(by decorahnews.com's Ben Gardner
During my interview with Senator Cory Booker and Iowa State Auditor Rob Sand, I had the tricky question of asking if Sand was endorsing Senator Booker for the Democratic nomination for President. "Somehow I'm going to have to address it," I said. "Is this an endorsement? A non-endorsement?"
For Sand, he respects Booker and his inclusive campaign rhetoric and wants to introduce him to Iowa residents. During his introduction of Booker, Sand noted the senator's "commitment to the most burdened and oppressed."
The two men obviously have affection for each other. Before my interview, Sand took the wheel of Booker's campaign RV and drove the New Jersey senator, along with some campaign staff, to the Decorah Skate Park, which Sand was integral in organizing back when he attended Decorah High School.
In my interview with Senator Booker, he echoed much of what he said during his Lingonberry appearance. He stressed the need for a sober, empathetic approach to the nation's problems. He also emphasized the need to reignite the moral imagination of the country in order to tackle systemic problems involving equality and social justice.
Booker's campaign rhetoric is infused with words and phrases like "empathy," "civic grace," "moral imagination," and "common purpose." In my interview, he praised Iowa for its grassroots political values and for "leading the way on empathy," including the state's advocating women's, civil, and LGBTQ rights. He also noted the warm reception his grandmother received when she moved to the coal mining town of Buxton, Iowa.
Since the beginning of his campaign, Booker—who remains an unfamiliar face compared to Biden, Sanders, and Warren—has had fundraising issues. At the end of September—desperate for cash to sustain campaign efforts in early primary and caucus states—Booker made a plea to supporters: raise $1.7 million in the last ten days of September. Booker's campaign reached the goal, and used the funds to solidify and expand their grassroots organization in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
Booker isn't shy about admitting the tough political situation he faces, but he's also excited and inspired by the civic engagement of citizens he meets on the campaign trail. He noted the polarizing atmosphere of contemporary politics; but he also praised voter's actions of empathy, civic activism, and justice.
Equality and social justice are hallmarks of Booker's campaign. Last week, Booker unveiled policy proposals aimed at reducing childhood poverty. A major part of this policy proposal is providing a $300 monthly cash allowance to families for each child under 5 years old. Booker is also proposing expanding the food stamp program, as well as expanding school meal programs. Additionally, Booker proposed increasing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Booker was the first Democratic Presidential candidate to offer policy proposals on childhood poverty.
In addition to a strong emphasis on equality and social justice, Booker's rhetoric also frequently references mutual cooperation and coming together. During his speech at Lingonberry, he noted his worry that President's Trump's polarizing administration is distracting many people from real issues that haven't gone away, including issues with infrastructure, education, universal preschool, and resources and development.
"I believe in us," said Booker. "When we invest in each other, that's when America is at its best."