WASHINGTON -- New Jersey Senator Cory Booker is kicking off a multi-state tour that aims to give a boost to a presidential campaign that's gotten off to a slow start, leaving him behind Democratic competitors in fundraising and early polling.
The former Newark mayor was to begin with a rally Saturday in a downtown park in his home city, before spending two weeks on the road with scheduled stops in Iowa, Georgia and Nevada, three states with contests in the pivotal first month of caucuses and primaries for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
Booker, one of the most popular politicians in his home state, has yet to capture the same level of intensity as other contenders at the top of the pack of 17 declared Democrats who hope to take on President Donald Trump.
Four of his senate colleagues -- Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar -- exceeded Booker's $5 million fundraising haul for the first three months of the year, as did former Texas Representative Beto O'Rourke and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg.
Booker, 49, is scheduled to spend Monday and Tuesday in western Iowa, where the "Justice For All" tour will focus on his plans to lift working families and communities he says have been left out of the decade-long economic expansion, or disproportionately harmed by the justice system.
The most-recent Monmouth University poll of voters in Iowa, which will hold the first selection contest of the 2020 nomination process with its Feb. 3 caucus, found Booker in eighth place among two-dozen current and prospective Democratic candidates.
Just 3 percent of the state's voters named Booker as their first choice, compared with 27 percent favoring former Vice President Joe Biden, who's expected to announce his campaign this month, and the 16 percent who cited Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist from Vermont. Buttigieg, who's holding a rally Sunday in his hometown, rounded out the top three with support from 9 percent of those surveyed by Monmouth.
Patrick Murray, head of the Monmouth poll, said Booker's challenge is two-fold: find an issue to "own," while remaining viable for the long haul in a crowded field. O'Rourke enjoyed a flood of media attention following his strong showing against Republican Ted Cruz in the 2018 Texas Senate race. Buttigieg is the fresh face with an intriguing biography. Meanwhile, past leading members of the party such as Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts have also struggled to stand out.
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Murray chalked up support for Biden and Sanders to name recognition for Barack Obama's second in command and the runner-up in the 2016 Democratic primary, respectively.
"While Booker had a high profile in the past, it's just so crowded right now that he's not on the menu," Murray said. "It's not just Booker, it's the entire field."
Since Booker launched his campaign in February, he's offered an upbeat message that contrasts with sharp attacks on Trump by some other Democratic hopefuls as well as top leaders in the energized progressive wing of the party.
But Booker has also faced a challenge in generating the kind of enthusiasm from the left that's lifted some of his rivals, particularly Sanders. That begs the question of whether his broadly positive campaign is what Democratic primary voters are looking for this time.
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