The Slatest

Cory Booker Ends His Presidential Campaign

The candidate who looked great on paper stayed flat.

Cory Booker stretches out his fingers while speaking on a stage.
Sen. Cory Booker speaks at the Teamsters Vote 2020 Presidential Candidate Forum on Dec. 7 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Win McNamee/Getty Images

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker announced Monday morning that he was suspending his presidential campaign.

“Our campaign,” Booker wrote in a letter to supporters, “has reached the point where we need more money to scale up and continue building a campaign that can win—money we don’t have, and money that is harder to raise because I won’t be on the next debate stage and because the urgent business of impeachment will rightly be keeping me in Washington.” With Booker’s announcement, the Most Diverse Field in Primary History is now down to a single black candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick.*

With Booker officially out, the prognosticators who placed bets on Booker having a “moment” at some point—any point—are officially poorer. Despite checking nearly every box for a would-be “consensus” candidate who should get consideration once the scrutiny sank in on those polling above him, Booker never got a second look.

He never got anything, really. His trajectory wasn’t like that of Kamala Harris, who had an early surge that flamed out, or Amy Klobuchar, who is grinding out Iowa a quarter-percentage-point at a time. He never went anywhere, even for a minute, having achieved 4 percent in a national poll only one time, and rarely ever rising out of low single digits in the early state he was prioritizing, South Carolina.

In the early stages of the campaign, Booker, who has been treated as future-president material for more than a decade, was crowded out by fresher prospects. He tried to occupy a middle ground of being progressive enough to not be immediately run out by the left, but not really threatening to those with money. It’s roughly the same middle ground that Beto O’Rourke, Harris, and Pete Buttigieg also staked out. Booker’s high point—pick whatever day or month you want, it’s just a flat line—never matched the high points of the others. (Yes, all of them.)

Like Harris, Booker saw his plan to emphasize South Carolina hit a wall that remains intact: Joe Biden’s dominance among black voters, which proved resilient even when Biden’s 50-year baggage on issues of race and crime was unpacked and strewn about.

Booker went hard on Biden over race issues during the summer, leaping on Biden’s fond remembrances of getting stuff done with segregationist senators in the 1970s. “You don’t joke about calling black men ‘boys,’ ” Booker said during the controversy, while calling on Biden to apologize. This led to a good old-fashioned campaign apology-off, with Biden saying that it was Booker, not he, who should apologize. The two also argued during a summer debate about Biden’s authorship of the 1994 crime bill, and later in the year about Biden’s position against marijuana legalization. None of these attacks on Biden’s record even dented the former vice president’s support among black voters, and even if they had, there was no indication those voters would’ve broken to Booker.

As the race turned to the fall, the Democratic establishment entered a traditional midcycle panic about its prospects. Biden had a series of poor debate performances that brought into question concerns about his age and ability, while a left-wing candidate, Elizabeth Warren, had climbed her way into co-front-runner status. On paper, this should have presented Booker—a smart, sharp debater, a happy warrior, a good communicator with substantial executive and legislative experience—with his second look. Booker tried to clear the space for an audition, raising worries about Joe Biden “fumbling” in a general election against Trump while attacking Elizabeth Warren from the center over her wealth tax proposal. But Biden never collapsed. Warren’s slump only benefited Pete Buttigieg and Bernie Sanders. And instead of just donating a billion dollars to Booker, Michael Bloomberg entered the race himself.

Booker ran out of time and money before he had the opportunity to become anyone’s first choice. And though he had no meaningful polling support in Iowa, he did have a substantial number of Iowa endorsees whom other candidates will be inundating with phone calls today. The entire New Jersey Democratic congressional delegation, which endorsed Booker with the lockstep efficiency of a charmingly anachronistic political machine, is also now up for grabs.

As for Booker’s future? He’ll run for, and win, another Senate term this year—though it could be a term for which he’ll never be sworn in, if he’s offered a Cabinet position. At age 50, he’ll have more opportunities to run for president too. And why wouldn’t he? He’s great on paper.

Correction, Jan. 13, 2020: This piece originally misstated that, with Cory Booker’s exit from the 2020 Democratic primary, there were no black candidates left in the race. Deval Patrick is still running.