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NEWARK, N.J. — Cory Booker is in. The New Jersey senator launched his White House bid on Friday morning with an email to supporters declaring, “I’m running for President of the United States of America.”
His letter was followed up by the release of a video in which he focused on the idea that people in the country share “common pain,” a case that has been a centerpiece of his speeches throughout the past year.
“Together, we will channel our common pain back into our common purpose. Together, America, we will rise,” Booker said in the clip.
His entry into the crowded Democratic primary field is not a surprise. Booker became mayor of Newark in 2006 and became famous for his blend of social media savvy and hands-on emotional politics that hearkened back to the rhetoric of the Civil Rights movement. Since his time in City Hall, Booker has been widely touted as a potential presidential prospect. That speculation only intensified after he was elected to the Senate in 2013.
Booker kicked off his campaign surrounded by the three things that have been hallmarks of his career thus far: spirituality, sentiment and Newark. He spent the night before his announcement at Metropolitan Baptist Church, a congregation he regularly attends a few blocks from his home in the city.
“Senator Booker requested that we would come together and have prayer,” said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Dr. David Jefferson. “This is representative of who he is and what he believes in, that he dare not make a move without asking the almighty God.”
The small service was attended by several of Booker’s friends and allies who had been told to come to the church in the past day. It concluded with Jefferson encouraging those in the room to “hug somebody.”
Afterwards, Booker briefly spoke to reporters. He told Yahoo News the decision to run came after his appearances on the campaign trail this past year, which included extensive travel to key primary states.
“I saw the receptivity to me giving my authentic message out there, not shying away from the urgent calls of justice, not shying away from the need to stand up for those who are being left behind and left out,” Booker said.
Booker felt his positive and emotional approach resonated even in a time of deep political division.
“I saw that people didn’t just want a politician that’s going to stand up and say, ‘I’m going to punch Trump in the face.’ … I saw that people really did want to rise above it and pull people together back to our common ideals and common principles,” he said.
Booker, who would be the second African-American president, made a point of launching his campaign at the start of Black History Month. He said he was “humbled” and “feeling blessed” to be entering the presidential race.
“I still look on the Senate floor and feel this sense of gratitude. The reason why I still live down the street … is because these are the folks that helped me do things that were beyond my wildest imagination,” Booker explained.
When pressed about how he could possibly invoke humility while putting himself forward for the highest office in the land, Booker countered that he hopes to set a new political paradigm.
“What is real strength? Is it bombast? Is it swagger? Is it braggadociousness? Is it strut? No. I think … real strength is seen in vulnerability,” said Booker.
“I think it’s seen in those people who stood before fire hoses and armed troopers unarmed. I think it’s people who are willing to let the truth be told that were all imperfect folks trying to make a better nation.”
Booker is eager to display this approach on the campaign trail.
“I look forward to offering up a very, very strong spirit of love and kindness and grace and decency along with my policy ideas,” he said.
With an extremely crowded primary field vying to fight the famously combative President Trump, Booker is almost certainly in for a bruising race. And in spite of all the positivity and tenderness, Booker insisted he will be a forceful presence in the field.
“We have this mistaken sense that being strong is being mean, that being tough is being cruel. It’s just not,” explained Booker, adding: “You could be a strong tough street fighter and still be a person of love, and grace, and kindness, and courageous empathy and vulnerability.”
In his announcement video, Booker highlighted his personal story, which began with parents who secured his family a place in the New Jersey suburbs with the help of Civil Rights activists who helped them fight discriminatory housing practices. It featured footage of him walking through the streets of Newark near his home.
“I still live there today, and I’m the only senator who goes home to a low-income, inner city community, the first community that took a chance on me,” Booker said in the video.
He went on to detail his vision for a potential presidency including a focus on criminal justice reform, which has been one of his signature issues in the Senate.
“I believe that we can build a country where no one is forgotten, no one is left behind, where parents can put food on the table, where there are good-paying jobs with good benefits in every neighborhood, where our criminal justice system keeps us safe, instead of shuffling more children into cages and coffins, where we see the faces of our leaders on television and feel pride, not shame,” Booker said.
According to a spokesperson, Booker plans to spend Friday morning doing a series of radio interviews. He will also appear on ABC’s “The View.” Booker is spending the next weekend at home in Newark before taking off on Feb. 8 for a swing through the three early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Unlike some of his rivals, Booker is not beginning his presidential bid with any interim steps.
“There’s no exploratory committee,” a Booker campaign source told Yahoo News. “He’s all in.”
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