Sen. Cory Booker is speaking with reporters outside of his Newark, New Jersey, home on Friday afternoon, hours after he announced. Booker served as mayor of Newark from 2006 through 2013.
"We need to have leaders in this country who understand what patriotism means, and patriotism means love of country, and you can't love your country if you don't love your countrymen," Booker said. He emphasized his focus on love in his campaign, even while he could possible face the abrasive President Trump in the 2020 election.
Booker also addressed one of the key issues during the race, health care, saying he would not get rid of all private insurance even as he supports universal health care. He defended his tenure as mayor of Newark, in response to Republicans noting that crime rose in the city, saying that Newarkers were tired of people insulting "urban spaces."
"I just want everyone to know I'm going to run a race about not who I am against or what I am against but who I am for and what I'm for. I'm not even looking to simplistically to beat Republicans," Booker said. "No, I'm looking to unite Americans."
Booker also emphasized his support for public schools and public school teachers, as he has faced criticism for supporting charter schools during his time as mayor.
At one point, a neighbor called out to him in Spanish. He briefly stopped talking to reporters, replying to the woman: "Hermana," which means sister in Spanish.
Booker hedged when asked by a reporter if he believed Mr. Trump was a racist.
"I don't know the heart of people, I'll leave that to the Lord," Booker said, although he added that white supremacists "use his words."
"It's easy to say 'I love America.' But love is not a word; it is action, it is sacrifice, it is work," Booker said, summarizing his campaign philosophy.
Booker posted a video to his Twitter account Friday morning launching his campaign, and discussed his decision in a series of radio and television interviews afterwards.
"I believe that we can build a country where no one is forgotten, no one is left behind; where parents can put food on the table; where there are good paying jobs with good benefits in every neighborhood; where our criminal justice system keeps us safe, instead of shuffling more children into cages and coffins; where we see the faces of our leaders on television and feel pride, not shame," Booker said in his launch video.
Booker plans to visit Iowa the weekend of February 8th and will then campaign in South Carolina, a key primary state where African American voters will play a significant role in shaping the course of the primary. This will be Booker's second trip to the state this month, following a speech in Columbia on MLK Day. He also plans to head to New Hampshire on President's Day weekend.
By the time of his announcement, Booker had already spent time during the 2018 midterm election campaigning for congressional candidates and testing the waters for a presidential bid in the early states. Through those campaign stops, Booker aimed to carve out a niche for himself in the 2020 field as a voice of compassion. In Iowa, for example, he told reporters that he wants to "be a voice in this country for love."
Booker has also made a name for himself in recent years as a vocal progressive in the Senate and on the Judiciary Committee. His campaign is rejecting contributions from corporate PACs and federal lobbyists, but he does have a history accepting PAC and corporate contributions in previous races.
Unlike some of his fellow Democrats in the ever-widening primary field, including his Senate colleague and friend Kirsten Gillibrand, Booker launched his campaign without an exploratory phase. He is the second black candidate to join the race, after Kamala Harris jumped in on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Booker launched his campaign on Feb. 1, the first day of Black History Month.
Booker is the fourth senator to announce that he is running or has launched an exploratory committee, after Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Gillibrand and Harris. Sen. Bernie Sanders is also mulling a presidential bid.