U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) brought his message to Detroit of how “love is the best strategy” to defeating President Donald Trump.
Speaking to an enthusiastic crowd at the National Organization of Black County Officials (NOBCO) Economic Development Conference on Thursday morning, the presidential hopeful recalled meeting with an Iowa voter who said he wanted to see the senator “punch Donald Trump in the face.
“And I looked at the guy and I go, ‘Man, that’s a felony,’” Booker said, earning laughter from the audience. “‘Us Black guys, we don’t get away with that stuff.’”
Booker added that in the Civil Rights movement “we didn’t beat Bull Connor and demagogues by bringing bigger fire hoses and bigger dogs.” He said the movement was won “with the power of love.”
While some have questioned whether Booker’s positive message will play with an angry Democratic electorate in 2020, many African American officials assembled at the Marriott Renaissance Center seemed responsive to it.
“You cannot lead the people if you don’t love the people,” Booker said. “And I worry about the spirit of the nation right now.”
He added that you don’t win by fighting those who demagogue “on their terms.
“All of us here know that we don’t win in our communities by beating people down,” Booker said. “We win by lifting them up.”
He lavished praise on the first African American president, Barack Obama, who also ran an upbeat campaign, and former first lady Michelle Obama.
“Look, I tell people all the time: ‘I miss Obama,’” Booker said and paused as the audience clapped. “Hold on. Hold on. And I miss her husband, too.”
The crowd cheered at that one.
Booker also gave a shout-out to Detroit as the city where his grandfather got a job on an auto assembly line. He said his grandfather persuaded voters “all over Detroit” to change their party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.
Booker noted his experience as a former Newark mayor and said that when mayors go to Washington, D.C., they “just want to fix stuff.” Another Democratic hopeful, South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, has also played up his practical experience.
The senator also acknowledged the bustling Democratic field, which grew to 22 candidates on Thursday with the entry of U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), as first reported by the Advance’s sister outlet, the Colorado Independent.
A parade of candidates have stopped through Michigan in the last few months, including President Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and others.
Four more Democrats are slated to campaign here over the next few days, as the Advance reported: U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), businessman Andrew Yang and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
“I came out here today to try and inspire you,” Booker said. “To let you know that in a crowded primary field, it’s the people in this room and the conversations that you have with candidates that are actually going to determine the outcome.”
Booker acknowledged he was running for president, but said the “reality is, if we don’t have great local leaders getting it done in our counties, then no matter who is in the White House, the change will not be made.”
“I know the people who get it done in communities. I started as a city councilperson. I was a local leader,” he said. “… And I’m here because I respect y’all. I know the difference that you make in communities. And I know how urgent that is right now.”
Booker said he’s the only member of the U.S. Senate and presidential candidate who “still lives in an inner-city Black and Brown community that is struggling.
“And I stay rooted in that community because of leaders who gave me my first start,” he said.
He later added that “everything I learned about politics, I learned in the central ward in Newark, N.J.”
Booker also stressed his ability to win bipartisan victories, like on criminal justice reform in Congress.
“When I got to Washington, I knew that my community didn’t want me down there yelling and screaming about problems. They wanted me down there reaching out, building coalitions to solve those problems,” he said.
Booker said he joined with U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) — joking they were part of the “coalition of big, tall Black guys in the Senate” — on opportunity zones.
The senator talked about a host of issues, including increasing affordable housing, ending gun violence, rolling back Trump’s tax credits and “massively” increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for low-income people.
He said he’s for Medicare for All, but added, “We need to have a more practical conversation about how we get there.” Booker also said that prescription drug prices must come down, adding that he’ll take away pharmaceutical companies’ patents as president to pave the way for cheaper, generic drugs.
Booker ended by saying “we’re in this together.
“[There’s] so much noise on the national stage, so much hate and divisiveness,” he said. “You all are the kind of leaders — you see people every day; you look them in the eye, feel their heart, shake their hand. And you love them; you care about them. You know that patriotism is love of country, but you cannot love your country unless you love your fellow countrymen and women.”