“So I’ve chosen to suspend my campaign now, take care of my wonderful staff, and give you time to consider the other strong choices in the field,” he wrote Monday to his supporters.
It may not have been exactly clear when Booker’s announcement would come, but it was little surprise to those closely following the campaign when it did. Booker spent his entire candidacy polling in the single digits. And while conversations about him eventually launching a presidential campaign began before President Obama left the White House, when the lawmaker finally did go public with his run, there appeared to be little enthusiasm about his candidacy.
Booker launched his campaign’s first digital ad last month with a unity-based ad called “Love.”
“I’m here today because of love,” he said in the 30-second ad. “A heroic love that pushed people to march, knowing they could be beaten, and board buses, knowing they could be bombed. From Seneca Falls to Selma to Stonewall, the truth of America is that we win when we come together and show the best of who we are against the worst that we face.”
Booker seemed convinced, but Democratic voters weren’t buying it.
One reason that the Booker train never really took off is because all the interest — and therefore ink — that might normally have come his way had been monopolized by other candidates.
Booker released a presidential announcement video that could have been deemed inspiring in any other election cycle. It showed him walking through the rejuvenated downtown of Newark, a city he led as mayor for seven years. But that narrative was not enticing enough to distract voters from the more historic runs and arguably engaging personal narratives of other candidates. Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D.-Calif.), the only black woman in the Senate, and former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a millennial who is the first openly gay candidate to top polls, were early media darlings and popular with some of the voters that Booker needed.
A core debate in this race on the left — which remains unsettled — was whether liberal voters wanted to back a moderate candidate or someone from the Democratic Party’s base. But substance aside, it appears there was little interest in Booker’s style. The lawmaker launched his campaign in a political climate where anger at the president and his party seemed pretty widespread for Democrats. But Booker didn’t seem to share that anger.
He grabbed headlines during the 2016 Democratic National Convention for offering literally loving words toward the man despised by many in his party.
“I love you, Donald,” he said on CNN. “I pray for you. I hope that you find some kindness in your heart, that you’re not going to be somebody that spews out insults to your political opposition, that you’re going to start finding some ways to love.”
Booker carried that energy toward the president with him through the midterms and into the 2020 race. But it doesn’t seem that many voters were attracted to the example Booker was setting. And others on the left expressed some disappointment that he appeared to be more upset with some of his fellow Democrats, particularly former vice president Joe Biden, than the occupant of the Oval Office.
“Sir, you are trying to shift the view from what you created,” Booker told Biden in July when Biden tried to paint Booker’s tenure as mayor as one that was soft on crime. “There are people right now in prison for life for drug offenses because you stood up and used that ‘tough on crime’ phony rhetoric that got a lot of people elected but destroyed communities like mine.”
“This isn’t about the past, sir,” he added. “This is about the present right now. I believe in redemption.”
And ultimately, perhaps it was the reality of identity politics itself that made a successful Booker run unlikely. Very early in 2019, the voting blocs that Booker would have relied on most to secure the nomination decided that they wanted candidates who they thought could beat Trump. And all of those candidates who consistently polled better than Booker — Biden, Buttigieg, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) — are white.