AMES, Iowa—Cory Booker drew the second-biggest crowd of the weekend in Iowa at the Prairie Moon Winery here earlier this month. Then he attracted the biggest crowd—more than 300 people, similarly diverse—a few hours later in Davenport. Few reporters went to either.
Booker and his campaign say that’s all part of the plan. Check back with them in seven or eight months. The other 2020 Democrats will have their media moments, Booker and his campaign people believe, and the voters will cycle through them. And as that happens, he’ll keep reaching out to voters in small venues, such as these in Ames and Davenport, and building out an organization to hold on to them. Others will flare up and falter, according to the Booker campaign’s plan, and the New Jersey senator will be there to pick up the pieces.
In early thinking about the race last year, Booker was the candidate talking unity and uplift. He would be the one identified with summoning connections across racial lines and drawing on the history of America with a hopeful vision of what it could get back to.
As the early months of the race have actually played out, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, and, most recently, Beto O’Rourke have risen up and have seemed to leave Booker in the dust. Despite starting out with some of the highest name recognition in the field, he’s stayed in the single digits. His fundraising hasn’t been breaking any records. The most coverage he’s gotten was on the day he launched, February 1, which was quickly overtaken, first by the yearbook-photo scandal of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. That should change Wednesday night, when he goes back to South Carolina to record a CNN town hall.