CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Sen. Cory Booker, one of two black Democrats still running for president, thinks the Democratic Party has created a primary contest that’s “going to have the unintended consequence of excluding people of color” while benefiting the white billionaires in the race.
“Is that really the symbol that the Democratic Party wants to be sending out? That this is going to be made by money and elites’ decisions, not by the people? That’s a very problematic message to send,” Booker told BuzzFeed News in an interview outside his Cedar Rapids campaign office Sunday morning.
After Sen. Kamala Harris dropped out of the race last week, Booker said he thinks the primary has been hijacked by billionaires like Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer, who are able to use their considerable wealth to reach voters quickly. For instance, despite launching his campaign much later than other candidates, Steyer has a spot on the Democratic debate stage next week, while none of the remaining candidates of color has met the Democratic National Committee’s requirements for qualifying.
“When you watch an election, even in Iowa ... when you’re staying in hotels here, you see Steyer and Bloomberg’s ads wall to wall and you see Kamala not making it now because of money,” he said.
Booker argued that polling is an unfair and unreliable metric and that there needs to be more focus on grassroots organization, favorability, and endorsements, both for debate qualifications and more generally as a measure of campaigns’ strengths.
Former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro, the only Latino candidate in the race, told BuzzFeed News that he thinks Harris’s campaign suffered because both the media and the Democratic Party have created a system that disadvantages candidates — and voters — of color.
Booker, who so far has polled in the single digits with black voters nationally, said he thinks he can still win their support if he wins Iowa. Former vice president Joe Biden has maintained a significant lead with black voters since entering the race.
“I think that African American voters are like all voters. We’re worried. We want to beat Donald Trump. And Joe Biden right now, he’s a known brand like the Clinton brand was, and we have great brand loyalty in the black community; it’s one of the things I love about fellow black folks,” Booker said.
He added that if black voters see a black candidate who’s competitive, he thinks they will back the candidate, as they did with Barack Obama in 2008 after he defeated Hillary Clinton in Iowa.
Booker said he wants voters of color to be able to have “a real belief and trust that you are going to make the issues of black and brown Americans central to the urgency of your campaign, and I know this is just not true in the Democratic Party always.”