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Cory Booker quits presidential race, leaving an even more white Democratic field

Evan Halper, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

They were both counting on their backgrounds and credentials in campaigns for racial justice to prove a big draw with minority voters in key states that vote early in the primary, particularly black voters in South Carolina. But they found themselves unable to dismantle the resilient coalition backing Biden.

Booker's uneven record on progressive issues -- long a selling point as the candidate branded himself post-partisan and unencumbered by ideological barriers -- became a liability in this race. In a Democratic electorate that has become more starkly divided between progressives and moderates, it was never clear exactly where Booker fit.

His embrace of charter schools while Newark mayor undermined Booker's efforts to build support among teachers in Iowa and New Hampshire, an influential bloc in Democratic primaries. His past alliance with Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, who funded a major education initiative in Newark, was not a good look at a moment the party has become critical of big tech companies.

An unauthorized super PAC run by a former Stanford University classmate did not help Booker's cause. The group sought to raise money for Booker's presidential bid even as the candidate pledged not to accept that kind of help. In the end, the super PAC may have tarnished Booker's reform credentials but didn't raise enough money to help him much. It shut down in November.

Booker's exit creates a reckoning for the Democratic Party.

After Harris dropped out, Booker made the point that there were more billionaires than black candidates in the presidential race. Earlier, on the debate stage, Booker emerged as a provocative voice on racial-justice issues, questioning whether the white candidates who have crafted ambitious plans on race have shown a commitment to fighting inequality that matched their campaign talking points.

He pilloried Biden in one debate for the former vice president's role in promoting mass incarceration during the Clinton era. In another, he lit into Biden for hedging on marijuana legalization, forcefully lamenting how inequality in marijuana prosecution has destroyed black lives.

The only black candidate still in the running is former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, who entered the race at the last minute, is showing near zero support in polls and seems unlikely to qualify for the Democratic debates.

 

The lack of racial diversity in the field comes at a time Democratic Party leaders are desperate to energize minority voters. Had black voters turned out in 2016 at the rate they did when Obama was on the ticket, Democrats likely would not have lost the White House.

After Harris dropped out of the race on Dec. 3, Booker warned that the scarcity of nonwhite faces on the debate stage could doom Democratic efforts to spur a large minority turnout next fall. The warnings brought him a surge of donor support, his aides said at the time, but his campaign remained on life support.

By Monday, with a depleted war chest and lacking any clear path to victory, Booker withdrew.

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