Cory Booker said he’s poised to surge in Iowa. But DNC rules may keep him down.

Cory Booker shoots a selfie in Johnston, Iowa
Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker shoots a video on an Iowan's phone during a stop at Panera Bread in Johnston, Iowa, on Dec. 31, 2019. (Photo by Kathie Obradovich, Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker says his campaign in Iowa has built the momentum it needs to have a surge in support before the Iowa Caucuses.

That needed moment could be stifled though, he said, if he doesn’t make the debate stage next week and an impeachment trial keeps him off the campaign trail.

Support for Booker averages around 2% nationally, according to a weekly report from the New York Times that was updated on Jan. 3. 

In Iowa, however, Booker’s campaign trajectory seems to be on the upswing, he said during an exclusive interview with Iowa Capital Dispatch on New Year’s Eve. Recent feedback from caucusgoers during grassroots campaigning and endorsements from local leaders have left the New Jersey senator feeling confident about his standing in Iowa in February.

But the potential surge hasn’t been documented in any polling yet. A CBS poll released on Sunday of potential Iowa caucusgoers showed Booker at 2% support, below the debate threshold. The poll was conducted Dec. 27 through Jan. 3.

To qualify for the next debate, he will need more than one poll to secure a spot before the debate qualification deadline on Jan 10.

Booker didn’t qualify for the December debate. If he doesn’t make the cut for Iowa’s debate, he’s worried about the consequences for his campaign in the state and the potential surge he said he’s experiencing.

“How deflating will it be to our supporters or potential supporters if we’re not on the stage in Iowa?” Booker said.

The Democratic National Committee raised its threshold for who’s allowed on the debate stage in Iowa on Jan. 14, the last debate before the Iowa Caucuses on Feb. 3. Qualifications for the next debate require candidates to have at least 5% support in four recognized polls or 7% support in two polls conducted in four early-voting states, according to the DNC. Candidates also need 225,000 individual donations.

So far, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, and Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have qualified. Other candidates who haven’t qualified, like Andrew Yang, have criticized the DNC’s rules. Julian Castro, who appeared unlikely to qualify for the January debate, announced he was dropping out on Jan. 2.

In the past, eventual caucus winners came out of the blue right before the Iowa Caucuses, but if there aren’t enough polls to show that Booker may be having his moment now, that raises concerns with the DNC’s system, he said.

“It shows me the flaws in the system,” Booker said. “We’re really poised to upset in the caucuses. Upset expectations. I just feel really good about it.”

The last minute-surge is evident, Booker said. His fundraising was at its highest last quarter with his campaign reporting $6.6 million raised, according to his presidential campaign in an email. He launched new television ads in the state on Dec. 30 that will help raise him to the same level as other “billionaire candidates,” Booker said. On Monday, his campaign launched another new 30-second spot in Iowa.

His regular trips to Iowa and established ground campaign staff are also a part of a caucus-winning formula, but the lack of polling over the holiday season, particularly in early voting states, may overlook what he calls the most “competitive” campaign in the state.

But despite the hurdles he sees, Booker said his strategy is to run a positive campaign in Iowa that focuses on bringing people together. He believes that may be his ticket to being one of the top candidates in the Iowa Caucuses.

“I have a lot of confidence that the message we have, actually, people will yearn for it more and more,” Booker said.

Q&A:  Cory Booker discusses impeachment

Iowa Capital Dispatch sat down with U.S. Sen. Cory Booker for an interview on Dec. 31 to talk about the impeachment hearing and upcoming trial. Below is a lightly edited excerpt from that interview:

Q: Do you wish that Congress would have spent its time on health care or immigration or something other than impeachment at this point?

A: Yeah, absolutely. But let me be very specific by what I mean by that is, I wish we weren’t having to deal with a president who betrayed his office. I really wish this was not the case. Impeachment is a sad thing for this country. Nobody should want an impeachment, no matter how much you might dislike a sitting president. It’s a test for our democracy that I wish we didn’t have to take. I think Nancy Pelosi did the right thing by holding him accountable. History is going to look back on this moment: What did you do when our president of the United States was literally using his taxpayer funded resources and the position he was given by voters to betray his office in order to extort favors against his own political opposition? So I think it’s really important that we do what we’re doing, but it’s just unfortunate. I wish we didn’t have to do this.

Q: What do you think about the argument that because this is going through so fast and because it’s so partisan that it is lowering the bar for impeachment hearings for future presidents?

A: I don’t know what the future is going to hold for our country and our republic. One of the main reasons I’m running is to try to start to heal our nation, to get us back to a sense of common cause and common purpose and help people understand that descending into tribalism weakens America dramatically and our ability to come together and do the big things we need to do in the 21st century, from climate change to our critical infrastructure investments and more.

Q: What do you think it says about the country that the impeachment hearings really haven’t moved the needle in terms of people’s opinions? Their opinions were solidified before people even heard all of the facts.

A: You’re going to have to ask me about this on the other end of impeachment. Right now, the thing I’m staying focused on is, was this behavior an impeachable offense? 

The president’s top advisers tried to stop him from doing this, tried to hide it from the American public knowing that it was wrong. My look in terms of historical perspective on this is with this fact pattern, is this impeachable? Yes. I think the fear is the weakening, not the standards for impeachment, but weakening the ability to hold future presidents accountable is really what worries me.

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