Democrat Cory Booker announced on Friday he is running for U.S. president, bringing a charismatic African-American voice to a crowded field jockeying to take on Donald Trump in 2020.
Making the announcement in a video, the senator from New Jersey highlighted his roots in a racially divided urban America and evoked the civil rights movement in describing his own barrier-busting experience.
“Together, we will channel our common pain back into our common purpose. Together, America, we will rise,” said Booker, whose career and political appeal echoes that of former president Barack Obama. “We are a nation that leads and we have to get back to doing that together,” Booker told reporters outside his home in a low-income neighborhood of Newark. “I think that people are tired of the demeaning and ready for some redeeming.”
Booker joins a crush of Democrats vying to run next year—with eight other declared candidates ranging from Trump nemesis Elizabeth Warren, to Kamala Harris, a senator from California who aspires to be the nation’s first black female president.
The 49-year-old Booker’s star rose as the telegenic mayor of Newark, a New Jersey city with a history of racial conflict and urban ills.
In his video, he recalled the racial discrimination his family fought, with the help of white civil rights lawyers, to buy a home in a neighborhood with good public schools. “The history of our nation is defined by collective action; by interwoven destinies of slaves and abolitionists; of those born here and those who chose America as home; of those who took up arms to defend our country, and those who linked arms to challenge and change it,” he said.
A standout high school football player, Booker attended Stanford University, studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and went to Yale Law School. As a young community activist in Newark, he once staged a 10-day hunger strike to draw attention to problems of housing and urban development.
“My record as a mayor, my record as a senator is fighting those interests that are trying to screw people,” Booker said. “And when it comes to defending folks I will be ferocious.”
Another distinction: Booker is single, and if elected would be the first unmarried U.S. president since 1884.
As New Jersey’s first black U.S. senator, he has focused on criminal justice reform, reaching out to likeminded Republicans in an otherwise gridlocked Congress.
Booker gained attention as a passionate interrogator of Brett Kavanaugh, Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, during high-profile confirmation hearings last September. With a flair for the dramatic, the senator compared himself to “Spartacus” as he revealed confidential emails referencing Kavanaugh’s positions on racial discrimination.
Booker declared he was prepared to lose his Senate seat to make the emails public, but the Senate ethics committee decided not to punish him for the rules violation.
Preferring an upbeat approach to politics, Booker has avoided open conflict with Trump, making no mention of the president in Friday’s announcement.
Among his rivals for the White House nomination, Senator Harris likewise made a mark with her tough, prosecutorial questioning of Kavanaugh. Harris also identifies as African American, as well as South Asian American, in a nod to her Jamaican-born father and Indian mother.
Others in a remarkably diverse Democratic field include Senator Warren of Massachusetts; former San Antonio, Texas mayor Julian Castro; Hawaii congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard; and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.
Former vice president Joe Biden also is mulling a run, citing his deep experience as outweighing reservations over his age, 76. And former Starbucks CEO Howard Shultz, a billionaire one-time Democrat, made waves on Sunday when he said he might run as an independent, potentially positioning himself as a spoiler for Democrats.
The Democratic primaries are still a year away, beginning with the Iowa caucuses, and unlike 2016 when Hillary Clinton dominated the field, there is no clear frontrunner.