Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey announced that he is running for president in 2020. Here’s what you need to know about him.CreditCreditBryan Anselm for The New York Times
NEWARK — Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, the former mayor of Newark who has projected an upbeat political presence at a deeply polarized time, entered the 2020 race for president on Friday, embarking on a campaign to become the nation’s second black president in a Democratic primary field that is the most diverse in American history.
Mr. Booker announced his candidacy on the first day of Black History Month to the sound of snare drums and with a clarion call for unity. In an email to supporters, he drew on the spirit of the civil rights movement as he laid out his vision for a country that will “channel our common pain back into our common purpose.”
“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,” Mr. Booker said in an accompanying video.
he Democratic field now features two black contenders — Mr. Booker and Senator Kamala Harris of California — and four women: Ms. Harris, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kirsten Gillibrand, and Representative Tulsi Gabbard. There is also a Hispanic candidate, Julián Castro, the former Housing and Urban Development secretary under President Barack Obama, and a gay candidate, Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind.
The field reflects a party in which women and candidates of color have injected a surge of new energy, and given urgency to the Democrats’ imperative of ousting President Trump. And it follows midterm elections in which women and minority candidates for Congress won in record numbers and have assumed some key positions in party ranks.
“It shows the growth of the country and that many of us who have struggled for civil and human rights feel that we are in a new moment that we wanted,’’ the Rev. Al Sharpton said in an interview. He added: “It’s like the new America against the old America and a lot of Americans who are older and younger want to make sure they participate in the new America.”
With Ms. Harris announcing her candidacy last month, Mr. Booker’s entry amounts to a presidential first: offering black voters, who have been crucial in determining the last two Democratic nominees, a choice between two black candidates as well as other contenders.
In an interview on SiriusXM’s Joe Madison show, Mr. Booker touted “the coalitions that we need to build in this country,’’ adding “we’ve got to begin to see each other with a far more courageous empathy to understand that we have one destiny in America.”
Mr. Booker’s announcement had long been anticipated. He was among the most conspicuous campaigners for other Democrats during the 2018 midterm election, making 39 trips to 24 states as he honed a central message — that this was a “moral moment in America” — that is likely to frame his future critiques of the Trump administration.
Through his soaring oratory, laced with inspirational quotes, Mr. Booker has projected a relentless optimism that provides perhaps the starkest contrast to the divisive politics ushered in by Mr. Trump. His message of unity also comes amid a fractured Democratic coalition, where far-left progressives like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez view traditional Democrats with caution.
It remains to be seen whether Mr. Booker’s aspirational tones will fall flat with a Democratic electorate energized by seething anger toward Mr. Trump. Mr. Booker has at times been a harsh critic of the president, denouncing Mr. Trump’s degradation of African and Haitian countries as “the most vile and vulgar language.” He may face pressure to adopt a harsher, more confrontational message in his campaign.
Mr. Trump, in an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” that will air this weekend, cast doubt on Mr. Booker’s candidacy.
“He’s got no chance,” the president said. When asked why, Mr. Trump replied: “Because I know him. I don’t think he has a chance.”
Mr. Booker also has a lengthy record of moderate, pro-business stances that could be problematic for the party’s ascendant progressive wing.
For example, he defended the investment firm Bain Capital against attacks from the Obama campaign during the 2012 presidential election, and he had a chummy relationship with Chris Christie, the Republican former governor of New Jersey, for most of his tenure.
His continued embrace of charter schools, long a favorite of wealthy donors but currently out of favor among the Democratic grass roots, could create still more problems.
In a press event Friday outside his home on a crowded street in Newark, Mr. Booker pushed back on criticism that he favored special interests.
“My record as a mayor, my record as a senator is fighting those interests that are trying to screw people,” Mr. Booker said. “And when it comes to defending folk, I will be ferocious.”
In announcing his bid for president, Mr. Booker is seeking to fulfill the promise that many have seen in his future for two decades, ever since he moved from Yale Law School to the blighted Brick Towers of Newark, the symbolic launching pad for his career as an inner-city politician.
His first electoral victory was for the City Council in Newark, ousting an incumbent Democrat. He failed in his first bid for mayor, in 2002, against another entrenched Democrat, Sharpe James. But the loss made Mr. Booker famous as he raised millions of dollars in a race that drew national attention.
A documentary about his failed run, “Street Fight,” was nominated for an Oscar. Mr. Booker won the mayoralty four years later when Mr. James, who would eventually land in federal prison on charges of fraud, opted against a rematch.
As mayor, Mr. Booker crafted celebrity status through his early adoption of Twitter. He drew attention and money to the struggling city, including a $100 million check from Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, to be injected into Newark’s schools. The gift was announced with much fanfare on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” but brought mixed results to the troubled school system.
After running on a platform of making Newark a safer place to live, crime fell early in his tenure, but began to rise after budget cuts led Mr. Booker to lay off about 10 percent of the police force. At the same time, Mr. Booker’s police director embraced the controversial “stop-and-frisk” policy, and the American Civil Liberties Union accused the department of brutality, baseless searches, intimidation and false arrests. The Department of Justice launched an investigation into the department, though it was billed as “cooperative” and Mr. Booker said he “welcomed” the inquiry.
Mr. Booker’s connections to financial titans, on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley, have also lifted him throughout his career, generating money for campaigns and for the city he ran. Those connections could power a presidential bid: One California donor, Steve Phillips, created a super PAC with a goal to raise $10 million in the coming months to support Mr. Booker’s bid — even before he announced his candidacy.
But in a Democratic Party where a backlash to the sway of billionaires and financiers is strong, Mr. Booker’s ties to both Wall Street and Silicon Valley risk harming his campaign as much as helping it.
His campaign, which will be called “Cory 2020,” said it would not accept contributions from corporate PACs and federal lobbyists, and also said it would oppose any supportive super PAC, even though Mr. Phillips’s already exists.
For all the attention drawn to Newark by Mr. Booker’s national celebrity, recovery in the city has been mixed. Though crime is currently on a downward trend under Mayor Ras Baraka and development is booming, murders and robberies were on the rise when Mr. Booker left office in 2013.
In the Senate, Mr. Booker has been one of the most aggressive critics of the Trump administration, breaking with Senate precedent and testifying against the nomination of a fellow senator, Jeff Sessions, for attorney general. He also vigorously criticized a top Trump official, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, for concealing a racist comment made by Mr. Trump.
Using his perch on the Judiciary Committee, he has been a forceful opposing voice to many of Mr. Trump’s key nominations, releasing confidential emails during the confirmation hearing of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh and, more recently, questioning the attorney general nominee William P. Barr’s record and past statements on race and criminal justice.
Mr. Booker has a relatively thin record of signature legislative accomplishments in the Senate. He did notch a major victory in co-sponsoring and pushing for a bipartisan criminal justice bill signed by Mr. Trump at the end of 2018, capping a long effort of advocating criminal justice reform in the Senate.
Mr. Booker was one of the first politicians to fully embrace the direct reach of social media, tweeting out direct responses to Newark residents complaining of potholes and broken heaters. Stories of him shoveling out residents of Newark in snowstorms, rescuing a shivering dog or darting into a burning building to save his neighbor went viral. He was invited to the annual South by Southwest festival in Austin in 2012 to pontificate about Twitter, and said he joined the social media network thanks to a tip from the actor Ashton Kutcher.
Though he has been courting political operatives in Iowa and New Hampshire for months, Mr. Booker will likely focus heavily on South Carolina and other southeastern states with large black voting populations.
His first campaign events as a candidate will be a two-day swing through Iowa on Feb. 8, followed by two days in South Carolina. He plans to visit New Hampshire over Presidents’ Day weekend.
Mr. Booker, who visited a church in Newark on Thursday night to pray before his announcement, said that he hadn’t quite settled on a campaign theme song, though Kirk Franklin’s “Stand” had been in heavy rotation.
“This last week, leading up to this day,” Mr. Booker said on the “Tom Joyner Morning Show,” “all I’ve been listening to is gospel.”