In a frank admission of his failure to gain much voter support, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker suggested Saturday that he might quit the race for the Democratic presidential nomination if he falls short of his fundraising goal for September.
If he can’t reach $1.7 million in donations by the end of the month, Booker wrote on Twitter, “we don’t see a legitimate long-term path forward.”
“We’re at a crossroads in this campaign,” he said.
Booker has been campaigning for nearly nine months, but less than 3% of Democratic primary voters support him for president, according to a Real Clear Politics aggregate of national polls.
In the early-voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, Booker is performing slightly worse, roughly on par with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii and New York businessman Andrew Yang.
In an unusually blunt memo posted online Saturday morning, Booker campaign manager Addisu Demissie said Booker “might not be in this race for much longer.”
“It’s now or never: The next 10 days will determine whether Cory Booker can stay in this race and compete to win the nomination,” Demissie wrote.
On a call with reporters, Demissie said Booker had enough money to stay in the race, but needed more to be able to scale up the campaign and remain viable in the final months before voting begins Feb. 3 with the Iowa caucuses.
“Without money, we cannot build, and without building we cannot win,” he said. “We’re just saying that out loud.”
Booker kept up a grinding schedule in Iowa on Saturday, hopscotching from the Polk County Steak Fry to a state lawmaker’s barbecue to a Grinnell coffee shop where he addressed a standing-room-only crowd.
He alluded to the dire warning issued earlier Saturday from his campaign, but cheered the response he said he’d gotten in its wake: the campaign’s best day yet of online fundraising.
“If you think I belong in this race, if you think my voice is valuable, then help this campaign in some way,” Booker said.
He told the crowd he didn’t care if they were interested in other candidates as well.
“The only person I want exclusivity from in this campaign is my girlfriend,” Booker said, proudly noting he’s dating the actress Rosario Dawson.
He alternated between lofty rhetoric and self-deprecating jokes, stating at one point, “I may have the body of a baby boomer, but I have the spirit of a millennial.”
Booker engaged in extended back-and-forths with the crowd, including one Generation Z questioner who fretted about her future because of climate change. He asked her what she thought should be done about it.
The young woman paused, trying to collect her thoughts, and Booker took on the role of life coach. “You’re smarter than you know,” he told her. “You’re stronger than you realize.”
Millions of Democratic voters have had a chance to take Booker’s measure in the first three presidential debates, and he has qualified to participate in the fourth in October. The party is expected to toughen the eligibility criteria for the next debate in November.
With polls showing many Democrats undecided, it’s possible that Booker could benefit from a surge in popularity in the campaign’s final weeks. Party nominees sometimes burst into the lead late in the process, as Democrat John F. Kerry did in 2004 and Republican John McCain in 2008.
The contours of the Democratic race have sharpened in recent months, with former Vice President Joe Biden holding steady as the front-runner, followed by Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont.
Sen. Kamala Harris of California, whose standing in the polls has been volatile, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., have emerged as a middle tier, leaving Booker and more than a dozen others struggling for a breakthrough.
Dante Scala, a political science professor at the University of New Hampshire, said Booker’s difficulties were puzzling because he has built a solid organization, scored wide endorsements and drawn large crowds to his events.
Part of the problem, he said, is that Biden has been the favorite of moderates while Warren and Sanders are competing for the party’s more progressive wing, and Booker — though well liked — is not seen as a clear alternative for either ideological camp.
“It feels to me like he’s in this purgatory,” Scala said.
Mason reported from Grinnell and Finnegan from Los Angeles.