Helton: 20 Out of 20: Will Cory Booker’s better angels fly him to the White House?

Among a crowded list of prospects, the New Jersey senator has hit the ground running for president.


Thomas A. Stewart

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker speaks to supporters on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018 in Des Moines.

Elijah Helton , Opinion Columnist

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., has been running for president for quite some time. As a young, charismatic African American, he’s drawn his fair share of comparisons to former President Barack Obama. Just like the then-Senate candidate, Booker’s speech had a theme of unity in 2016.

“Love recognizes that we need each other, that we as a nation are better together, that when we are divided we are weak, we decline, yet when we are united we are strong,” Booker proclaimed to audience members feuding over their party’s nominee, not to mention their sheer disdain for the Republican candidate Donald Trump.

The junior senator from New Jersey seeks to heal the American political psyche while simultaneously maintaining a definite progressive bend. It’s a balancing act, but it’s a part he’s willing to play.

Is Booker going to run?

Without a doubt. He’s visited our state of Iowa (“first in the nation”) and South Carolina (a measly fourth), neither of which are the usual move for a former mayor of Newark, New Jersey.

Speaking of his mayoral stint, Booker has been carefully constructing his public image since taking that office in 2006. He attracted the attention of TV host Conan O’Brien in 2009 when O’Brien took a comedic shot at the Newark health program. The “feud” took off when Booker put O’Brien on the no-fly list at his city’s airport. Booker hammed it up with the decree “Try JFK, buddy.”

While 2009 might have been all fun and games, Booker has been trying to be JFK ever since. And if he’s going to be the next Kennedy, he needs to get out of the Senate chamber and into the Oval Office.

RELATED: Cory Booker calls on Iowa Democratic Party to keep the moral high ground ahead of midterms

Is Booker going to be nominated?

As with any other candidate reviewed for 20 Out of 20, the answer is maybe. But I’m going to give him an edge as one of the Democratic frontrunners for one main reason: balance.

In his public life, Booker expresses a wide range of emotions from hopefulness and zeal to disgust and anger. To whatever degree he’s just politicking for the masses, he has made a point of being a key leader of the resistance.

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee — a position he entered alongside another speculated 2020 hopeful, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. — he was one of the most vocal in the recent confirmation hearings of Brett Kavanaugh.

But Booker has kept a largely positive outlook in contrast to his committee diatribes. He prioritized a sense of moral high ground in his aforementioned visit to Iowa earlier this month.

He has plenty of competition both to his left and his right on policy. His road to the top of the ticket will be paved by his appeals to humanity.

RELATED: Helton: 20 out of 20: Elizabeth Warren, champion of Women’s Marchers?

Is Booker going to beat President Trump?

Assuming the Republicans stick with their incumbent, a Booker vs. Trump battle in 2020 would certainly showcase a contrast of styles. A contrast that, if executed well, has strong potential to work in Booker’s favor.

Booker probably can’t win in a landslide, however. It’s difficult to see his Oxford degree and veganism inspiring the same coalition as someone like former Vice President Joe Biden. But Booker can strike up votes among the growing constituency of those frustrated by the current president’s antics.

“Let’s get back to normal” seems like a pretty solid talking point for the Democrats in 2020, pair that with Booker’s empathy, and it might just be enough to turn the White House blue.

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