Exit leaves mostly old, White candidates
BY EVAN HALPER
LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS
WASHINGTON – Cory Booker brought a blend of uplifting eloquence and experience organizing on the streets to his campaign in which he sometimes drew comparisons to Barack Obama, but neither quality could carry him into the top tier of the presidential race. Short on cash and floundering in the polls, Booker ended his White House bid on Monday.
“It’s with a full heart that I share this news — I’m suspending my campaign for president,” Booker tweeted. “To my team, supporters, and everyone who gave me a shot — thank you. I am so proud of what we built, and I feel nothing but faith in what we can accomplish together.”
The exit from the race by yet another prominent Black lawmaker leaves what was once a historically diverse Democratic field of presidential candidates increasingly White and old.
Discomfort for activists
The remaining minority candidates in the race, only one of whom is African American, all face low single-digit polling numbers with little time to break out of the pack before voting begins.
That reality has sparked discomfort and soul-searching among party activists at a time when racial justice is central to the Democratic agenda and inspiring minority voters crucial to their hopes of retaking the White House.
Three out of four of the top-tier candidates dominating the race are now Whites in their 70s.
Although the New Jersey senator drew praise for his oratorical skills and policy acumen, his brand of politics, which melded progressive policies with frequent calls for unity, seemed not to match the mood of either wing of the party.
Love theme falters
Booker’s campaign theme of universal love — a promise to transcend dispiriting partisan politics and the harsh tone of the Trump era — didn’t catch fire with voters on the left who have flocked to Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who both promise a fight.
More centrist voters have moved toward former Vice President Joe Biden and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who offer more moderate policies and may appear less risky to some voters who fear a Black candidate would lose to President Trump.
Biden’s strong support among Black voters, especially older ones, also proved a significant stumbling block for Booker.
Booker brought to the race a storied biography as the mayor of Newark, N.J., who took up residence in the city’s housing projects and took down a corrupt administration in his path to City Hall — a quest captured in the critically acclaimed documentary “Street Fight.”
But in the current campaign, even that life story was often overshadowed by that of another Black candidate in the race, California Sen. Kamala Harris, the child of immigrants from India and Jamaica who had hoped to become the first Black woman president.
The New Jersey senator fell victim to some of the same strategic miscalculations as Harris, who dropped out of the race in early December.
Biden a barrier
They were both counting on their backgrounds and credentials in campaigns for racial justice to prove a big draw with minority voters in key states that vote early in the primary, particularly Black voters in South Carolina. But they found themselves unable to dismantle the resilient coalition backing Biden.
Booker’s uneven record on progressive issues — long a selling point as the candidate branded himself post-partisan and unencumbered by ideological barriers — became a liability in this race. In a Democratic electorate that has become more starkly divided between progressives and moderates, it was never clear exactly where Booker fit.
Super PAC concern
His embrace of charter schools while Newark mayor undermined Booker’s efforts to build support among teachers in Iowa and New Hampshire, an influential bloc in Democratic primaries. His past alliance with Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, who funded a major education initiative in Newark, was not a good look at a moment the party has become critical of big tech companies.
An unauthorized super PAC run by a former Stanford University classmate did not help Booker’s cause. The group sought to raise money for Booker’s presidential bid even as the candidate pledged not to accept that kind of help.
In the end, the super PAC may have tarnished Booker’s reform credentials but didn’t raise enough money to help him much. It shut down in November.
Booker’s exit creates a reckoning for the Democratic Party.
After Harris dropped out, Booker made the point that there were more billionaires than Black candidates in the presidential race.
Earlier, on the debate stage, Booker emerged as a provocative voice on racial-justice issues, questioning whether the White candidates who have crafted ambitious plans on race have shown a commitment to fighting inequality that matched their campaign talking points.
He pilloried Biden in one debate for the former vice president’s role in promoting mass incarceration during the Clinton era. In another, he lit into Biden for hedging on marijuana legalization, forcefully lamenting how inequality in marijuana prosecution has destroyed Black lives.
The only Black candidate still in the running is former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who entered the race at the last minute, is showing near-zero support in polls and seems unlikely to qualify for the Democratic debates.
The lack of racial diversity in the field comes at a time Democratic Party leaders are desperate to energize minority voters. Had Black voters turned out in 2016 at the rate they did when Obama was on the ticket, Democrats likely would not have lost the White House.
After Harris dropped out of the race on Dec. 3, Booker warned that the scarcity of non-White faces on the debate stage could doom Democratic efforts to spur a large minority turnout next fall. The warnings brought him a surge of donor support, his aides said at the time, but his campaign remained on life support.
By Monday, with a depleted war chest and lacking any clear path to victory, Booker withdrew.