DES MOINES, Iowa — New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is taking his call for social justice to Iowa, where he plans to visit with black leaders this weekend on his first trip to the early 2020 caucus state as a Democratic presidential candidate.
Booker is using rhetoric reminiscent of the civil rights movement to distinguish himself early in the race. And although Iowa is a vastly white state, the sentiment echoes within the state’s Democratic base.
“I think more and more people are seeing that social justice doesn’t just apply to race,” said Nancy Bobo, a white Des Moines Democrat who likes Booker. “When I think of social justice, I think of all the different laws and structures that impede opportunities for people for a whole range of reasons.”
Race is shaping up to be central to the 2020 Democratic presidential campaign. Democratic prospects have called President Donald Trump’s portrayal of immigrants racist and roundly condemned his reaction to the deadly 2017 demonstration in Virginia as being sympathetic toward white supremacists.
More recently, every Democratic hopeful has called for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s resignation after disclosure last week of a photo in the Democrat’s medical school yearbook under Northam’s name featuring a person in blackface and another wearing a Ku Klux Klan robe and hood.
Booker would conspicuously be the first presidential candidate this year to visit Black Hawk County, where the black population — at 9 per cent — is three times that of vastly white Iowa. He plans to meet Friday with black leaders in Waterloo, Iowa’s most African-American city per capita, including Mayor Quentin Hart and the Rev. Frantz Whitfield.
Booker’s campaign announcement last week invoked the legacy of the civil rights movement. “The history of our nation is defined by collective action; by interwoven destinies of slaves and abolitionists, of those born here and those who chose America as home; of those who took up arms to defend our country, and those who linked arms to challenge and change it,” he said in the kickoff video.
It’s a legacy that echoes within Iowa’s Democratic base, which Booker seems to be trying to stoke on his first trip as a candidate.
Before visiting Waterloo, Booker plans to campaign Friday at a church in Mason City that has been active in officiating same-sex marriages in a state where they were legal before the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision granted the right nationally.
Booker could appeal to that segment of Iowa voters who sent Democrat Tom Harkin, an outspoken advocate for worker and civil rights, to the Senate for 30 years until his retirement in 2014.
Barack Obama, who would become the nation’s first black president, won Iowa’s 2008 Democratic presidential caucuses by drawing activists to rhetoric heavily influenced by the civil rights movement and its unifying call for equal opportunity.
Booker has not yet made an impression on Sandy Cronbaugh, who is white and was moved to support Obama in 2008, just as she was to support the civil rights movement more than 40 years earlier.
“Barack Obama made you feel like you were changing the country by working in your community,” said Cronbaugh, an art gallery owner from rural eastern Iowa. “I haven’t gotten that sense from Cory Booker so far.”
Booker is also scheduled to hold events in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City on Friday and to campaign in Marshalltown and Des Moines on Saturday.