(Fairfield, Iowa) — Sen. Cory Booker seemed primed to take off in the Democratic primaries: He’s a black senator with bipartisan accomplishments, a Rhodes Scholar, a three-time former mayor of Newark, and a charismatic speaker with well over a decade of favorable media coverage under his belt.
Yet Booker is mired in the low single-digits in early Democratic primary polls, crowded out in a 23-strong Democratic field with political novices eclipsing him.
A dismal Monmouth University poll released last week found that the New Jersey senator had 1% support nationally among Democratic primary voters, down from 5% in March, placing him among more obscure candidates such as eccentric businessman Andrew Yang and self-styled spiritual guru Marianne Williamson.
For much of his political career, Booker, 50, has been a rising star. In 2012, talk show host Jon Stewartcalled Booker a “superhero mayor,” and Oprah Winfrey raised money for his 2013 special Senate election. The media repeatedly compared him to Barack Obama. On the campaign trail, Booker touts the 2005 documentary that helped him gain notoriety, “Street Fight,” an Oscar-nominated film about his first failed mayoral bid.
But Booker’s celebrity has worn off, and younger, fresher candidates with similar attributes – and some extra positives – dominate the conversation.
Pete Buttigieg, 37, has made being mayor of South Bend, Ind., a central selling point of his campaign, is also a Rhodes Scholar. Giving him a boost against Booker is his lack of Senate experience – being a Washington outsider is more appealing. He is also an Afghanistan veteran. While Booker is single and has always been reticent about his private life, Buttigieg is an openly gay man whose husband is front and center in his White House bid.
Booker is outwardly unfazed by the early poll, and he has a plan to become a star again. “The national polls this far out mean nothing,” he told reporters in Fairfield on Friday. “I just know we’re doing extraordinarily well according to what’s important to us,” citing attendees at an event signing commitment-to-caucus cards, his early endorsements, and his large campaign team.
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