not consider Booker an effective administrator while he was mayor, said John Weingart, the associate director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics. Others also feel that his idealist campaign messages are insincere. But Booker did manage to gain the approval of the New Jersey Press Corps.
“(The New Jersey Press Corps) conclude that he seems sincere. He’s got a number of actions like running into a burning building to rescue people, and for another politician they’d be perceived as stunts, but he’s done it so often it just seems like part of who he is,” Weingart said.
Booker’s idealism is why many compare him to former President Barack Obama. Despite running on the same message of hope and change, Obama is often seen as more of a political pragmatist than Booker, Ambar said.
“I think Obama was someone who came to the race a young man with a little less experience than Booker and no executive experience. But he gave the impression of being more seasoned and more pragmatic than Booker,” Ambar said. “They have a lot of similarities in terms of their personal stories and their racial backgrounds, but to be honest with you, I think that they are two different sorts of men.”
How the Democratic nominee will fare against President Donald J.Trump is a question Democratic voters may have. Baker said Trump was able to wipe out the 2016 Republican hopefuls, which means he is doing something right.
Before going toe-to-toe against Trump, Booker would have to secure the Democratic Party. The last time this many Democrats competed for the nomination was in 1976.
“He is certainly not in Bernie Sanders’s corner. I think from the point of view of the constituents, the so-called socialist Democrats, who elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Booker is not their guy,” Baker said.
He said that though Booker may not secure the nomination, he could have a shot at vice presidency.
“This year particularly, the mood of the electorate and the preferences of the electorate are harder than ever to pin down,” Weingart said.
But all three Rutgers professors agree on Booker’s appeal to students.
“Booker is the star. He’s funny, has great anecdotes, is at ease with students and doesn’t patronize them. He’s a complete extrovert and students really eat it up,” Baker said.
While Baker believes the student vote holds great promise, he said it has never delivered, even though the stakes for voting are higher for students than other demographics — especially considering the cost of higher education. If elected, Booker’s connection to New Jersey and the University could benefit college students.
“Booker is a favorite son of New Jersey, and a candidate in that position tends to remember where they’re from and be more cognizant of issues in their home state than issues in other states,” Weingart said.