Sen. Booker talks Iowa roots and unity during Cedar Rapids stop

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) -- Sen. Cory Booker brought a message of unity to Cedar Rapids, Friday during his first visit to eastern Iowa following an announcement to run for president.

New Jersey's Democratic Senator Cory Booker speaks to a crowd gathered at the African American Museum of Iowa in Cedar Rapids, Friday. (Randy Dirks/KCRG)

"I obviously want to win an election, but that's not why I am running for president," Booker told a packed room at the African American Museum of Iowa. "I'm more interested in the larger campaign for our country. I really do believe we are at a crossroads, right now. Our politics could descend into a dark place."

Using rhetoric heavy on social justice, the New Jersey Democrat worked to relate to a state that is vastly white and very rural.

"Most of you don't know this-- my family is from Iowa,” Booker said. “My grandmother was born and raised in Des Moines. My family came here, they were immigrants from a far off land called Alabama."

During a question and answer session, Booker said, under his presidency, he would push more investment in education and better pay for teachers. He wanted criminal justice reform to address racial and gender disparities. He also said America needed to show more support for immigrants, like those seeking asylum.

"We're better than this,” Booker said. “To throw children in cages, to separate families. Come on. Why do we don't think we can keep our selves safe and secure and affirm our values?"

Iowa Republicans felt Booker, who announced his intention to run last week, was pandering to the party. In a release, Iowa GOP Chairman Jeff Kaufmann said the senator “would say just about anything to stand out in the Democrats’ crowded field of coastal liberals.”

“Iowans can see through his theatrics and still reject his policies,” said Kaufmann. “Like his embrace of trillion-dollar government programs, burdensome regulations for Iowa farmers and his plan to eliminate private health insurance.”

Iowans like Dino Irvin were on the fence when it came to Booker. The Cedar Rapids man attended the senator’s forum that evening and said he wasn't sure about locking in support for Booker, just yet.

"I met him before and I was impressed,” Irvin said. “But, it's still open. There are some other candidates that also get my attention. It's too early."

Booker is one of at least ten notable Democrats that have announced plans to nab the party nomination and challenge Republican incumbent Donald Trump for the presidency.

His trip to Iowa comes on a weekend in which the state will host at least two other well-known candidates. South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

"You have a candidate from Hawaii, a candidate from California, Texas,” said Linn County Democrats Chair Bret Nilles. “They are all over the place. A lot of diversity."

Nilles believed the wide variety of candidates meant Iowans would have a great chance at finding a politician that best represented their individual beliefs before the fast-approaching 2020 caucus, now less than a year away. That’s despite Republicans calling the growing Democratic pool a “race to the far-left.”

"I don't think so,” said Nilles. “When candidates first come out, they always tend to the extreme right or a little bit to the left to appeal to all those activists who are going to get out there and get engaged and look for them as support."

Some of the latest polling from Emerson College, conducted January 30-February 2, showed Iowa Democratic caucus-goers supported the former vice president, Joe Biden, the most with 29%, even though he had yet to announce a run. California Sen. Kamala Harris had the second highest level of support, 18%. Booker was in the middle of the pack with 4%.