MASON CITY, Iowa (AP) — New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker took a campaign message of social justice to Iowa, where he was visiting with black leaders and gay rights leaders Friday on his first trip as a Democratic presidential candidate to the early 2020 caucus state.
Booker opened his inaugural Iowa event using the rhetoric reminiscent of the civil rights movement to distinguish himself early in the race. And although Iowa is a vastly white state, Booker’s is a sentiment that echoes within the state’s Democratic base.
In a crowded church basement in Mason City, Booker likened denying health care coverage to denying civil rights.
“You cannot have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness if you don’t have health care,” he told about 100 who turned out despite sub-zero temperatures. “That’s not justice.”
Race is shaping up to be central to the Democratic presidential campaign. Democratic prospects have called President Donald Trump’s portrayal of immigrants racist and condemned his reaction to a deadly 2017 demonstration in Virginia as being sympathetic toward white supremacists.
The theme of social justice appeals to Nancy Bobo, a white Des Moines Democrat who likes Booker.
“I think more and more people are seeing that social justice doesn’t just apply to race,” said Bobo, who was among the first supporters of Democrat Barack Obama in Iowa in 2007. “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.”
Every Democratic presidential 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, who is African-American, also conspicuously is the first presidential candidate this year to visit Black Hawk County, where he was headed after the Mason City event. There, the black population — at 9 percent — is more than twice that of Iowa overall. He was also meeting 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.
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.
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.”